King County Council committee votes to spend $135 million of taxpayer funds on Safeco Field for Mariners

SEATTLE -- A King County Council committee voted 5-4 on Wednesday to spend $135 million of taxpayer funds toward maintaining Safeco Field -- less than the  $180 million that the Seattle Mariners wanted for signing a new, 25-year lease.

The controversial proposal had been discussed for the past three weeks in the council’s “Committee of the Whole.” On Wednesday, the committee went ahead and took action on several amendments to the original proposal by County Executive Dow Constantine.

For weeks, affordable housing advocates had been pushing the council to provide more money toward their cause.

“I urge you to consider the basic needs of King County residents and do more than the minimum in ensuring their basic health, security and stability,” said Greenwood resident Catherine Jacoby.

Others were pushing for the money to go toward Safeco Field as it remains a tourism draw after 20 years.

“The idea that the Mariners are successful and for some reason, we should not take care of a building that we own here in Seattle, I don't think is good policy,” said Monty Anderson, executive secretary of the Seattle Building and Construction Trades Council.

The committee spent more than four hours debating amendments to the original proposal that was released by Constantine. Eventually, the committee voted 5-4 in favor of spending $135 million toward maintaining Safeco.

"We are elected to vote, we've done our due diligence , we cannot hold up this process anymore,” said County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer, who supported the amendment.

Constantine’s original proposal had called for spending $180 million in tax revenue for Safeco Field maintenance.

However, the amendment, sponsored by Councilmembers Joe McDermott and Claudia Balducci, called for spending $135 million toward ballpark maintenance, but also $661 million toward affordable housing. That was an increase from Constantine’s proposal of spending $496 million.

But the industry that did not fare well in the amendment was tourism, as the McDermott-Balducci proposal only earmarked $8 million. Constantine’s original proposal called for $109 million to be spent for tourism.

Some councilmembers, like Rob Dembowski, said the amendment hurts the industry that brought all the money in the first place.

"Ninety-four percent of the unspent tourism money into Safeco Field -- 94% -- into one of our tourism-generated facilities ... no,” he said.

Others backed the plan, however.

“People elect us to make the hard decisions and this is one of those. But I believe this amendment strikes a good balance,” said McDermott.

An amendment by Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles that would've provided the Mariners $25 million just to cover maintaining the ballpark was struck down 5-4.

Also, an amendment by committee chair Rod Dembowski to bring this issue to voters during the next special election in February was also struck down 5-4.

Fred Rivera, the Mariners vice president and chief counsel, told the council while the amount is significantly less than what the team was asking for, it should be enough to sign a long-term lease. He added, however, that remains dependent on negotiations with the Public Facilities District, which technically owns the ballpark. Lease terms for the stadium expire at the end of the year.

This new proposal now goes for a full vote of the King County Council on Monday, September 17.