Report: Mariners won't sign Safeco Field lease unless they get $180 million in taxpayer funds

The Mariners would like some money in order to continue playing at Safeco Field in Seattle. (AP Photo)
The Mariners would like some money in order to continue playing at Safeco Field in Seattle. (AP Photo)

In May, the Seattle Mariners proudly announced that they had agreed to terms on a new 25-year lease that would have kept them in Safeco Field through the 2049 season. The team had an ambition vision for the stadium’s place in Seattle.

“We want this ballpark to be our home for the next 100 years. Safeco Field should be to Seattle and to the Mariners what Wrigley Field is to Chicago and the Cubs and Fenway Park is to Boston and the Red Sox,” Mariners chairman and managing partner John Stanton said in a statement at the time.

Apparently, that plan has hit a rather large snag.

Mariners demand $180 million for Safeco Field upkeep

In order for the Mariners to sign the lease, the team has demanded $180 million in taxpayer funds to use on “stadium upkeep” for the 19-year-old Safeco Field, according to a report from Seattle Weekly.

The principal players in this standoff are reportedly the Mariners, King County executive Dow Constantine, the King County Council and Washington State’s MLB Public Facilities District, a municipal corporation that officially owns and operates Safeco Field.

The terms of the long-term lease that the Mariners had previously announced would have been agreed to by the Mariners and the PFD, with the County Council giving final approval on the public funding. At the same time as the initial agreement was announced, Constantine proposed using $180 million from the county’s lodging tax, or hotel/motel tax to fund Safeco Field’s upkeep, per the Weekly.

Those two announcements are obviously related: The Mariners would stay at Safeco, as long the county made it worth their while. However, the upkeep funding proposal seems to be hitting more pushback than expected. A potential vote is reportedly scheduled for Aug. 29.

Where would King County get $180 million?

What makes this conflict somewhat different than others is that the tax revenue the Mariners are seeking already exists and will be free very soon. Per Seattle Weekly’s report, a portion of revenues from the hotel/motel tax have long been used to fund professional sports stadiums, but the debts those taxes have gone into will be fully paid by 2020.

The Mariners are asking that money go to them.

What could King County spend the money on instead of Safeco Field upkeep?

One council member had a rather sensible idea: Use the money to fund affordable housing for Seattle, where real estate prices have recently hit record heights, according to The Seattle Times.

37.5 percent of the hotel/motel tax already goes to affordable housing due to state law, while another 37.5 percent is required to go to arts programs. The rest of the money is supposed to go to “tourism promotion,” which has translated to stadium promotion, but there is reportedly nothing stopping the county from using the money on even more affordable housing instead.

Council member Dave Upthegrove made such proposal in response to the Mariners-friendly proposal, according to The Seattle Times.

“We see more and more people living in the streets,” he said. “And we are foregoing these public resources to address housing and affordability in the region in order to provide the funding to offset the costs of one large business. That doesn’t feel right to me.”

What does this mean for Seattle and the Mariners?

The obvious worry in any stadium funding standoff is that the team could threaten to leave the city, but that doesn’t appear to be a significant danger here. Upthegrove said the idea of the team walking away from the city is a “nonsense” threat.

The Mariners’ Safeco Field lease is set to expire after the 2018 season. If the Mariners can’t get their $180 million, the next step is reportedly to go back to the drawing board and operate in the meantime on a short-term lease extension. If the team and county still can’t figure out an agreement, then who knows.

As an MLB team, the Mariners are already a massively profitable, billion-dollar company that could almost certainly stomach the expenses of making sure Safeco Field is up to their standards, but why do that when you have a city that could do it for you?

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