For close to 50 years, Art Harrigan has practiced law in Seattle. But from a sports fan’s perspective, two cases were his most important.
We start tonight with the first: Harrigan’s role in helping keep the Mariners in town.
It’s been so long now, we might take it for granted: A spring night in Seattle, cheering on the Hometown Nine.
But it’s scene that was in jeopardy 26 years ago.
“The owners wanted to have a more valuable team,” said local attorney Art Harrigan.
By now, the main story has been well documented: Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan putting the team up for sale in 1991, and Senator Slade Gorton saving the day, approaching Nintendo, which offered to buy the team - then organizing a group of local investors to join as partners.
“Slade had to move fast – and he did a great job,” Harrigan said.
By then, Art Harrigan’s job was already done. Far from the spotlight of a courtroom trial in Seattle, he was the local attorney tasked by King County to help hold Smulyan to his lease at the Kingdome. With the intention of moving the team or selling to outside investors, Smulyan argued he could break the Kingdome lease, thanks to an escape clause tied to attendance.
“There was a specific amount of fans that had to attend during a set period of time. The issue was – when does that period of time begin and end?” Harrigan said.
Harrigan’s argument came down to the grammatical interpretation of one sentence in that clause. An independent arbitrator, the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, agreed with Harrigan’s interpretation and sided with King County, appraising the team at a “stay in Seattle” price of $100 million. Had Smulyan won, he could’ve sold the team for a much higher price based on moving the team to another market.
“As a result of that, there was a period of time in which a local buyer could come in and purchase the team for the lower local price. And that’s when Slade Gorton came in and did his magic,” Harrigan said.
"There needed to be time and the appearance of possibility that if things could be put together, a deal could be done," said former King County Civil Deputy Dick Holmquist. "Art and the legal system bought us that time."
To this day, who knows what would’ve been, if Gorton hadn’t found those local owners. Who knows if Nintendo would’ve stepped up to the plate if the asking price was considerably more.
And who knows what would’ve been...had Art Harrigan not helped enforce the legal groundwork to help keep the Mariners in town.
“Once in a while you get a chance to do something that actually helps. And so I was very happy I had that chance,” Harrigan said.
And Harrigan had a chance to do something else to help Seattle five years later: Saving the Seahawks. We’ll have his role in that crazy saga – tomorrow night on Q13 News.