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Mariners strike deal for another 25 years at Safeco Field

The Mariners are staying at Safeco Field for the next 25 years.
Safeco Field the morning of Opening Day (Photo by Greg Thies)

The Seattle Mariners will spend another 25 years at the ballpark known as Safeco Field, per the terms of a new agreement.

The Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District approved the terms by a vote of 5-2. The lease would take effect at the end of this year and two three-year options could extend the lease through 2049.

It came after months of closed-door negotiations between the PFD and Mariners’ officials, and debates over finances, including a proposed public subsidy to pay for ballpark improvements.

The Mariners have been in Seattle since 1977 and played in the ballpark since 1999. Their lease was due to expire at the end of this year.

King County Executive Dow Constantine says lodging taxes are part of the deal and has forwarded that request to the King County Council.

Constantine says the revenue, from the hotel/motel tax has been used in the past to pay for the Kingdome, Safeco Field, and Century Link Field. He’s proposing that revenue stream now be used for tourism promotion, arts programs, museums, workforce housing, and programs for homeless youth. He says he’s asking for a small percentage, roughly 12 percent, to be used for public facilities districts that own Safeco Field and ShoWare Center in Kent.

Also see: Mariners replace Safeco Field's playing surface

That money would go towards a joint Capital Expenditure Fund for maintenance of the 20-year-old facility and a similar one for the ShoWare Center.

“It is a relatively small percentage of the tourism tax stream,” said Constantine.

However, the suggestion was immediately met with pushback from one King County Council Member Dave Upthegrove.

"The proposal to earmark roughly $180 million in public funds for Safeco Field is the wrong priority. The Seattle Mariners are a profitable, private company that can and should pay their own expenses.”

It is likely the biggest hang up in a process that has proceeded quietly and without any public animosity like other Seattle stadium projects or baseball stadiums in other cities. The Mariners never made any public proclamation about a need for a new stadium or complained about their current situation. It is in stark contrast to recent situations in Atlanta, Arizona, or Texas.

Turner Field in Atlanta opened for the Braves in 1997 and they moved out in 2016. The Rangers opened Globe Life Park in 1994 and will leave in 2020. Arizona is looking for a new stadium after opening Chase Field in 1998.

“We want this to be a 100-year facility,” said Virginia Anderson, PFD Board Chair of the stadium currently known as Safeco Field. She was one of the five yes votes. Board members Dale Sperling and Craig Kinzer voted no. Sperling said it had to do with the public subsidy.

Anderson, however, says the term sheet and resolution do not depend on the hotel -motel tax.

“Our term sheet is not reliant on the County Council to approve or not approve that amount of money,” she said. “For us, we still have the terms of the agreed upon lease.”

“It’s a great day for baseball in the Northwest,” said Executive Vice President of the Mariners Fred Rivera, who acknowledged the deal will allow the M’s to regularly maintain the roof, as well as new seats, carpeting, and the “nuts and bolts” of the stadium.

If the Council was to reject the tax, “We’ll have to address that if it comes to that,” he said, “It’s hanging out there, if the vote is not approved, we’ll come up with a new finance plan to take care of capital improvements.”

The Lease Renewal Term Sheet from the PFD outlines other elements of the deal between the Mariners and the PFD.

The Mariners will pay $1,500,000 with annual escalators, and annual revenue sharing to the Capital Expenditure Fund. The M’s are responsible for Operations and Management of the Venue and capital expenditures. The PFD contributes admissions and parking taxes and creates a Ballpark Neighborhood Improvement Fund.

There is also a stronger non-relocation agreement than the existing lease. A new owner, if not local, would have to pay $20,000,000 to the PFD if the Mariners are sold in years 1-15 of the deal, or years 16-25 if the buyer commits to additional 10 years beyond lease terms.

The PFD was created in October 1995 to oversee the construction of the $517 million publicly financed ballpark. The Safeco Bonds were paid off in September 2011, five years ahead of schedule, and the original lease was slated to expire at the end of this year.

The PFD is responsible for all oversight of the ballpark, including maintenance and operations. The M’s are responsible for day to day operations, including maintenance and capital improvements.

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