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Wednesday, February 8, 2006

The Sonics’ 6th Man: The Screwed Taxpayer

Posted by on February 8 at 11:17 AM

This morning’s PI reports that the legislature may be willing to extend the hotel, motel, and restaurant taxes (currently paying off Safeco and Qwest) to renovate Key Arena and keep the Sonics in town.

This is disappointing. The legislature laughed at the idea last year. Giddy with Seahawks mania, it looks like the legislature is ready to subsidize Sonics owner Howard Schultz’s $200 million plan.

Fortunately, the city council (led by Nick Licata) seems to be against publicly financing the Sonics—and with good reason: Taxpayers are getting screwed on the current deal. Hopefully, they will torpedo this blatant bit of corporate welfare.

We shelled out $75 million ten years ago for a Key Arena update, and instead of getting paid back (the Sonics are supposed to pay us about $7million a year), we’re covering the Sonics to the tune of about $2.5 million a year.

The PI is misleading on this point saying simply that the poor Sonics only get 40% percent of the revenue on luxury seats and must shell out the remaining 60% to the city. What they don’t say is: That 60%—which was the carrot to the city when we loaned the Sonics $75 million the first time out—isn’t enough to cover the debt service (which overall totals about $140 million)…and so, the city is continuing to loan the Sonics more money. That debt service doesn’t expire until 2014.

Even worse: The restaurant portion of the tax is infuriating. The Key Arena revamp is a cookie cutter design straight from the NBA’s playbook. The idea is to create a sort of one-stop entertainment mall in the stadium. Yuppies—who can afford the outrageous ticket prices—will drive into Queen Anne, park in Key Arena’s expanded lot, eat, drink, and buy in the expanded Key Arena, watch the game, and then leave—never having set foot in the neighborhood. Local Queen Anne bars and restaurants, which will still be paying off the Key Arena expansion, will essentially be paying for their competition.

State Sen. Erik Poulsen (D-34, W. Seattle/Burien/Vashon) told the PI: “We’re talking about extending an existing hotel and motel tax—big deal.”

Here are two columns I’ve written about the damn Sonics scheme in the past year.

Net Losses

Nickels’s Corporate Priorities

CommentsRSS icon

I have written to my state senator and both representatives expressing my opposition to this plan. I suggest you all do the same.
Please keep it short, pithy, on-message, and polite, if you want them to pay attention to you. If you're tempted to cuss them (or the Sonics, or anyone) out, do so in the knowledge that you're hurting your cause.

Here's a scandal: Josh Feit won't say who from Team Nickels is meeting with him every Thursday.

Come clean, Josh. Don't keep secrets. How can we tell whether you are holding back when you won't square with your readers?

And they'll be all confused when RTID (and possible phase 2 of Sound Transit) goes down in flames, too.

This proposal means that, no matter what they say/promise/cajole to get voter approval for project (in this case in a narrowly won special election bought and paid for by Paul Allen), they will turn around and extend the taxes without a vote indefinitely.

And they wonder why even moderate people don't trust government anymore. I guess two brand new stadiums built across the fucking street from each other wasn't enough.

Oh my, it is indeed scandalous that Josh, who writes on city government, would meet with city officials, in an attempt to inform himself before he writes, rather than just spout off inane fact-free rubbish like JOSHTHELAPDOG and his army of sock puppets does.

I wrote to my Senator & Reps as well. My Senator happens to be Erik Poulsen, and while I was polite (and didn't cuss him out) I let him know that his "big deal" comment was not taken lightly.

I like how Margarita Prentice uses this as an example of the economic impact of sports teams: "Just think of how many restaurants and taverns were filled -- all the way up to Alaska."

Had the Seahawks not been in the Super Bowl, all these people would have been--what--at home? No, probably at the zoo, or at a non-sports-bar, or at a movie. They would have spent their money, just not in connection with the Seahawks.

I'm a big, big, big sports fan, but sports shouldn't have some special exalted status as an entertainment option. If the Sonics think they will be better off in the wealthy, growing community of Oklahoma City, they should go try it out. We'll get another team.

Seth, You are totally correct, at least acording to all of the independent economists who have studied this. In fact, more than just your point, they have found that because of the high cost of sports tickets, people going to pro sporting events go out less to other cultural events, and so cumulatively support non-sport businesses less.

But the Sonics have a top dollar lobbyist working full time to convince our politicians that they need $260 million. We need to work extra hard to counter their efforts by emailing and calling the polticians and asking them to do the right thing and stand up to pro-sports. I am all for the Sonics staying in town, and would even suport giving them a better lease deal on the Key, just not handing them millions in cash. That is just bullshit.

The City, County and State all need to vote on this so write them all

Write to Seattle City Council At: Jan Drago (; Richard Conlin (; Richard McIver (; Peter Steinbrueck (; Nick Licata (; David Della (; Tom Rasmussen (; Jean Godden (

Write to the King County Council at:;;;;;;;;

For your State Representatives go this link or see the end of the email for a full list:

Re: Meinert's e-mail list

missing: Sally Clark

misspelled: Larry Gossett, Jane Hague

also misspelled: Jan Drago, Richard McIver

Ugh. That'll teach me to cut-n-paste from someone else's list.

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