King County Council votes 5-4 to spend $135M in public funds on Safeco Field for Mariners

SEATTLE -- The King County Council voted 5-4 Monday to direct $135 million in hotel tax revenue to maintain Safeco Field as part of the Seattle Mariners new lease agreement.

King County Executive Dow Constantine’s original proposal had called for spending $180 million in tax revenue for Safeco Field maintenance.

The Mariners said $180 million in public funding was needed in order for it to sign a new, 25-year lease at Safeco, while many others said it was money that could go a long way toward easing the city's housing crisis.

The "compromise" passed Monday, which was sponsored by Councilmembers Joe McDermott and Claudia Balducci and accepted by the Mariners, called for spending $135 million toward ballpark maintenance, but also $661 million toward affordable housing. That was an increase from Constantine’s proposal of spending $496 million.

The proposal was not kind to tourism, as the McDermott-Balducci proposal only earmarked $8 million over two decades for tourism. Constantine’s original proposal called for $109 million to be spent for tourism.

“It’s ironic that as the City of Seattle prepares to ratify a $700 million renovation deal for Key Arena paid primarily by private funding, the King County Council voted today to give away $135 million in public funds to a stadium occupied by a sole corporate tenant worth over $1 billion," said a joint statement by Councilmembers Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Rod Dembowski and Larry Gossett, who all voted against the proposal.

The fourth "no" vote came from Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who wrote, "The decision to give $135 million in taxpayer funds to benefit the Mariners Corporation represents everything wrong with politics in America today. A small group of millionaire business owners prevailed over the public good.

"The Mariners are a very profitable private business that can and should pay their own expenses. The only result of this misguided decision is that a small group of wealthy business owners will now make an additional $135 million in profit. In doing so, the people lose $135 million that could have been spent on tourism promotion, housing, or other critical public services."