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Should King Co. taxpayer money be spent on Safeco Field maintenance or homeless services?

The Seattle Mariners just signed a new 25-year lease to play at Safeco Field. But one King County lawmakers wants the team, and not taxpayers, to pay for stadium repairs and maintenance. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - In order to ditch the King Dome and build a new stadium for the Seattle Mariners, local and state lawmakers turned to a hotel motel tax to pay for the public financing portion of what is now Safeco Field.

The bonds used to build the new stadium were paid off in September of 2011. So the decision was made to use the tax to pay off the bonds used to build what is now CenturyLink Field, the home of the Seattle Seahawks and the Sounders.

But, CenturyLink Field will be paid for in three years.

In order to continue collecting the tax, state lawmakers told King County 37.5 percent of the lodging tax generated every year, "will be used to support affordable workforce housing within one-half mile of a transit station," and for homeless youth services, another 37.5 percent “will be used to support” art, cultural and heritage museums and the performing arts.

The remaining money, “will be used to support tourism-related facilities,” and “funding new programs to support tourism."

In a letter to King County Council President Joe McDermott, King County Executive Dow Constantine said he wants to give roughly $180 million to The Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District, which operates Safeco Field for maintenance, repairs and upgrades.

The money will be spread out over the next 23 years of the Mariners newly-signed 25-year lease agreement.

"There is absolutely no doubt that this money is going to cover the costs of maintenance and operations at that facility, so the mariners don't have to,” said King County Council member Dave Upthegrove who is also the budget chairman.

But, he thinks the county can legally use the money for ‘higher priorities” such as helping the homeless find housing.

“I would rather invest the dollars in the people of King County, to deal with the housing affordability than give that much money to a single, to benefit a single business,” said Upthegrove.

In a press release, the Mariners said they were planning to pay up 80 percent of the necessary upgrades to keep the stadium a “first class facility." A study predicted the stadium would need $385 million in upgrades over the next 25 years.

The team hasn’t commented on Upthegrove’s proposal for them to pay for all upgrades.

David Pleasant who lives in an unsanctioned homeless camp near the stadium said he would like to see the money be spent on the needs of the homeless in SODO, such as bathrooms.

“You have people spending 40, 50 bucks a ticket to watch people hit a ball with a stick,” said Pleasant. “While there are people out here struggling like living under make shift shelters and being forced to move constantly.”

The King County Council will be debating the spending plan over the next few weeks.

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