The Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District Board (PFD) officially ratified a new controversial 25-year lease to keep the Mariners in what is currently known as Safeco Field.
New unearthed text messages obtained via a public disclosure request show how contentious and questionable the legislation was earlier this year.
Monday’s vote in the base of Safeco Field was unanimous and expected. It also secures the franchise’s future in Seattle, albeit at the cost of $135 million to taxpayers. Earlier this year, the King County Council agreed to an amended piece of legislation which allocated the money to the ballpark.
The Mariners had argued they were a tenant in the county-owned facility and the money was needed for upgrades.
However, it appeared at least back in May, that King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci had questions. She texted a colleague that the M’s $180 million request was “on average just over 7m per year. If spent to build affordable housing at 200k per unit, could instead build 900 units total or about 36 per year on average.”
That likely led to the compromise bill and Balducci’s support. She was later labeled, by colleague Rod Dembowski in another text as part of the “#Skybox5.”
The texts also reveal that Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles attempted to do heavy lifting behind the scenes after she initially supported the Mariners request. She seemed at one point, via text, to be soliciting the support of Councilmember Kathy Lambert, who initially seemed warm to limiting the M’s funding.
Lambert voted to support the Mariners instead.
Kohl-Welles’ Chief of Staff Adam Cooper was especially fired up, texting Kohl-Welles while apparently in a meeting to “take the gloves off and go for their throats! Ugh, this is just gross.”
In another text, Kohl-Welles said “the whole thing is bizarre. Still cannot figure out why Joe (McDermott) and Claudia are being so rigid.”
To which Cooper replied, “Because they sold their souls to the devil.”
King County Council Media Relations Manager David Shurtleff took it one step further, especially as it pertains to the Mariners request.
“Hit them hard on their rent. 1$ million a year!!!!! What kind of quote “landlord” would spend nearly 10 times someone’s rent for upkeep every year. If they want us to treat them like a landlord well they better be prepared to pay market rate for our stadium,” Shurtleff said in a text. “And they play NO property tax. It’s their only talking point “it’s the county’s responsibility as the landlord.”
Shurtleff, in a text message, continued, “And over and over that so the choice (amd only choice) is whether to give your money to a billionaire or working class people and single moms who can’t afford a home. And veterans. A guy with shrapnel in his leg from Fallujah shouldn’t be sleeping under a bridge three blocks from Safeco.” Shurtleff continued, “So then it’s do we provide an affordable home for a guy who fought for our country OR do we further line the pockets of a billionaire living in a mansion in Medina.”
The King County Council ultimately voted 5-4 to approve the public funding, which led to Monday’s PFD vote.
Most board members cheered the deal and securing the long-term future of the franchise. However, PFD board members Dale Sperling and Craig Kinzer, who both voted against the deal during other steps the process, sounded off again.
Sperling called it a “backroom deal” and that “the franchise does not need more support beyond what they were given 20 years ago.”
“There were dissenting issues, but in the end, they came together,” said Mariners Owner and Managing Partner John Stanton. “With respect to issues like homelessness, the ownership is deeply committed to making this a better community.”
Stanton, who stayed quiet during the county negotiations also said, “We’ll continue to be leaders on issues related homeless, we live in this community, we know that it’s a huge challenge,” saying that the franchise has supported 2700 non-profits.
“The new lease not only keeps the Mariners here for another 25 years, it substantially strengthens the PFD’s oversight role and ensures that we have locked in the financial commitments needed to keep this ballpark among the best in the country. The Club will continue to upgrade this publicly-owned facility, and – with our new non-relocation agreement, one of the strongest in Major League Baseball – we are protecting the public’s investment in the facility. We appreciate the Mariners’ desire to keep our ballpark among the top in Major League Baseball, and we look forward to continuing our successful partnership with the Club as we steward this facility in the years ahead,” Virginia Anderson, PFD Chair, said in a statement.
Stanton told KING 5 he has no intention of the franchise changing hands anytime soon.
“I will tell you personally I intend to live a long time, my mom is 94 and going strong, and I have no intention nor do I ever think there would be anything that would cause me to want to sell my interests, we'll pass it along to our children all of whom live in this community and are committed to staying here,” said Stanton.
He acknowledged the deal will now let the franchise sell new naming rights to the 20-year-old stadium. The M’s have already said Safeco would not be back as a title sponsor at the end of their deal. Bellevue-based T-Mobile has been rumored to be next in line.
When asked if the stadium would have to be changed to Magenta, the T-Mobile’s branding color, Stanton smirked and said, “We expect to have a deal for the naming rights in the next few weeks.”