It isn’t a surprise that the Seattle Mariners oppose sharing the South of Downtown neighborhood with a proposed basketball-hockey arena.
What is surprising is that the team expressed opposition in public.
The public-policy playbook for teams that already have their tax-subsidized stadium is to publicly wish the next guys in line all the luck in the world while working privately to give them the shaft.
Teams even cajole the boards of the public facility districts and public stadium authorities to be the bad guys while they themselves pay lip service to the brotherhood of professional sports owners.
That’s because, as the Mariners are finding out, sports fans don’t like those who oppose new arenas. Nonsports fans don’t like the hypocrisy of owners trying to hog the public trough for themselves.
Last week’s letter to Seattle and King County elected officials was signed by Mariners Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Howard Lincoln and said the location of a new arena south of Safeco Field “simply does not work.”
The port industrial area, he wrote, does not have the capacity for even more traffic. It already is hard to avoid scheduling conflicts between the baseball stadium and the football/soccer stadium.
I am tempted to comment on the odds of the woeful Mariners playing meaningful games into October and overlapping the basketball and hockey seasons, but that would be a cheap shot.
It is worth noting, however, that many of Lincoln’s concerns about how traffic would impact the industrial neighborhood were raised and mostly disregarded when Safeco and CenturyLink fields were being built.
The Mariners, in fact, have firsthand knowledge of how promises made to industry about traffic mitigation are mostly empty. That’s because the proposed improvements made by Safeco and CenturyLink backers, with one exception, have been put off or canceled.
Now that they have their stadium, the Mariners apparently are born-again port supporters.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, attached at the hip to billionaire Sonics savior Chris Hansen, responded to Lincoln’s letter with – wait for it – promised traffic improvements if the arena is built.
Lincoln goes on to employ more than a little bit of revisionist history when he says the site for Safeco Field “was not dictated by the Mariners or by any single interest.” That is a shot at Hansen, who has been buying up property south of the existing stadiums for his arena.
But it also suggests that somehow the baseball and football stadiums were born of a democratic process because there were commissions and committees and boards involved.
In truth, the owners of the Mariners and the Seahawks dictated every significant decision, from siting to design to the generous financial deal with taxpayers. Whenever the government entities tried to assert themselves, the teams always invoked the nuclear option by threatening to move.
Hansen did indeed employ a stealth campaign to buy property or options before property owners knew what they had. But he bought in the area designated by city planners as the stadium district.
By so designating SoDo after a lengthy process, the city acknowledges that sports palaces do little for their neighbors. Gone are the days when most fans ate and drank in surrounding restaurants and clubs before and after games. The purpose of modern arenas is to capture those dollars inside, not outside, so as to fill the ever-widening maw of professional sports.
That means the owners and the players get the majority of fans’ money; the surrounding neighborhood gets the noise, the traffic, the litter.
Even the Legislature finally copped to that truth in last year’s failed convention center bill when it sought to set aside $1 million a year for mitigation in the struggling International District adjacent to the current stadiums.
It is better, the city decided, to place these financially isolated stadiums off by themselves where the ill effects will fall on those without the political clout to be heard or on existing team owners who lack credibility with the public.