There are preliminary signs of a thaw in chilled relations between the city of Seattle and the Seattle Mariners.
Mayor Norm Rice says he is actively working on a proposal that would break the ice between the city and the Mariners before a Jan. 13 deadline set by the team.
Rice is not speaking directly with team representatives, his office said. But Bob Watt, an intermediary between Rice and Mariner Chief Executive Officer John Ellis, said today the signs are good.
"If I were a betting man, which I'm not, I like the feel and the tone of the talks," said Watt, a former deputy mayor who serves as chief executive of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce.
Not all the developments surrounding baseball were positive, however.
Shelly Yapp, a board member of the government agency overseeing construction of a new $405.2 million baseball stadium, is resigning in protest, saying the Public Facilities District is being coerced into giving the Mariners more than it should.
In a letter to King County Executive Gary Locke, Yapp said she will leave the PFD board of directors because she thinks the relationship between the board and the Mariners has changed dramatically.
"Cooperation has been replaced by coercion," she wrote.
"Facts, analysis and substance have been replaced by rhetoric. Methodical deliberation has been replaced by hyperbole. And the balance of public and private interest has shifted radically and wrongly, in my view, to the welfare of the Mariner ownership over that of the public."
Her resignation comes just days after the PFD board approved a 20-year lease for the Mariners to play in a new retractable-roof stadium. The lease, adopted Dec. 23 on a 4-3 vote, was revised to include several last-minute demands from the Mariners, who had threatened to sell the team.
Yapp could not be reached for comment yesterday. Her resignation letter was dated Dec. 26 but would be effective, she wrote, at a time when the new King County executive, Ron Sims, could appoint her replacement.
Mariner spokesman Bob Hartley declined to comment on the resignation but expressed optimism about finding a solution with the city. He said yesterday the owners are willing to look at ideas from the mayor.
"We assumed after the exchange of missiles that a period of calm had settled in, but we're waiting and waiting hopefully that the mayor has something we can talk about," Hartley said.
The problem between the Mariners and the city centers on traffic mitigation, police and other costs that may run as much as $1.8 million a year, based on preliminary city estimates. The city wants the Mariners to pay those costs. But the Mariner owners want to minimize their expenses. The team has said it wants the city to agree by Jan. 13 to pick up all game-day expenses.
Rice and Ellis have directed their respective staffs to get together and discuss issues in good faith. Those conversations are going well, Watt said.
A compromise over game-day expenses may revolve around finding cheaper ways to achieve those goals.
Watt predicted that the cost estimates, which have hovered at more than $30 million over 20 years, will come down once they have been reviewed more closely.
City officials have spent the past week reviewing their numbers to see if there is a less expensive way of managing traffic. For example, it may be cheaper to use shuttle buses than to assign parking vouchers to Mariner fans.
Officials are also trying to come up with an estimate of revenue that the city would gain from baseball games, such as restaurant sales and other fan activities.
Any deal would have to win the City Council's support. City officials are hopeful that a deal can come together by next week.
Still, Yapp's departure shows that hard feelings remain from recent events surrounding the proposed stadium.
An appointee of Locke's, Yapp had until recently been a strong supporter of the stadium. When earlier cost estimates jumped from $320 million to $384.5 million, she voted to approve a bigger budget.
But her outlook seemed to change early this month when lease negotiations stalled.
In casting one of the three "no" votes last week, Yapp said she would not support an agreement that gives the PFD little oversight and the ballclub most of the control. Among other things, the revised lease minimized the possibility of profit-sharing with the public and gave the PFD little control over ticket prices, advertising or nonbaseball events.
Supporting PFD board members said the changes were not that significant.
While praising the PFD staff, Yapp urged her six colleagues to "have the will and collective courage" to speak out on behalf of the public as the project moves forward.
Yapp is a University of Washington regent and executive director of the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority. She had been praised for her prickly attention to detail and being a tough negotiator when she was first appointed to the PFD board last year.
In a prepared statement, Locke said he respected Yapp's decision but accepted her resignation with regret.
Board member Ron Judd, who had voted against the lease, said he, too, had considered resigning but decided to stay on "to see how it unfolds."
Board member Tom Gibbs, who supported the 20-year agreement, said this morning he regretted Yapp's resignation, and praised her for making "huge contributions" to the district.
Gibbs said the late concessions made to the Mariners were not substantial. "We have one of the best leases in baseball in terms of protecting the public's investment," he said.