The owners of the Seattle Mariners today set a deadline of Oct. 30 to put the team up for sale if there is no plan in place by then to build a new baseball stadium.
The deadline, in a letter to County Executive Gary Locke, gives the state 30 days to organize and conduct a special legislative session to find a way to finance a ballpark, which could cost as much as $300 million in public and private money.
Gov. Mike Lowry, key state legislators, Locke and Seattle Mayor Norm Rice are scheduled to begin that process at a "sports summit" of elected officials tomorrow in Olympia.
Lowry spokesman Jordan Dey said this morning that the governor views the stadium situation as an emergency and is ready to work quickly.
"I don't see that timeline as impossible to work with," Dey said of the Mariners' deadline.
Tomorrow's meeting will be the first of at least a couple of sessions designed to try to seek a legislative solution. The meeting, which will be closed, will include only elected officials, no team officials or consultants to the stadium campaign.
The statement from the team ownership was made public immediately after what county elections officials said was expected to be the final count of ballots from the Sept. 19 election for a new stadium. The stadium fell 1,082 votes short out of more than 490,000 cast.
Mariners officials, who were to contribute $45 million toward construction of the stadium, were not immediately available for questions.
Voters narrowly rejected the proposal to increase the sales tax in King County by 0.1 cents on a dollar. The tax hike would have supported construction bonds for a new ballpark.
The bonds would have financed a $240.8 million public share of the baseball stadium, paid off the $70 million debt on Kingdome roof repairs and paid for other renovations of the Kingdome sought by the Seattle Seahawks.
Although the measure was not expected to pass because of voter opposition to tax increases, it was buoyed by a blitz of television advertising and the success of the team on the field.
The proposal gained momentum in the final days before the election and won more than 53 percent of the votes cast at the polls on election day.
However, it was dragged down by absentee ballots, which ran almost 60 percent against the measure.
Today's count showed 245,418, or 49.89 percent in favor, and 246,500, or 50.11 opposed.
Today's count of 3,362 absentee and challenged ballots actually ran 57 percent in favor of the proposal, but they were not enough to overcome the no votes contained in earlier absentees.
The Mariners had threatened that a defeat at the polls would trigger an immediate sale of the team. But in his letter, Mariners chairman John Ellis said he was responding to the county executive's request that the sale be delayed.
Ellis said the owners "cannot further jeopardize our investment by undue delay."
He noted, however, that the owners are conscious of the effort being made by state leaders to develop a new funding plan. And he said: "We want our fans to enjoy the thrills of every day remaining in this extraordinary season. The outpouring of fan support on this final homestand of the year was beyond anything we could imagine."
The team drew more than 150,000 fans over the weekend, nearly filled the Kingdome for a day game Tuesday and sold out the Dome yesterday.
Ellis said that in addition to Locke, he had phoned legislative leaders and Lowry and alerted Major League Baseball, of the decision to delay the sale.
Among the possible financing solutions expected to be discussed tomorrow by Lowry and the others are the use of taxes that do not need approval by the electorate, such as hotel and motel and rental-car taxes, or the use of a lottery whose proceeds would be dedicated to stadium construction bonds.
Lowry said he thinks the cost of a stadium should be shared between the state and King County.
Some related political issues are unresolved, however.
Republican legislators in the House have indicated they are unwilling to meet in a special legislative session to vote on a new way to finance the stadium without also taking a vote to override Lowry's veto of property and business tax cuts.
And County Council members have told Locke that a state solution to the baseball park alone isn't sufficient, that they also expect state help in paying for the Kingdome roof repairs. ----------------------------------------------------------------- Final stadium vote
A proposal to build a baseball stadium for the Seattle Mariners was officially defeated today. Here's how the vote went: At the polling places.
Yes 192,798 (53.2%).
No 169,764 (46.8%).
Absentee, other delayed ballots
Yes 52,620 (40.7%).
No 76,736 (59.3%).
Yes 245,418 (49.9%).
No 246,500 (50.1%). ----------------------------------------------------------------- Let us know what you think
The Seattle Mariners today gave government officials until Oct. 30 to come up with a plan for building a new baseball stadium or the team will be put up for sale. Tomorrow, state and local govenrment officials will meet to begin seeking a financing plan for a stadium.
How do you feel about the Mariners' setting a sale deadline? What do you think government should do in response?
Give us a call at 464-8467 to record your opinion. We'll publish some of your comments in the days to come.