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Council delays vote on multimillion-dollar proposal to help M’s maintain Safeco Field under new lease

SEATTLE -- Safeco Field has been the home of the Seattle Mariners for close to 20 years. But there remains a debate on whether it'll be their home for the next 20 years.

For the second time, the King County Council heard from all sides of a controversial proposal that could potentially funnel $180 million in public money toward Safeco Field improvements. Many housing and low-income advocates are hoping that money will go toward affordable housing instead.

At the King County Council meeting on Wednesday, the chamber was packed. Many held signs with that read #TeamHousing

“We have a system that has underinvested in affordable housing for years, and that system has resulted in 12,000 people in King County every night without shelter,” said Calvin Jones, member of Seattle Tech 4 Housing.

Others spoke out about what Safeco Field and the Mariners mean to the regional economy.

“Safeco Field generates $180 million in economic activity to our city each year. It supports 3,300 jobs and provides $128 million in wages,” said Jim Copacino.

This also marked the first time the committee has heard from the Public Facilities District. The PFD owns Safeco Field and leases the field to the team.

“Effective December 31st of this year, there is no lease. There are no existing terms in place moving forward,” said Dan Barrett, lead lease negotiator for the PFD.

Which means for the Mariners, it’s important to get a lease done before the end of the year.

It also gave some a chance to weigh in on a counter-proposal by Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles. Kohl-Welles was originally in favor of providing the full amount of money requested by the team, but changed her mind during the committee’s last meeting.

Kohl-Welles proposes providing the team $25 million, which is far from the $180 million it is requesting. According to Kohl-Welles, the rest of the money would go toward affordable housing.

“I have always been there with them (the Mariners), I’m not opposing the Mariners now or Safeco Field -- maintenance, upkeep, upgrades. But I’m looking at what is reasonable for the taxpayers,” she said.

The Mariners say that proposed $25 million falls far short of what they need to keep the ballpark up to par during a long-term lease.

"$25 million is not enough to keep the ballpark in proper condition. Under the revenue streams that the team has committed and the PFD has committed, there is a $205 million revenue gap,” said Fred Rivera, Mariners vice president and general counsel.

The issue of naming rights of Safeco Field also came up during the meeting. According to Kohl-Welles, there is a possibility that if the team signs a shorter-term lease, revenue from the stadium’s bidding for naming rights could also provide revenue for maintenance and upgrades.

However, according to Rivera, as of now there is nothing to sell since the lease runs out at the end of the year.

The council took no action on Wednesday. Another meeting is scheduled for next Wednesday.