Transcript: Mariners' execs tell the bigger story behind arena opposition

Art Thiel probes the issues with the Seattle Mariners' CEO Howard Lincoln and the club's legal counsel, Bart Waldman.
Many of the state's tax and trust challenges date back to the tax package for the construction of Safeco Field.

Many of the state's tax and trust challenges date back to the tax package for the construction of Safeco Field. Paul R. Kucher IV/Wikimedia Commons

I sat down this week with Howard Lincoln, CEO of the Mariners, and Bart Waldman, the club’s legal counsel, to ask questions about the club’s objections to Chris Hansen’s proposed basketball/hockey arena that abuts the team’s parking garage in SoDo.

The city and county councils are expected to vote Monday to approve a memorandum of understanding with Hansen, a little more than six months after the Mariners wrote a letter to all parties saying the project “will not work” so close to their stadium and other businesses.

Here is the full transcript of the interview:

Q: Isn’t the primary reason for your opposition to the arena the threat posed by one or two more sports teams crowding the market?

Lincoln: I don’t think we’ve done as good a job as we should have in explaining our position to our public and our fans. I think our only issue is the ability of our fans to get to Safeco Field because of the worsening congestion in this area.

We’re not concerned about competition.  The Sonics were here before we were. When they were here, we never even thought about competition. Our view is there is room in this market for the NBA, and the NHL as well.

This ownership group is the steward for major league baseball here. We felt an obligation to speak out and alert political leaders of our concern. It’s strictly about fans getting here. If they can’t get here, then baseball doesn’t work.

I was an NBA fan long before I was a Mariners fan. I saw Lenny Wilkens play at Seattle Center. My heroes were Freddy Brown, Dennis Johnson, Lonnie Shelton, and Jack Sikma. I was at those games before the 1979 championship. I remember (Golden State All-Star) Rick Barry almost running over my head when somebody threw beer at him.

The idea of the Sonics coming back is great. We don’t think an NBA arena works next to our parking garage. We are very pleased the way this is going — an environmental impact study that addresses fully the traffic and scheduling issues.

The one thing we didn’t make clear in the April 3 letter is we have a problem that is unique regarding scheduling.  MLB announces its schedule in August each year and we have no ability to change the schedule. Other sports have more flexibility.

Q: Why do you think your position is misunderstood and denigrated?

Lincoln: Sports fans are pretty emotional. There’s a ton of people emotionally involved in getting the Sonics back. It’s easy for them to say the Mariners shouldn’t say anything, and that the Mariners have problems other than the one we expressed [congestion].

To the extent they have misunderstood what we’ve tried to say, I’d be the first to apologize.

Q: Isn’t the problem of seasonal overlaps something that can be negotiated and managed?

Waldman: We’ve looked at NBA and NHL master schedules. Depending on playoffs, you’d typically have six to 12 conflicts annually if both teams were here and made the playoffs. Roughly half the teams in each sport make the playoffs, so that would occur roughly half the time. We think it would be on average three regular season games and three playoff games for each sport.

The only place in the country that has all four teams in buildings close together is Philadlphia. They also have 22,000 surface parking spaces there, and the sports sites are not near their port, it’s away from downtown traffic, and is served by two major freeways and four major on and off ramps. Nor does Philadelphia have railroad tracks on one side and water on the other.

You can always deal with a one-off event a couple of times. We have done that with the Sounders, and we work like crazy to make it happen. We just did that recently (by changing a Saturday start time to reduce the conflict). You don’t want it to be a regular condition.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Oct 12, 10:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank you for writing this. It gives some good ideas of what we need to watch for in the EIS.

sjenner

Posted Fri, Oct 12, 11:11 a.m. Inappropriate

What a crock of shit. They don't even know enough about baseball to put a winning team on the field and they expect us to take them seriously about traffic?

For starters, there has been no traffic at M's games the last two years because no one is going to the games anymore and on dates when there has been some overlap with big soccer or football games, there have been no problems.

With an arena capacity of only about 20,000 max, these "phantom" traffic problems will never develop and they know that. They should concentrate on putting a real ball team on the field instead of whining about the potential traffic issues brought by a more successful franchise.

BenJammin

Posted Fri, Oct 12, 11:22 a.m. Inappropriate

I am not an admirer of Mariners management but I certainly don't think having another stadium down there is going to make them manage any better. I think the criticism of the traffic situation is coherent and convincing.

kieth

Posted Fri, Oct 12, 12:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks Art Thiel for doing what virtually all the other "journalists" covering this story have failed to do: cogently cover all aspects of the issue.

This process has a long way to go, through the Councils' consideration, SEPA, and lawsuit(s).

At the end of the day, a publicly funded arena in Sodo is still an unwise use of public dollars. There are far more important priorities, it won't provide the economic return to justify the expense, it's corporate welfare to ensure a more profitable deal for multimillionaires and billionaires, it will raise property taxes, it will divert money that otherwise would go to the city's general fund into an arena that many people won't be able to afford entry to, and it will bollix up the city's major industrial area with traffic, drive up costs for industrial and manufacturing interests in the area and result in the loss of family-wage blue collar jobs.

Posted Mon, Oct 15, 8:33 a.m. Inappropriate

I love the Mariners but regard their position on this issue as horse manure.

The surrounding neighborhood is zoned for stadia and arenas. The prospective NBA/NHL franchise owner bought the property with his own money and, if the deal goes through, will end up with a far smaller public subsidy than the Mariners received. The city promised traffic remediation in the neighborhood long ago but, then, spent the money on the Mercer Mess redo instead. Not the arena owner's fault but he nonetheless has pledged to put up money to help with it. Congestion in the hours involved is, in any case, not great. The arena capacity---even presuming sellouts---will be far smaller than the Mariners' average (relatively small) crowd sixe.

I resent seeing fans' ticket money going to the p.r. firm which has been arguing this case for the Mariners. Their attendance is now less than half of what it was a decade ago. The reason: A deteriorating product on the field. Put the money into team payroll, fellas. It too has been falling, thus assuring one losing season after another.

Traffic congrestion near Safeco? That would be good news indeed.
It would mean that people again are coming to Mariners games.

Posted Mon, Oct 15, 11:59 a.m. Inappropriate

In DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES, Jane Jacobs argued that the best approach with cultural facilities was to spread them around, not locate them all in one place. She used New York city as her example, contrasting the cluster of performance halls at Lincoln Center with the singular placement of Carnegie Hall. Her point was that cultural facilities produce spin-offs (buildings with related commercial venues) and that the best use of public dollars would be to spread them into different parts of the city so that more than one neighborhood would get the spin-off benefits. Jacobs did not address sports facilities specifically, but it seems likely that the same analysis would apply.

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