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Ads Tackle Skepticism In Eastern Washington Less Than 20 Percent Of Population, With Incomes That Make Games Luxury

Sun., June 1, 1997, midnight

In the battle for a new Seattle football stadium, Eastern Washington voters are being wooed like high-priced free agents.

There’s a TV and newspaper ad blitz. Seahawks executives huddle with local business leaders. Players are drafted for ribbon cuttings on the dry side of the Cascades.

“The reason we are here is to … let people know we care about them,” defensive tackle Sam Adams declared as stadium supporters opened an office in this city of 190,000 near the Idaho border.

Eastern Washington residents “are a very big part of our fans,” Adams said.

Stadium boosters - their campaign is called Our Team Works - also have an office in Kennewick.

Their mission is to convince folks living on the east side of the state, less than 20 percent of the state’s population, that yet another new ballpark in downtown Seattle is good for them.

“I don’t believe in tooth fairies,” said Dick Adams of Spokane, a retired steel worker who is opposed to spending public money for a stadium 280 miles to the west.

“I don’t think it’s in our interest to reach into our pockets to subsidize billionaires,” Adams said.

The billionaire at issue is Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who says he will drop his option to buy the Seahawks unless voters in a special June 17 election approve spending $300 million in state money on the proposed $425 million project.

Eastern Washington residents are already stuck with part of the $369 million public tab for the new Seattle Mariners baseball stadium.

Many wonder if they should help pay for a 72,000-seat football arena that could swallow the entire population of nearly all of Eastern Washington’s cities, and most rural counties.

They also noticed that Allen’s worth rose $1 billion in a single day recently when the stock price of Microsoft took off after an announcement of huge profits. That’s about what the more than 4,000 apple growers in Eastern Washington gross in a good year.

Much of the organized opposition springs from activists opposed to government subsidies of private business - a potent message in conservative Eastern Washington.

Lower average incomes make it less likely that people on this side of the Cascades will attend many Seahawks games, Talbott said.

The average per capita income in King County is $28,000 a year. In Spokane County it’s $18,000. In Yakima County it drops to $17,500. In rural areas it’s even less.

But the Seahawks have many supporters over here. Malls are full of stores selling Seahawks paraphernalia, and many sports bars promote the team. Thousands of people travel to Seattle to attend Seahawks games, stadium supporters say.

The pitch that the new stadium would draw world-class soccer also helps the campaign on the east side of the state, where the game is popular.

And the Seahawks are holding this summer’s training camp at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, about 15 miles southwest of Spokane, for the first time in a decade.

Under the ballot proposal, about $300 million would be generated by lottery games, taxes on stadium admissions and parking, an extension of the current King County hotel tax and various other tax deferrals and credits.

No scientific poll of Eastern Washington attitudes on Referendum 48 has been released.

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