May 24, 1997 in City

The Dollar Game: New Stadium Decision ‘Sweetheart Deal’ Hard To Sell Spokane Chamber Crowd Skeptical; Stadium Proponent Admits Big Job Ahead

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Supporters of a new stadium for the Seattle Seahawks have a tough sell in Eastern Washington, if a Friday morning debate before the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce is any indication.

Stadium proponent Wes Uhlman, a former Seattle mayor and legislator, acknowledged as much while he battled Spokane populist John Talbott at the microphone and fielded questions from some two dozen skeptical businessmen and women in the audience.

Talbott blasted the proposal as a “sweetheart deal” for businessman Paul Allen, who will buy the team if the stadium is built.

The state would lose money by deferring sales tax on the construction of the stadium, Talbott contended.

“The principle in Washington is, new construction is taxed,” he said. “One way or the other, (legislators) have to make that up.”

Uhlman countered that those are “vapor tax” revenues that aren’t lost. If the stadium isn’t built, they won’t be collected. If it is built, that will contribute to the economy of the state, creating jobs and increasing tax collections that pump money into the general fund.

Judy Williams of Telect, Inc., asked if the Valley manufacturing firm could hire Uhlman after the election to get a deferral of all sales taxes on the construction of a new $7 million factory it plans to build. The factory will allow it to hire more than 100 new people, but the company still must pay more than $160,000 in sales tax on the construction.

“We don’t get these same kind of breaks,” she said.

State Rep. Brad Benson, R-Spokane, criticized the part of the stadium financing package that allows Allen to sell “seat licenses” to prospective season ticket holders. That could raise $50 million dollars to defray Allen’s share of the construction costs.

“We build the seats, he sells the seat licenses?” asked Benson, who, like the nine other Spokane-area House members, voted against the proposal.

Uhlman replied that there’s no way to ensure the licenses will sell. If they don’t, Allen must cover the difference.

“I think (seat licenses) are a tough sell in the Northwest,” Uhlman added.

Allen shouldn’t be paying for the June 17 election, Talbott argued. That makes it seem like government is “selling the electoral process.”

The Microsoft founder didn’t want to pay for the election, the Legislature made him, replied Uhlman.

The debate had some lighter moments. At one point, Uhlman’s enthusiasm for the project led him to mangle his sports metaphors.

“This is a slam dunk. It’s a home run,” he said, ignoring the fact that the proposed stadium is for football and soccer.

And in arguing against the ballot proposition, Talbott leveled criticism at the Legislature that left some in the audience scratching their heads.

The longtime political activist frequently criticizes local government for not letting the public vote on major civic projects such as the downtown parking garage.

Friday, he argued the opposite position, that the Legislature should have decided the stadium issue.

“Instead of making the tough decision, they punted and said ‘You make the decision’ to the voters,” Talbott complained.

During the debate, Uhlman conceded supporters have a big job ahead.

“If the election were held today, we probably would lose,” he said. Stadium supporters have a chance, he contends, if voters “get over their initial visceral reaction” to building yet another stadium in King County and study the facts.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: REFERENDUM 48

What Referendum 48 proposes: Spending $327 million in public money to tear down Seattle’s Kingdome and build a new stadium for football and soccer, as well as an exhibition hall and parking. An additional $100 million would come from software billionaire Paul Allen, who would buy the Seahawks pro football team.

Where the public money comes from: $101 million from a state sales tax credit to King County; $127 million in revenue from new state lottery games; $52 million from a 10 percent stadium ticket tax; $40 million from extension of hotel/motel tax collected in King County; $4 million from stadium parking tax; $27 million from state sales tax break on construction; $14 million from interest earned on $50 million Allen pays into an escrow account up front. Note: Total is more than $425 million because the funding package provides a contingency reserve and money for community and youth athletic facilities around the state. Source: House Finance Committee

This sidebar appeared with the story: REFERENDUM 48

What Referendum 48 proposes: Spending $327 million in public money to tear down Seattle’s Kingdome and build a new stadium for football and soccer, as well as an exhibition hall and parking. An additional $100 million would come from software billionaire Paul Allen, who would buy the Seahawks pro football team.

Where the public money comes from: $101 million from a state sales tax credit to King County; $127 million in revenue from new state lottery games; $52 million from a 10 percent stadium ticket tax; $40 million from extension of hotel/motel tax collected in King County; $4 million from stadium parking tax; $27 million from state sales tax break on construction; $14 million from interest earned on $50 million Allen pays into an escrow account up front. Note: Total is more than $425 million because the funding package provides a contingency reserve and money for community and youth athletic facilities around the state. Source: House Finance Committee


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