Mariners VP: We want Safeco Field to be around for 100 years
The Mariners organization has found itself going to bat for the sake of Safeco Field.
With its 20-year lease on the ballpark coming to an end at the close of 2018, the Mariners are asking the King County Council for $180 million in revenue from the city’s hotel-motel tax in exchange for renewing the lease for 25 more years.
Seattle Mariners Executive Vice President Fred Rivera told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that the money would be spent on “necessary capital improvements … things that are necessary to keep the ballpark standing.” For example, Safeco Field will need to do some serious upkeep on its roof — “which allows us to play every game, every one of our 81 games, without a rain-out,” Rivera noted — in the next couple of decades.
“We want Safeco to be a hundred-year ballpark,” Rivera said. “We want Safeco to be to the Mariners what Wrigley [Field] is to the [Chicago] Cubs and what Fenway [Park] is to the Boston Red Sox.”
The ask has turned into a debate over Seattle’s homeless crisis, with opponents of giving the Mariners the revenue arguing that the money would be better spent on working to solve homelessness.
Rivera countered that over the next 25 years, the Legislature has already decided that over 37 percent of the hotel-motel tax revenue, or $500 million, will go toward low-income housing.
“We don’t think this is an either/or proposition … We think there is enough for low-income housing, as well as to upkeep this public asset,” Rivera said.
Rivera pointed out that the money collected from taxes would only fund infrastructure improvements to maintain the stadium, rather than going toward new revenue-enhancing strategies.
“The money would actually flow not to the Mariners — the lodging tax revenue would flow to the Public Facilities District,” he said. “And that agreement has very specific guidelines on how the money can be spent.”
Rivera added that, as the tax is a fee on hotel stays, the people paying the tax will not in general be Seattle taxpayers, but those coming to the city from out of town. What’s more, by attracting people from far away to Mariners games, Safeco Field and the Mariners help to generate the very hotel-motel tax revenue they are requesting.
“If you were at one of the games this past week with the Toronto Blue Jays, you saw a number of our friends from the north who were here staying in our hotels and eating at our restaurants,” Rivera said. “This is a lodging tax revenue stream.”
Bringing in three million people yearly, Safeco Field is one of the most-visited tourist sights in Seattle, according to Rivera; additionally, he said, it provides the equivalent of 3,300 full-time jobs each year and will generate over $200 million during the 25 years of the new lease.
“It is an important economic driver for the region … all of that economic activity is going to benefit our region, it’s going to benefit the taxpayers,” Rivera said.
As Rivera pointed out, the team almost moved to Tampa Bay back in the early ’90s. However, Rivera said that the Mariners firmly intend to stay in Seattle and don’t plan to play hardball with the King County Council.
“We’re not taking our team out of Seattle — our leverage is that we’re being honest and we’re playing it right down the middle,” he said. “This ownership group, as I’ve said, is committed to the Seattle region. We are not threatening to move. We are giving all the information we can to the King County council members and the public so that they can make an informed decision.”
If the council does not vote to send the tax revenue to the Mariners, then Rivera said a solution will have to be found together with the Public Utilities District. The public-private relationship is “a model that can work,” based on other baseball stadiums throughout the country, Rivera said.
“We have honored that public-private relationship for the past 20 years and we want to continue that,” Rivera said.