The Husky Stadium Renovation Manifesto

I have never seen the Cougs so up in arms over a tax before. Representatives of Coug Nation (not to be confused with Washington State University, who happens to be neutral to this tax), have flown banners over Husky stadium, argued with the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and have led an active campaign on both Washington and Washington State football message boards.

They have generally gone out of their way to make their voices heard in opposition of S.B. 6116, which could conceivably open the door to help fund a sizeable chunk of the renovation of Husky Stadium.

Why are they so upset? Their arguments can be summed up by three distinct talking points:

1) - "These are tough times. The State of Washington is in a general budget crisis, and the state cannot afford to foot the dime on Husky Stadium."

This is the biggest cry by Coug Nation in opposition to this tax. The fact is that S.B. 6116 is a King County tax on hotels/motels, restaurants and car rentals in King County only. This is a continuation of the same tax that helped pay for Safeco Field ($400 million, to keep the Mariners in Seattle), and Qwest Field ($300 million, to keep the Seahawks). Politically, this tax was justified by tourism promotion (thus tourism revenue) to King County by those traveling to games and spending money locally. Once these bonds are paid by the tax, it can sunset (die out) or continue to promote tourism in King County. Other projects talked about possibly using this tax: Upgrading the Convention Center, upgrading Key Arena (in hopes of attracting another NBA franchise), Husky Stadium, and others.

This tax isn't just about Husky Stadium: If S.B. 6116 passes, those tax revenues may only be used in a limited scope… only those items that promote King County tourism (i.e. "remodeling of performing arts, visual arts, heritage, and cultural facilities, and for the purchase of fixed assets that will benefit art, heritage, and cultural organizations." - S.B.6116). The revenues derived from this local tax cannot then be used to build schools, or aid in Washington Health and Human Services, or anything associated with other State agencies.

The reality is that whether this tax is allowed to die or continue, it will not help or hurt Washington State's general budget crisis. The state's general budget or the state's general funds have nothing to do with a Husky Stadium renovation or how King County decides to use the revenue from S.B. 6116.
2) - "The UW can afford it."

The Nintendo group (who own the Mariners), and Paul Allen (Seahawks) both could have afforded to finance and build Safeco and Qwest Fields, and yet their requests were deemed worthy of this tax. Historically, whether the University of Washington can afford it or not has no bearing as to whether Husky Stadium deserves to argue for a share of this tax revenue.

The University of Washington does take pride in their rabid fans and their loyal support base. Over the past 10 years, they have contributed more than $111 million, which has allowed the University to complete a number of construction projects and has doubled the number of permanent scholarship endowments for both men's and women's athletic programs. Keep in mind, it took Washington 10 years to raise this money.

The $150 million private fundraising goal for Husky Stadium is more than 50 percent greater than the total amount contributed by Husky donors during the last 10 years. Raising the entire $300 million through private sources is simply not feasible, given the urgency with which the repairs to the stadium must now be made. Husky Stadium needs to be brought up to code (seismic and otherwise), increase disability/handicap access and overall safety requirements, as well as cosmetic mprovements. This could be done piece-meal over a long period of time, which would delay these code improvements and cost more to the University in the long run.

But if Husky Stadium was be deemed worthy of a portion of these tax revenues, the stadium renovation could be started immediately and done less expensively by taking advantage of the current recession/deflationary economy. It could also provide a nice shot in the arm by way of instant job creation, a boon to a county that currently has an 8 percent unemployment rate. Adjoining Pierce County's unemployment rate is now 9.5 percent, the highest it has been since 1987.
3) - "The state has no business taking sides between Huskies and Cougars."

Aaah… now we get to the core of Coug Nation's wrath. The cross-state rivals do not want to look over the Cascades and see a newly renovated Husky Stadium. They see this as a competitive advantage…and it is. But no more of a competitive advantage than when those at Washington State were watching basketball in their newly state funded Friel Court, a.k.a. Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum… and the Husky faithful were watching basketball in their ancient venue (Hec Ed was built in 1927). The justification for the state to pay for Beasley was so that WSU would have a venue to bring the arts to Pullman, as well as have a state-of-the-art basketball venue.

At that time, those poor Cougs had to play basketball in that antiquated Bohler Gym, which had been built in (gasp) 1928! I guess it is OK for the state to take sides as long as Washington State benefits? Maybe they would be OK with this if UW took a page out of the WSU handbook: Have the state pay for all of Husky Stadium, get a few concerts and then call it Husky Performing Arts Stadium?

I somehow doubt it.

The big question is whether Husky Stadium deserves any of this King County tax revenue. In order to answer that objectively, I think you have to look at what historically was deemed justifiable under this tax (Safeco Field, Qwest Field). Those two examples create a compelling precedent.

Economic impact studies can be rather complicated. Comparing different venues and their respective economic impacts (and breaking it down to state/local), can be even more complicated. In light of this, lets focus on how the tax was written (tourism/fans revenue, and tax revenue to the state/county)… since this was the justification of this tax in the first place.

Safeco Field cost approximately $400 million, originally funded in part by bonds that were paid back using the proceeds from this tax. Qwest was $300 million. Tax revenues derived from these venues to the state (there are no local tax numbers from this study) in 2004, were $13.7 million, and $9.1 million respectively (Sonics were $10.8). By comparison, Husky games (Husky football, the majority of it), generated $16.8 million of tax revenues ($12.5 to the state, $4.3 to King County). From a tax revenue standpoint, Husky Stadium is quite comparable to Safeco Field, Qwest Field (what this tax has already been used for) and Key Arena (a proposed beneficiary of this tax).

Fans traveling to Safeco Field to watch Mariners games in 2004 spent $28.7 million on travel, food, lodging, parking, goods purchased, etc. At Qwest Field, fans spent $23 million for Seahawks games. Sonics/Storm fans spent $28.5 million. In comparison, fans coming to Husky games spent $28 million on travel, food, lodging, etc. How can this be? Those are pro sports! They have to have greater overall attendance… right?

Overall attendance is just part of the picture. The numbers do help, but it's the type of fans that make the difference.

It has already been shown that more people regularly travel farther to attend college games than pro sports. People rarely travel out of state to watch a pro game. Historically, attendance at Husky Stadium breaks down in the following manner: 74 percent local (Puget Sound area), 13 percent from in-state, 13 percent from out-of-state.

When you consider normal attendance numbers, Husky Stadium attracts more than 9,000 out-of-staters per game. This is a key difference because of how these fans spend their money: Fans that travel farther spend more. Out-of-state fans spend 3.5 times more than their in-state counterparts per day and 5.5 times more that the local (Puget Sound) fans, not to mention that most out-of-state fans typically spend more than one day in the Seattle area.

That is where Husky Stadium makes up the difference in overall attendance numbers with regard to tourism dollars spent. From a tourism dollar standpoint, Husky Stadium is very comparable to Safeco Field, Qwest Field and Key Arena.

You also have to consider the fact that even with these new publically funded stadiums/fields… the Mariners and or the Seahawks could still leave Seattle one day (see: Sonics). Where are the Huskies going to move to?

When you take all of this into consideration, one can make a legitimate case to use King County's tourism tax for a partial renovation on Husky Stadium. There are also a number of other legitimate uses for this tax. But it is going to be up to those elected officials as to where this tax money is to be used.

Rest assured that whatever the outcome of S.B.6116 is, Husky Stadium will still be renovated and Coug Nation will still hate Washington. They will still roar their disapproval of anything Husky (or whine their disapproval, depending upon your perspective), and the beat goes on.


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