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Facilities district member: Mariners won’t pay more under Safeco Field lease

Community members and public facility district board members worry the Mariners may ask for more Safeco Field funding later on. Counsel for the Mariners assured the board that claim was 'nonsense.'
KING 5 flew our drone “Dexter” inside Safeco Field for new perspective of the Mariners' home turf.

Perhaps the fight over funding for Safeco Field isn't over yet.

On Monday, in a small conference room near the Home Plate entrance of Safeco Field, two public facilities district board members once again raised questions about the compromise proposal to extend the Mariners lease at the nearly 20-year-old ballpark. Yet another person suggested the county should just sell it to the M's.

"I see them paying substantially less," said Craig Kinzer, a longtime real estate broker, who sits on the PFD board and voted months ago against an M's term sheet earlier this year.

He's since been critical of the proposal, which includes giving the Mariners millions of dollars in hotel-motel taxes in exchange for extending their lease for 25 years.

A King County council committee approved a compromise plan last month to allow for the M's to collect $135 million in funding, which the franchise says is needed for basic maintenance to the retractable roof, seats, and other infrastructure. The Mariners had originally asked for $180 million in the term sheet agreed upon by the PFD, Mariners, and King County Executive Dow Constantine.

RELATED: Mariners show why they believe Safeco Field needs millions in repairs

However, Kinzer suggested in a room full of Mariners officials that the franchise has used fuzzy numbers and touted that it was paying "double rent" compared to the last lease.

"Are they paying more or not?" said Kinzer almost rhetorically to lawyers for the PFD and M's.

When told yes, he said, "The answer is no, they're not."

He wasn't done. Board Chair Virginia Anderson tried to interrupt and said it had been addressed. Kinzer shot back, "No we didn't, and in our original press release we took that comment out, because it is disingenuous, and it snuck its way back in your letter, and I think it's extremely inappropriate, and I believe it adds to the mistrust the public has in our institution."

Kinzer is a self-described sports fan and former minority owner of the NBA's Seattle Sonics along with current Mariners Owner John Stanton. He claimed the M's rent claim was false.

"Anyone who does financial analysis would know that's just not true, just not true," Kinzer said.

PFD Board Member Dale Sperling, who also voted against the original term sheet, also questioned why the Mariners were so quick to say they'd approve of the lesser terms.

"Do you give us assurances you won't come back to us some point in the future to fill that $45 million gap?" he asked the Mariners Executive VP and General Counsel Fred Rivera.

"I'm sure you know that's nonsense," said Rivera, clearly upset at the line of questioning, saying no official lease agreement has been signed.

It was all fuel to people like Duke Vivian. He sat next to Sharon Lee of the Low Income Housing Institute. They both testified about alternative ideas to spending the money. Vivian said he believes the county should just sell the stadium to the Mariners and use the proceeds for affordable housing.

"We have a once in a lifetime opportunity if we sell the stadium, to recover half a billion dollars in public money to use on today's priority, which is affordable housing," he said. "It comes late in the game, but the lease has not been signed."

Vivian added that he was concerned the Mariners could ask for more money at the end of the 25-year lease extension or want a new public stadium altogether.

"All of the public equity will be wiped out by a demolition crane," Vivian said. "Right now there is public equity that can be recovered and used for another purpose."

Anderson summed up the tense proceedings by acknowledging, "We had a divided vote in May, and it remains that way."

In the same meeting, the Mariners also released data from the four concerts that filled the stadium this summer. Pearl Jam drew nearly 88,000 fans over two nights and raised $12 million for homeless programs. The Zac Brown Band drew nearly 24,000, and more than 37,000 turned out for the Foo Fighters.

Per the terms of their current lease, the proceeds from those concerts went directly to the Mariners.

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