King County Council cuts proposed funds for Kent’s ShoWare Center

Initial plan included $2.2 million for city-owned arena

The city of Kent’s accesso ShoWare Center apparently won’t be getting any of the $2.2 million initially proposed by King County leaders to help fund capital improvements at the 6,200-seat arena.

The County Council’s Committee of the Whole voted 5-4 on Wednesday to approve spending $135 million on improvements at Safeco Field from the county’s lodging tax but eliminated any funds for the ShoWare Center as part of a compromise to spend more money on affordable housing.

King County Executive Dow Constantine’s proposal in May included about $200,000 a year for 10 years for the ShoWare Center starting in 2021. But an amendment to the measure cut the funding to the arena and other tourism dollars to South King County.

Council members Kathy Lambert, Pete von Reichbauer, Reagan Dunn, Claudia Balducci and Joe McDermott voted to approve the measure. Dave Upthegrove, Larry Gossett, Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Rod Dembowski voted against it.

Upthegrove, whose District 5 includes part of Kent, strongly objected to prioritizing the Safeco Field funding over local tourism promotion. He also opposed so much public money going to the home of the Seattle Mariners, who requested the funds to help with upkeep of Safeco Field.

“We have businesses, small and large, throughout King County who create jobs and economic benefit,” Upthegrove said in a press release. “Not only do they not get a $135 million handout, but now we are eliminating the tourism promotion funding that helps fund the economic engine of the Highline area.

“The Mariners are a private for-profit business that can and should be responsible for covering the costs of maintaining the stadium.”

Upthegrove said that the value of the Mariners has grown by more than $1 billion over the last seven years, and the team is owned by a small group of wealthy private investors.

“They don’t need another taxpayer handout,” he said.

Councilmember von Reichbauer, whose district includes Auburn and Federal Way, supports public funds for the Mariners.

“The Seattle Mariners have been good partners with King County, bringing more than 45 million people to Safeco Field over the last 19 years,” he said in a press release. “This partnership has generated millions of tax dollars, created thousands of jobs, and provided countless benefits to non-profit sports programs throughout our region.”

Since 1967, hotel/motel taxes have funded regional sports stadiums (starting with the Kingdome) and also, later, arts programs. With the last of the CenturyLink Field debt paid off by 2020, King County leaders looked at new ways to spend funds from the tax starting in 2021, according to a county news release. As created by state law, the tax has no sunset.

State law requires King County to spend certain minimum amounts of this new hotel/motel tax money on specific purposes, such as arts/culture and housing. State law also stipulates that the remaining funding (up to 25 percent of the money) can be used for tourism promotion.

The revised measure shifted about $115 million from general tourism promotion to increase the amount allocated to affordable housing to $661 million. The measure also reduced the initial amount of $180 million targeted for Safeco Field to $135 million. The lodging tax is expected to bring in about about $1.3 billion from 2021 to 2043.

An alternative proposal, sponsored by Upthegrove, would have provided only $25 million toward Safeco Field, and instead would have allocated the remaining tourism funding (about $115 million) to the county’s existing Regional Tourism Authorities which support economic development throughout King County. Upthegrove’s proposal also would have maintained the full $2.2 million for the Showare Center.

Upthegrove’s amendment failed with just four votes in favor by Upthegrove, Dembowski, Gossett and Kohl-Welles.

The ShoWare Center, owned by the city of Kent, opened in 2009 and has lost money each year. A Public Facilities District board oversees the arena similar to the board that oversees Safeco Field.

The council is scheduled to have a final vote on the measure at 1:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 17, at the King County Council Chambers on the 10th floor of the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle.

“Something is broken in our political system when those who already have great wealth can pull the levers of government to generate even more wealth for themselves at the expense of the public interest,” Upthegrove said.

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