County Council will likely cut funding for local tourism, give $135M to Safeco Field

By Scott Schaefer

On Monday, Sept. 17, the King County Council will likely vote to cut funding for tourism in the south end, yet allocate $135 million in taxpayer money to subsidize the upkeep of Safeco Field.

This indication comes from a 5-4 vote by the Committee of the Whole last week.

This funding comes from an ongoing stream of money King County will soon receive from a state tax on hotel visits. State law requires the county to spend certain minimum amounts of this new hotel/motel tax money on specific purposes, such as arts/culture and housing.

State law also stipulates that the remaining funding (up to 25%) can be used for tourism promotion, but there may not be much left in the coffers.

Obviously, this has several people who work for local tourism in the south end upset, especially Katherine Kertzman of the Seattle Southside Regional Tourism Authority.

“It was a complete shock – we were in support of another motion, and we thought we had the votes for a new counter proposal that would work,” Kertzman said. “Then this new McDermott-Balducci compromise was proposed and it passed in the committee.”

Kertzman says that a portion of the funds earmarked for tourism promotion were intended for activities that generate overnight stays in our local hotels. Seattle Southside is home to the second largest number of hotel rooms in the state.

“The decision to gut tourism promotion funding to provide nearly $135 million in lodging tax dollars to support upgrades and improvements in a facility occupied by a for-profit tenant, the Mariners, valued to be worth over $1 billion is upsetting,” she said. “In fact, it’s irresponsible.”

Tourism promotion fills south end hotels with travelers who spend a lot more per visit on average than day trippers to a Mariners game. Last year, for every dollar spent in marketing our region, there was a $42.86 in economic return on the RTA’s investment.

“Tourism creates jobs, retail sales and tax receipts. It’s hard to find a more positive impact than reinvesting in tourism,” she added.

“I am hopeful that we will come to a resolution before final passage that restores funding to tourism promotion,” she said. “The Seattle Southside RTA is requesting 25% of the tax generated by our hotels be reinvested in our destination marketing efforts. This is a fair and equitable request.”

An alternative proposal, sponsored by South King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, would have provided only $25 million toward Safeco Field, and instead would have allocated the remaining tourism funding (about $115 million) to King County’s existing Regional Tourism Authorities (i.e. Seattle Southside RTA) which support economic development throughout King County.

Upthegrove’s alternative proposal failed on a 4-5 vote, with Councilmembers Upthegrove, Dembowski, Gossett and Kohl-Welles voting in favor, and Councilmembers Dunn, Balducci, Lambert, McDermott and Von Reichbauer voting against.

Upthegrove strongly objected to prioritizing the Safeco Field funding over local tourism promotion, and has been critical of the Safeco funding since it was first proposed by the Mariners and King County Executive Dow Constantine.

“We have businesses, small and large, throughout King County who create jobs and economic benefit,” he said. “Not only do they not get a $135 million handout, but now we are eliminating the tourism promotion funding that helps fund the economic engine of the Highline area. The Mariners are a private for-profit business that can and should be responsible for covering the costs of maintaining the stadium.”

Upthegrove noted that the value of the Mariners Corporation has grown by more than $1 billion over the last seven years, and is owned by a small group of wealthy private investors.

“They don’t need another taxpayer handout,” he added. “Something is broken in our political system when those who already have great wealth can pull the levers of government to generate even more wealth for themselves at the expense of the public interest.”

Here’s an excerpt of Councilmember Upthegrove’s comments from the Sept. 5 meeting:

Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles concurs.

“The plan to gut tourism funding to increase investments in affordable housing while investing $135 million in a building occupied by a sole tenant, the Seattle Mariners, valued to be worth $1.5 billion, doesn’t add up,” she said. “Tourism promotion is what fills hotel rooms with visitors. Gutting tourism dollars is like killing the goose that lays the golden egg.”

Upthegrove’s proposal also would have maintained the full $2.2 million for Kent’s ShoWare Center. Since this proposal was voted down, there will be no money allocated for ShoWare.

Both proposals make significant new investments of more than $165 million in workforce housing and services for homeless youth, above the minimum amount required by state law.

A final vote on this measure is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 17 at 1:30 p.m. at the King County Council Chambers on the 10th floor of the King County Courthouse.

On Monday, Sept. 10, the Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce emailed out the following request to members:

Funding for Destination Marketing in Seattle Southside and King County Threatened

Please Lend Your Voice!

On Wednesday, the King County Council voted 5-4 to slash future lodging tax revenue intended for tourism promotion. This action impacts the 2% lodging tax credit.

The county’s destination marketing organizations were promised – and have long planned for – a piece of county lodging tax revenue to enhance tourism promotion when debt service on CenturyLink Stadium sunsets in 2021. To date, King County is the only county in the state that does not return a portion of lodging tax revenue to the industry that generates it.

In 2008, the Washington State legislature approved legislation which designated revenues from this lodging tax in King County after 2021. Arts and culture and transient oriented housing would each receive 37.5%. Tourism related organizations, including the Seattle Southside Regional Tourism Authority, would receive the remaining.

Last week’s King County legislation – if passed by the full King County Council on September 17 – would allocate much of the tourism promotion fund for maintenance and other improvements on Safeco Field ($135 million) and more funding for affordable housing ($165 million). Under this proposal, the county’s destination marketing organizations would be forced to split just $1 million per year and that revenue would end after eight years – a total of $8 million.

We need your support to help redirect funds back where they were intended – to regional destination marketing programs! Ask the county executive and King County Councilmembers to redirect the funding amounts requested by Seattle Southside Regional Tourism Authority.

Craft your own message, or adapt this letter template.

Thank you for your continued support,

Andrea H. Reay
President/ CEO
206 575 3016 | Fax 206 575 2007
14220 Interurban Avenue S. #134
Tukwila, WA 98168

Here’s how to contact your King County Councilmembers:


3 Responses to “County Council will likely cut funding for local tourism, give $135M to Safeco Field”
  1. kathleen selivanoff says:

    Boooo!! to the County Council.

  2. BARRY SELLERS says:

    While I understand the argument the Mariners are a for profit organization, I also understand they currently share in a portion of the maintenance of Safeco Field. Safeco Field is a public facility and not privately owned by the Mariners. How would an individual like it who is renting a house and the landlord told them they were responsible for all the maintenance of the house?

    My bigger issue here is that the KC Council has unilaterally decide how to spend all this money that is brought in from all the cities throughout King County and the unincorporated areas from tourism. This County and Seattle already spend in excess of $200 million per year on homelessness and now they are going to add another $165 million that is generated from the tourism dollars that should be going to support tourism throughout King County. Is there no end to what this KC and Seattle Councils will spend on homelessness? They are going to steal from every other source of income to continue adding to this never ending problem because they keep dumping more money into it. There is some wisdom behind the statement “Don’t feed the bears”.

  3. Patrick Nardo says:

    There is one predominant qualification which most politicians seem to “inherit”; that is an unbridled ability, and willingness to spend money they have never earned, never had to work for , and never, ever deserved. This is why we, as voters, need to be ever vigilant at the polls. Soon, if unbridles, this council will be demanding our table ware and wallets. There is only one solution to this chaos; vote with extreme scrutiny. Remember if you do not vote, effectively, you have voted, and deserve the outcome..

Share Your Opinion

By participating in our online comment system, you are agreeing to abide by the terms of our comment policy.

...and oh, if you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!