In a sudden about-face, the Seattle Mariners are leaning toward playing the 1999 season in the Kingdome rather in their new 45,000-seat outdoor stadium.
The reason: The new $414 million ballpark’s retractable roof isn’t expected to be completed until mid-1999 to spring 2000.
The Mariners said they did not want to risk the gamble because of inclement weather.
“We would not play the whole 1999 season without a roof,” Mariners vice president Paul Isaki told The Seattle Times. “It is too much of a financial risk. I can’t overemphasize how big a risk that is.”
Only two months after the Mariners’ owners said a stadium opening in 1999 was essential to the franchise’s economic livelihood and the team staying in Seattle, Isaki said team officials now were looking into playing an extra season in the Kingdome.
Team officials expect to make a decision about 1999 in the next few weeks, he said.
In December, the owners put the club up for sale and said King County officials were backing away from the new stadium project. At that time, the owners insisted the ballpark be ready for the opening pitch in 1999 - even without a roof.
On Tuesday, the Mariners revealed an audit that showed the club lost $13.2 million although a club-record 2.7 million fans showed up at the Kingdome last season.
Isaki said the Mariners owners had changed their minds and now were afraid fans would not come back if there was too much rain and wind.
“We need this to be the most positive fan experience possible,” he said. “It is over 81 games. It is not an event; it is a season.”
The weather can be cold and rainy in Seattle “in April, May and June, and sometimes into July,” Isaki said. “It can rain all the way through July.”
Why the change of heart?
The rules of the game have changed, Isaki said.
In December, the team’s lease had expired and the county gave the owners a new lease on their terms under the threat of selling the club.
Isaki said the Mariners were unlikely to start the 1999 season in the Kingdome and then finish it in the new ballpark because of the high cost of moving and the inconvenience to season-ticket holders.
Meanwhile, the Public Facilities District continues to shoot for 1999, executive director Ken Johnsen said.
Even if the Mariners decide not to play in the new stadium until 2000, there would be no cost benefit in slowing construction, Johnsen said.
Groundbreaking for the new stadium will be on March 8.
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