Friday, January 18, 2008
150 Million More Reasons to Hate the Huskies
The University of Washington Huskies never fail to provide entertainment for Cougar fans. Now the Huskies are expecting state welfare to save their failing football program, which they are currently blaming on their stadium. I dunno, but I think the state of Washington taxpayers have better uses for their money than to spend it on the preening narcissistic University of Washington football program.
From the Seattle PI
The University of Washington has joined the Sonics, Seahawks and Mariners in asking taxpayers to help pay for sports stadiums.
Half the $300 million needed to renovate 88-year-old Husky Stadium should come from public sources, former Gov. Dan Evans and school officials said Thursday.
Evans is working with UW officials to request that state lawmakers repurpose taxes on hotels, car rentals and restaurants now used to pay for other King County stadiums. Interim Athletic Director Scott Woodward said the proposal won't compete with education-related requests for general funds.
"We are a public institution, and we have a right to these funds," he said.
The Seattle Sonics were practically laughed out of Olympia when they asked lawmakers for tax money to pay for a new $500 million facility for the NBA team.
But House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said he'd be willing to consider the UW plan.
"I'm open to talking to the university about it because it's obviously a public facility," Chopp said.
"It can be used for a lot more than just Husky football. They are talking about a series of high school football games. If you have ever been to Memorial Stadium in Seattle, it's in pretty bad shape.
"(Husky stadium) is not professional, it's not for profit and the players make nothing."
Compared with the Sonics, the university is a more sympathetic cause, Chopp said. "By light-years."
The school is asking the Legislature to designate $150 million during this winter's session to help with the reconstruction, which carries a total price tag of $300 million. Woodward said the school's $150 million share would be self-generated from things such as donations and premium seating.
Earlier this month, Woodward called Husky Stadium "one of the most gorgeous, iconic venues in America." But he and other officials say the crumbling facade and outdated amenities have to be fixed -- and fast.
In addition to necessary structural upgrades, the proposed renovation would include new premium seating, a lowered field, updated restrooms and concession areas and a new sound system.
The track surrounding the field also would be relocated to another facility, meaning fans could sit closer to field.
UW lobbying efforts in Olympia are emphasizing that Husky sports bring in about $211 million in sales for state businesses, $83 million in labor income and almost $13 million in tax revenue every year.
And the stadium is used for more than just football, lobbyists argue. More than 100 community events were held at the facility last year, and renovation proponents say they'd like to see even more community use.
"One of the things we would like to do is have a Friday-night high school football game of the week at Husky Stadium," Evans said.
But in order for the UW's request to make it into the Legislature's supplemental budget, the university might have to navigate through a cloud of ill will that shrouds public funding of sports stadiums.
And leading lawmakers have said they'd be reluctant to approve many new taxes in '08, which is an election year.
"The biggest challenge we face, of course, is that we can't threaten to move to Oklahoma City," UW President Mark Emmert said Thursday.
The Sonics, owned by Oklahoma City businessmen, are trying to move the franchise.
Woodward said the school recognizes the challenges of getting a proposal through he Legislature. "It's far from done. The process is a real gantlet."
University officials hope to counter any unfavorable perceptions by pointing out that the percentage of funding they're asking the state for -- 50 percent -- is lower than any other recent stadium proposal.
Safeco Field advocates asked the state for $372 million (72 percent of the total funding), and Qwest Field advocates asked the state for 75 percent of projected costs -- about $300 million.
Last year's request from the Sonics outlined about $300 million in public funds.
Chopp, whose district includes the UW campus, said there are several different revenue streams lawmakers are looking at.
"One of them would just be some local thing that we would authorize, so that's a possibility. ... I'm not likely to support money coming out of the state general fund for it unless it's seen in context of all the other capital projects that we have to do for higher education," he said.
It's not yet clear if the UW football team's recent dismal performance (they finished 2007 with a 4-9 record, their fourth-straight losing season) will affect viewpoints about public funding. But at a meeting Thursday, UW Regents seemed to agree that now is the right time to pursue renovation.
"We need to keep our team strong, and the way we do that is having a great facility," Regent Constance Proctor said.
UW officials want to start the renovation process immediately after the 2008 football season ends. The Huskies would then spend one season playing at Qwest Field, and then be back at Husky Stadium in 2010.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the idea would likely have support from her caucus.
"I believe that the Huskies will always be here," she said. "I don't know that you can necessarily say that about a professional sports team, but I don't think the Huskies or the Cougars are going anywhere."