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Safeco Field could get $135 million from county taxpayers

caption: Safeco Field in Seattle
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Safeco Field in Seattle

Safeco Field could get taxpayer money for maintenance after all.

In a preliminary vote Wednesday afternoon, the King County Council approved spending $135 million from hotel/motel tax revenues on the ballpark.

Council member Pete von Reichbauer spoke at length about why he supported the measure. He said it was in the county's interest to maintain the Mariners' home field.

"They've made it the center of activity where they can bring together music groups and other groups to raise money," von Reichbauer said. "It's a major center of our community."

He referenced the recent Pearl Jam concerts, for example, in which the band raised millions of dollars for area homeless services.

Supporters say the measure is a compromise, since it won't send as much money to the ballpark as initially proposed by King County Executive Dow Constantine.

The measure passed narrowly by a 5-4 vote.

Opponents like King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles wanted more of the money to go toward small businesses and tourism, not the privately run baseball field.

"This is the wrong thing to do, it doesn't add up," Kohl-Welles.

The proposed spending plan determines where the county will put future hotel/motel tax dollars. The measure breaks it down as follows:

  •  $661 million: affordable housing and homeless youth services. ($100 million in bonds would be available immediately)
  • $496 million: arts, culture, and heritage programs
  • $135 million: Safeco Field maintenance
  • $22 million: 4Culture debt service
  •  $8 million: tourism promotion

The plan is still subject to change, however: It requires one more King County Council vote later in September.

Immigrant-run businesses in SeaTac were counting on more tourism dollars to help them form a shopping center. Lawmakers cut spending on tourism to add more money to affordable housing after housing advocates cried foul about how much of the tax would go toward Safeco Field.

SeaTac businesswoman Jamila Farole spoke out against the proposal during a council meeting this week.

"Using money on Mariners stadium and not on housing and small businesses facing displacement is a luxury and not a necessity in my opinion," Farole said.

Less than one percent of the lodging tax is slated for tourism spending.

Council member Dave Upthegrove was among the four ‘no’ votes. He calls the Safeco Field maintenance funding “an irresponsible use of public funds."

"Something is broken in our political system when those who already have great wealth can pull the levers of government to benefit themselves,” Upthegrove said in a statement.

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