The Kingdome, King County’s domed stadium, home to Seattle’s baseball Mariners and football Seahawks, was demolished in 2000, at the advanced age of twenty-four. Fifteen years after the implosion, March 2015, King County taxpayers finished paying off the bonds issued to finance its construction.
Seahawks Stadium Qwest CenturyLink Field, home to Paul Allen’s NFL team, now sits adjacent to the site. In a statewide referendum, paid for by Paul Allen, Washington voters approved financing for the shrine to professional football. The Seahawks played their first game in the new stadium in August 2002. (They lost.) Safeco Field, the Mariners’ palace with the retractable roof, replaced the Kingdome. What is not yet adjacent to that is a new arena for the not-yet-a-reality new Seattle Sonics NBA team. The Sonics, née Supersonics, as followers of Seattle sports follies know, have been the Oklahoma City Thunder since they departed in 2008, peeved that the city would not provide them with a new $500 million place to play.
In September 1995, voters in King County rejected a tax measure to build a new baseball stadium. The Seattle Mariners responded by threatening to sell the team if there was not plan for a new ballpark by the end of the next month. The state legislature hurriedly put together a tax package to appease the baseball club’s owners. The Mariners played their first game at Safeco Field in 1999. (They lost.) Naturally, the Seahawks said they wanted one, too. The team’s owner munificently offered to pay the cost of the election. The Sonics did follow through on their threat: owner Howard Schultz (Mr. Starbucks) sold the team. The new owners packed up and moved to Oklahoma where taxpayers are on the hook for $120 million renovation of the Ford Center (now Chesapeake Energy Arena) plus the usual assortment of tax breaks.
Paul Allen also owns the Portland Trailblazers basketball team. The
Rose Garden Rose Quarter Moda Arena opened in 1995. (The Blazers lost.) The financing was promoted as an exemplary illustration of public-private cooperation. A $155 million loan from a consortium led by a major pension fund, $34.5 from the City of Portland, a $10 million bond and $46 million of Allen’s own money. Prudential Insurance and Farmers Insurance loaned the remainder of the $262 million construction cost. Allen’s refusal to guarantee the loans resulted in an 8.99% interest rate. By 2004, the Oregon Arena Corporation – sole stockholder: Paul Allen – decided it was not making enough money and declared bankruptcy. After being operated by creditors for two years, the arena was sold to Allen’s Vulcan Corporation.
The citizens of Seattle have voted four times since 1997 to expand monorail service. Finally convinced that city hall would not go through with the project, in 2005 yet another measure to finance the expansion was defeated. After expenditures of $140 million to design a fourteen-mile route and purchase rights-of-way, the monorail remains the same 1.2 route built for the 1962 world’s fair.
Back to sports…
The 1970s were the heyday of the multi-purpose stadium. Houston built the first domed stadium, the Astrodome, followed by Seattle’s
Kingdome and Minneapolis’s inflatable monstrosity, the Metrodome. Domed or not, they typically featured artificial surfaces and hosted baseball and football and other events. Baltimore broke the mold when their retro-styled Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in 1992. It was a strictly-baseball park. Since then, big-league sports teams have demanded taxpayers provide new, single-purpose stadiums.
The San Francisco Giants took a different approach. Voters there four times in the 1980s and 1990s rejected financing a new ballpark to
replace windy and cold Candlestick Park. Rather than threatening to move, the Giants owners financed a new Stadium on their own. The not-quite-as windy and cold
PacBell SBC AT&T Park opened April 2000 with a three-game series against the detested Los Angeles Dodgers. (The Giants lost all three.) The City did provide some incentives, including $80 million in infrastructure improvements. The Giants are doing well, with regular sellouts and dynamic pricing for games. The cost of a particular seat is adjusted based on the opponent and demand for a particular game. Most recently, the Giants have asked for millions in property-tax refunds, claiming AT&T park is appraised at more than twice its actual value.
The San Francisco 49ers also have abandoned “The Stick.” The City of Santa Clara borrowed $850 million to build Levi’s Stadium for the 49ers. The team played its first game there in August 2014. (They lost.) The Levi’s saga is a story unto itself. They share the facility with the San Jose Earthquakes soccer team.
Meanwhile the NBA champion Golden State Warriors are working on their own scheme for a new arena and a move across the Bay from Oakland to San Francisco.
Stadium dramas are not solely about major-league sports. Fresno, California’s Chukchansi Park has its own story.
And Seattle? The city council, in a recent four-to-five vote, defeated a proposal to construct a new arena for the hoped-for return of professional basketball. The five women council-members cast the five nay votes. Their excuse was that city resources are better spent on Seattle’s working waterfront, source of good-paying jobs. The female council members have since been the recipients of likely-expected misogynist vituperation from sports fans.