UW to ask state for $150 million to renovate Husky Stadium

Updated: January 18, 2008, 12:13 AM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- The University of Washington will ask the public to pay for half of the most expensive project in the history of Huskies' athletics.

A joint committee of the UW Board of Regents has given the go-ahead for the school's $300 million plan to remodel 88-year-old Husky Stadium, following an informational presentation Thursday by interim athletic director Scott Woodward.

The university will now ask the state Legislature to approve $150 million in public tax revenues for the project during the current session in Olympia. If legislators say yes, the regents would then formally vote on the plan.

"What's resonating is the 50-50 split in asking for state funding," said Woodward, who is also the UW's vice president for external affairs.

It's apparently already resonating inside the state Capitol.

State Senate Budget Chairwoman Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, said Thursday she ranked the need for a plan this session to remodel the stadium "pretty darn high."

"This is emergency kind of stuff," she said in Olympia, referring to the oldest football venue in the Pac-10. "We just can't keep putting people in a stadium like that and not have a safe place for them."

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said he was willing to talk to the university about its plan.

"I'm open to it because it's a public facility for a nonprofessional sports team," Chopp said.

The proposal would use private donations and revenue from existing and future luxury seating to provide $150 million needed to build more fan-friendly amenities.

The university seeks state approval to use King County tax revenues to fund the other $150 million of the project -- what the school is calling "preservation, renovation and maintenance." That would include a complete renovation of more than 30,000 seats in the lower bowl, which was built in 1920 as the original Husky Stadium, plus upgrades to conform to local seismic codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

New locker rooms and football offices would be built. The track that rings the field would be removed and the seats in the closed, west end zone would be moved closer to the field, Woodward said.

Money from King County hotel-motel, restaurant and rental-car taxes and tax credits in King County already are paying for new stadiums for baseball's Seattle Mariners and the NFL's Seahawks, plus remaining debt on the now-demolished Kingdome.

The UW is essentially seeking the same tax revenues the NBA's SuperSonics unsuccessfully sought last year for a new arena. Prentice led that lost cause.

The restaurant tax, which generates $20 million annually by state estimates, was scheduled to run through 2015. But the construction bonds for the Mariners' Safeco Field that the restaurant tax is paying off are now expected to expire in 2012. The UW wants to use the remaining three years of that revenue for its project.

The same early expiration is expected for the 2 percent hotel-motel tax that is scheduled to pay off the old Kingdome debts by the end of 2015. That tax is then scheduled to fund Qwest Field, the Seahawks' new home, until 2020. After that, the UW would like to use it.

Why might this proposal pass while the Sonics' plan died without a vote less than 12 months ago? The UW has far more allies -- not to mention alumni -- in Olympia than does Oklahoma-native Clay Bennett, the Sonics' new owner.

"I don't imagine we'll have a whole lot of opposition to it," Prentice said, ignoring the Washington State Cougars for a moment. "Huskies are just something that all of us love and support."

When asked whether the UW's cause is more sympathetic than the privately owned Sonics asking for $278 million in state funding for a $500 million arena, Chopp said, "By light years."

The university is touting the fact that Huskies' home football games generate revenue inside King County -- as well as 80 percent to 85 percent of the money that pays for all other UW sports. Thousands of fans from visiting teams fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. They rent cars to drive to Seattle-area hotels and eat at local restaurants.

The university has a draft copy of a local economic impact study that estimates Washington home football games raise an average of $12.5 million in tax revenue each year -- $8.2 million for the state and $4.3 million for King County.

If the Legislature approves, Woodward estimated that a "very, very, very aggressive" estimate would be that construction could begin this December, following the 2008 football season. But 2009 or 2010 may be more realistic.

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Associated Press writer Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Wash., contributed this report.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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