Only hours after meeting with NFL officials in Seattle, King County Executive Gary Locke came through Spokane with several interesting pronouncements concerning the fight to prevent the Seattle Seahawks’ relocation.
Locke, who is also a Democratic candidate for governor, is spearheading a legal battle to prevent Seahawks owner Ken Behring from moving the team to Southern California.
In a meeting room at Spokane International Airport Monday afternoon, Locke reported that:
NFL officials are not demanding the construction of a new stadium in Seattle as was implied by the league last week.
NFL officials have promised to take a more forceful approach in keeping the team in Seattle.
Long-term stability of the NFL in Seattle can only be achieved through local ownership.
If Behring decides not to sell the team and is forced to keep it in Seattle, the county may make no renovations to the Kingdome whatsoever.
“I was very encouraged with today’s meeting with Jerry Richardson, who is the chairman of the NFL Stadium Committee and who is also the owner of the Carolina Panthers,” Locke said.
The focus of the meeting, Locke said, was ways to develop “a partnership between the NFL, the business community, government, fans and owners of the Seahawks in order to make improvements to the Kingdome.”
Richardson suggested revenue options such as personal seat licenses, luxury suites, club seats and more advertising outside the stadium.
Richardson also cleared up what Locke contended was a misinterpretation: that NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue suggested last week that the league would require a new stadium in Seattle.
“The NFL is not insisting on a new stadium, contrary to some reports,” Locke said.
Richardson and other NFL officials might be called upon to advise the Kingdome Renovation Task Force, which is expected to release recommendations on the situation within the next several weeks, Locke said.
“In all my conversations with Commissioner Tagliabue and the statements made by (Richardson) today, all reaffirmed that the franchise was awarded to the Pacific Northwest,” Locke said. “And they made it very clear that the Seahawks are to remain here.
“Those are stronger terms than we’ve heard from the NFL, and they indicated there may be more actions to follow,” Locke said. “Commissioner Tagliabue indicated the league will be taking a more forceful approach to keeping the Seahawks in the Pacific Northwest.”
But that stability can not be achieved, Locke said, without local ownership.
The most visible prospective buyer has been Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
Time for a sale, though, is running out.
“The next couple weeks are a critical time; it’s important to start selling season tickets and there are draft decisions and free-agent decisions to be made,” Locke said.
But Locke cautioned it is now important to allow negotiations to proceed without public scrutiny.
“I think we really need to give them some space,” Locke said. “County and political officials can’t be looking over their shoulders; we don’t want to spook them away from any possible deal.”
If Behring cannot be coaxed to sell, the Seahawks will land in court to battle King County over the validity of a lease that binds the team to the Kingdome for 10 more years.
Funds for the estimated $150 million cost of Kingdome renovations will be raised without general taxes, Locke said. “They are primarily going to have to be financed by user fees, personal seat licenses, suite revenues and perhaps another sports lottery. The baseball lottery, the scratch games for the (new Mariners’) stadium, were enormously successful.”
But if Behring does not sell and can’t move, don’t look for an out-pouring of support from the county.
“I think it would be extremely difficult to find any money for improvements if the team is not owned by a local person,” Locke said. “If Mr. Behring is still here, he may have to play in the current Kingdome for the next 10 years. We’re not about to make renovations to the Kingdome under the threat of him leaving town.”
As Locke outlined it, the timetable for the case calls for the Washington State Supreme Court to decide if the trial over the lease be held in King or Kittitas county.
“There should be a ruling in the first week or two of April,” Locke said. “Then hearings will resume in King or Kittitas county within a week or so and then the trial will be set over for some time this summer.”
Locke said he hopes a sale of the franchise would preclude court action.
“I’m very confident that the Seahawks will stay in the Pacific Northwest and will be playing in the Kingdome in 1996.”
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