The City of Seattle is back at it again, seeking $75 million in public funds for a $300 million remodel of KeyArena with the hope of attracting an NBA team to replace the Sonics.
If that battle wasn’t difficult enough, consider the state’s projected $5 billion deficit and the competition, including the University of Washington, eyeing the same pot of money.
Tim Ceis, Seattle’s deputy mayor, presented the city’s proposal to a legislative task force Monday at Bellevue City Hall during the group’s final public hearing.
The task force was created by the state Legislature and is co-chaired by Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, and Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way. The seven-member group is charged with evaluating options for using King County taxes, some of which are being used to pay off debt on Safeco Field, Qwest Field and the demolished Kingdome.
UW athletic director Scott Woodward and Ron Crockett, owner of Emerald Downs and a prominent UW donor who has led several of the school’s athletic fundraising campaigns, presented a proposal for a $300 million remodel of Husky Stadium. The college wants $150 million in public funds.
Hunter said he and Eide will get feedback from the rest of the task force about what their priorities are, and craft a recommendation the majority of the group can support. If a consensus can’t be reached, the group will put together a report outlining all of the options, which they hope to complete in the next couple weeks.
“My personal take is I’d like to push decisions as far down as possible where they’re most connected to their local voters,” Hunter said.
The City of Seattle wants the Legislature to restore the city’s ability to raise money through the city-only hotel-motel tax that funds the convention center.
The tax rate in Seattle is 7 percent, but only about 6 percent is needed to pay off the remaining bonds. The city wants to use 1 percent of the tax to add to the overall financing of a KeyArena remodel.
The Legislature has turned down proposed funding to build an arena for the Sonics in successive sessions, but this time, there’s extra incentive to approve a deal.
According to the city’s settlement with the former Sonics ownership group, the city will receive another $30 million from Clay Bennett’s group if the Legislature approves funding for an NBA-ready arena by Dec. 31, 2009, and if Seattle is still without an NBA team in 2013.
Ceis, noting there’s a potential local NBA ownership in a group headed by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, said a new arena would help rebuild the Seattle Center and remove a big stumbling block in bringing professional basketball back to Seattle.
“I think Mr. Ballmer and their group have had some very positive discussions with the league,” Ceis said. “And if we pull this off, I think Mr. Ballmer is highly motivated to do what he can to get a team here as quickly as he can.”
The UW would use the $150 million it requested to pay for seismic and ADA upgrades to the lower bowl of 88-year-old Husky Stadium. The school would then raise $150 million in private funds next year to cover the rest of the cost of the project, including building club seats.
Crockett would like to start construction in November and have the football team use Qwest Field for the 2010 season while the stadium is being rebuilt.
“In a perfect world this would be a state capital project,” Woodward said. “But it’s not a perfect world. There’s not enough money. There’s too many projects, and that’s why we’re here talking about these sources or revenues because we believe they’re user taxes.”
The UW proposal raised questions from members of the task force, who wanted to know why the school didn’t raise the money itself, and it was opposed by Washington State alumni.
UW recently completed a fundraising effort that generated over $2 billion, but Woodward said that money is earmarked for academic facility improvements. Funding for a remodeled Husky Stadium would be a low priority.
Glenn Osterhout, a WSU graduate and part of a grass-roots effort by the school’s alumni, spoke out against UW using tax money for stadium renovations.
Osterhout said the project would give Washington an unfair advantage in recruiting. He also noted WSU is raising money for a $40 million renovation of Martin Stadium through private donations.
“We think they have the capacity to fund their own stadium,” Osterhout said.
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, a supporter of the project who presides over the district UW is in, said Osterhout and other members of opposition should be ashamed of their stance against the Husky Stadium project, particularly because the state has earmarked funds for WSU athletic projects in the past.
Also, the Washington State Trade and Convention Center presented an ambitious project that would expand the current trade center facility, doubling the convention center space in Seattle at a cost of $766 million.
Others looking for funds include local arts groups, Puget Sound cleanup groups, youth sports groups and low-income housing activists.
Ceis said the city and Frank Finneran, executive director of the trade center, are working together and there’s enough money available to fund both KeyArena and the trade center.
Ceis also said there’s no competition between the KeyArena remodel and the Husky Stadium renovation.
“They’re looking at other revenue streams, so we’re not in competition with them at all,” Ceis said.
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437