September 20, 1995 in Nation/World

Seattle Stadium Ahead In Extra Innings

Tim Klass Associated Press
 

Voters Tuesday shot down a proposal to help finance a $312 million downtown park, but financing for a $325 million baseball stadium forged ahead in election returns Tuesday.

The vote on the stadium measure in King County was 219,748 for, 215,697 against with 99 percent of the precincts reporting.

But most of the 50,000 absentee voters were expected to oppose the proposal.

Even some supporters were caught by surprise.

“I’m not encouraged,” said Bob Gogerty, a political consultant and spokesman for the stadium booster group Home Town Fans, when the measure was trailing earlier. .. much to make up the point difference.”

King County Council member Peter von Reichbauer said that if the measure ultimately failed, he would propose a meeting of city, county and state officials to devise another ballot proposal that could go to the voters later this fall.

Seattle Mariners boosters spun their pitch for a sales-tax increase as probably the last chance to keep major league baseball in town despite the lack of a final design, site or lease agreement for the retractable-roof stadium.

In addition, the one-tenth of 1 percent tax increase would finance a Kingdome overhaul demanded by owners of the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League, who also said they might leave if the plan were thrown for a loss.

High spirits prevailed early as about 200 people dined and drank under lights, banners and balloons at the election night party of Home Town Fans at a restaurant near the Kingdome.

“Just like the team tonight, it’s going down to the wire,” County Executive Gary Locke said on a night the Mariners beat the Texas Rangers 5-4 on an 11th-inning RBI single by Ken Griffey Jr.

He exchanged high fives with Mayor Norm Rice, who also campaigned for both measures.

At a party called by the main stadium opposition group, the Committee for More Important Things, at an art gallery a few blocks away, barely a dozen people gathered to drink wine while watching the returns.

The tax increase would apply only in King County, which includes Seattle.

Commons shot down

On the Seattle Commons, the city vote was 81,591 to 73,789 or 52.5 percent no, with 959 of 1,052 precincts counted.

Backers of the Commons, an idea cooked up by Seattle Times food columnist John Hinterberger in 1991, hoped a property tax increase of up to 48 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation would be easier to swallow with the last-minute offer by billionaire Paul Allen to forgive a $20 million loan if the park plan were approved.

The result, covering 61 acres between Lake Union and the downtown area, would be a signature park like the Boston Commons, Central Park in New York or Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

“Being outspent $900,000 to $40,000 - at least you can’t buy an election,” said Mike Kendall, a co-founder of the Seattle Commons Opponents Committee. “It’s reaffirmed my faith in the political process and in the voters in this city.”

“Certainly the numbers don’t look good at this point,” Hinterberger said. “If the trend continues this way, we have to assume voters said there’s not enough in it for me or it’s too expensive for my household.”

Rice, Hinterberger and Gary Davis, another Commons activist, said another ballot attempt was likely.

“It takes time to do complex, important projects. There’s just too much momentum behind this project to fold up here tonight,” Davis said.

“I think we need to keep on dreaming. I think we need to keep this dream alive,” Rice said.

The stadium plan, drafted by a panel appointed by Locke shortly after he took office in January 1994, would boost the sales tax rate to 8.3 percent from 8.2 percent, an average of $7.50 a person annually for 20 years.

The county’s payout would be limited to $240.8 million, plus donation of the site and possibly construction of a parking garage to be financed through parking fees. The Mariners would pay $45 million, the club and private contributors would cover any cost overruns and the state would be asked to exempt the project from the sales tax, cutting costs by about $25 million.

Also included was $100 million for construction of luxury boxes in the Kingdome and other improvements sought by the Seahawks and $70 million to cover repair of the Kingdome roof last year.

The nine-year Commons levy would raise $100 million for the park and $11 million to overhaul 28 ball fields in neighborhoods around the city. It would cost the owner of a $150,000 house $4 to $6 a month.

Commons supporters promised to raise another $70 million privately. By the election they had $25 million, counting the $20 million from Allen.

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