SW Needs a New Arena

It's a matter of fairness. And duct tape.

An open letter to Mayor Greg Nickels, the Seattle City Council, King County, and the delegation in Olympia:

This year, Seattle Weekly celebrates its 30th anniversary. Founded in 1976, we have demonstrated staying power as an important civic amenity. This year, we also joined the "big leagues" by becoming part of an even larger national newspaper chain, a major local franchise, if you will.

Over the years, we have followed with interest as the government has showered other major-league franchise owners with largesse. Billionaire Paul Allen and the Seattle Mariners' Nintendo-backed ownership group have received hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies for new facilities. They have their own dedicated-tax-revenue streams. Even salmon don't have that.

As I write this, Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz is asking the taxpayers to build a new sports arena at Seattle Center to house the SuperSonics basketball team owned by him and 57 others. He wants the people to pick up the eventual $400 million tab (counting interest). Schultz says he is only asking for the same perks the public has already given the Seahawks and Mariners.

Schultz is no stranger to public perks—why, he once built his private driveway on city park property. He was surprised that people made such a stink about it.

A sorehead would have moved to Bellevue. Fortunately, he didn't, because if he had, we might have missed the opportunity to pay him hundreds of millions of our money to stay right where he is.

Schultz says the issue really is fairness.

We couldn't agree more.

Given that this is a major anniversary year, and given that Seattle Weekly is operating in an increasingly competitive climate, we think it's time to level the playing field when it comes to public pork.

All we want is what the city's other franchises are getting.

Our offices here on Western Avenue are barely adequate. We aren't major South Lake Union property holders like The Seattle Times. We don't have a cool spinning globe over our heads like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. We're not part of a government-sanctioned media monopoly like the two daily papers.

What have we got? We lease space in a brick warehouse close to the death-trap Alaskan Way Viaduct. You used to be able to rent a loft for what monthly parking costs in this neighborhood. The heating and air conditioning work in the wrong seasons, and the elevators frequently take riders to mystery destinations. And have you tried our "coffee"?

A rip in the carpet in my office was recently repaired with blue duct tape. Do you think Howard Schultz has ever used duct tape in his luxury suite?

We think a new arena for Seattle Weekly employees and fans is just the ticket. It would add to the economic vitality of this booming part of downtown—the snappily named West Edge—strategically located between the waterfront and First Avenue, and between Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square. This place is vibrant, historic, and, when our next lease comes due, it'll likely be unaffordable.

We don't relish making threats, but if we don't find a permanent solution, we might have to leave Seattle. Do you really want more than 100,000 copies of Tukwila Weekly circulating downtown? I didn't think so.

And consider the other significant benefits to keeping Seattle Weekly in Seattle.

Unlike the Mariners, Seahawks, and Sonics, our product is free—and our salary structure is way cheaper. Our entire editorial department budget is less than a quarter of Raul Ibanez's annual salary. Raul Ibanez!

In building a new arena for Seattle Weekly, taxpayers will be getting value instead of subsidizing rich kids with Nike contracts.

And think of the economic impact of Seattle Weekly's readers. We circulate about 100,000 copies per week and have more than 2.5 readers per copy. That means at least 250,000 people a week read the Weekly (not counting the Web). That's five consecutive Safeco Field sellouts. That's a whole lot of 12th Men. That's more than 15 weeks of Sonics attendance!

Our readers spend big bucks on food, movies, and clubs. We generate millions of dollars in retail activity and jobs, and I'm not just talking about the sex ads.

And consider the benefits of Seattle Weekly spin-offs. The Best Places book series, for example. Or how Seattle Weekly founder David Brewster went on to start Town Hall. And did I mention the former Seattle Weekly staffer who married Conan O'Brien? Conan O'Brien!

City Council President Nick Licata says the cultural impact of the Sonics is "close to zero," but he can't say that about us. We reviewed that children's book he wrote. You're welcome, Nick.

As we enter our 31st year, it's time to step up and ensure another three decades of civic benefits by granting Seattle Weekly a multimillion-dollar public subsidy.

We'd be happy with half of what Schultz is demanding. OK, a third. A tenth? Look, we'll even kick in some of our own money—unlike Schultz. How much is a pallet of duct tape at Costco?

And we promise not to demand more public "investment" every 10 years like the Sonics. We can wait another 30.

kberger@seattleweekly.com

 
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