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caption: Safeco Field, Seattle.
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Safeco Field, Seattle.
Credit: Flickr Photo/Ashley Murphy (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/aeMMq5

Mariners, housing advocates spar over who gets tax revenue

Housing advocates faced off against Seattle baseball fans at a King County Council public hearing on Monday.

At stake: hundreds of millions of dollars from the county’s hotel/motel tax.

In 2011, state lawmakers dedicated 37.5 percent of those tax revenues to arts, culture and heritage projects, and another 37.5 percent to affordable housing and related social services. The remaining revenues were divided between a number of other things, including a large chunk for tourism-related activities. The money is available starting in 2021.

Earlier this year, King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed using some of those tourism dollars to fund maintenance projects at Safeco Field. Monday's public hearing was the first on this proposal.

Audience sentiment was almost evenly split.

State Rep. Eric Pettigrew spoke in support of the proposal. “Safeco Field is in my district,” Pettigrew said. “They’ve always been great.”

But dozens of other people urged the county council members to allocate more to affordable housing than the 37.5 percent the Legislature set aside.

A public policy graduate student named Rebecca told the council, “You know this is ridiculous, right? There are 12,000 people sleeping outside, dying outside.”

Sharon Lee, head of the Low Income Housing Institute, said given that the Mariners are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, “as owners they need to make an investment that could include financing their own amenities.”

But Fred Rivera, who represents the Mariners, said Safeco Field needs more than discretionary upgrades. The team worked with private consultants to determine the stadium requires more than $300 million in maintenance alone.

Constantine has proposed the county allocate more than $160 million for that.

The Mariners’ Safeco Field lease expires at the end of this year. The team has reached a tentative contract agreement with the nonprofit entity that oversees the stadium for the county. However, according to council staff, the team won’t continue lease negotiations until the maintenance funding question is settled.

The next public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for late August.