After a jam-packed hearing on legislation would allocate roughly $180 million to Safeco Field upkeep, King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles—one of the original sponsors of the bill—is no longer supporting the plan.
Back in May, County Executive Dow Constantine proposed using around $180 million in new revenues from the lodging tax (a tax on hotel and motel stays) over the next two decades to fund upkeep at Safeco Field—such as maintenance on the retractable roof. (In 2020, the last of the debts on the construction of CenturyLink Field will be paid off, freeing up roughly $36 million annually from the lodging tax.) The plan was immediately criticized by Councilmember Dave Upthegrove who argued that state law allows the county to allocate those funds to affordable housing near transit stations and homeless youth services.
Last week, Seattle Weekly reported that the the Seattle Mariners are refusing to sign their new 25-year lease extension with the Public Facilities District (the entity that manages Safeco Field) unless the county approves the $180 million allocation for upkeep. The sports team has argued that the county should contribute funding since the stadium is publically owned and the Mariners are already paying out of pocket for other maintenance and upgrades—such as a brew pub. (If the county doesn’t allocate the money, the team says it will obtain a short-term lease extension and go back to the negotiating table on the long-term lease.)
However, affordable housing advocates have been criticizing the proposal, and packed the King County Council chambers at a July 30 hearing on the legislation, arguing that a larger portion of the funds should be invested in housing given the regional homelessness crisis and red-hot housing market.
At the time that Constantine rolled out his legislation, it was being sponsored by Councilmembers Joe McDermott, Pete von Reichbauer, and Jeanne Kohl-Welles. Back in May, Kohl-Welles defended the plan by claiming that the Mariners benefit the region economically from fan attendance.
But in a statement released on the afternoon of July 31, Kohl-Welles said that she will introduce an amendment that would reduce the allocation for stadium maintenance from $180 million to $25 million, and boost the ordinance’s funding for affordable housing by $184 million.
“The existing proposal to fund up to $190 million for maintenance at Safeco Field is simply the wrong amount at the wrong time,” she said. “The bottom line is our region is experiencing a major housing crisis. If a government declares something a state of emergency, then the public deserves to have their elected officials act accordingly. We can strike the right balance and find a way to meet the Mariners’ stated basic maintenance needs while also acknowledging the immense, immediate need to address our housing crisis.”
Kohl-Welles about-face now puts the Safeco Field maintenance funding legislation on uncertain ground. Councilmember Rod Dembowski reportedly won’t support the legislation as it’s currently written, while Councilmember Larry Gossett told Seattle Weekly that he is leaning towards giving the Mariners “far less than the executive is recommending.” Reached by phone on July 31, Gossett said that Kohl-Welles’ sentiment in her recent announcement “largely describes where I’m standing.”
“I think that the only thing that happened between the time she had the previous position and now was the hearing that we had,” Gossett added.
With Kohl-Welles now pushing her amendment to boost funding for affordable housing, there are seemingly four councilmembers in total (including Upthegrove) who support altering the legislation. Councilmembers Balducci, Dunn, and Lambert—the remaining three councilmembers who have not yet weighed in definitively on where they stand on the legislation—did not respond to requests for comment.
The legislation will be brought up again for additional discussion and a possible vote out of the council committee on Wednesday, August 29.