Baseball Official Here To Fight Ackerley Arena Deal -- Concessions To Sonics Owner Concern City's Other Pro Sports
Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent and American League President Bobby Brown intend to convey their objections to an arena contract Seattle is on the verge of signing with SuperSonics owner Barry Ackerley.
Brown flew to Seattle yesterday to meet with King County and city officials to talk about the problems the proposed sports and entertainment arena will create for major-league baseball.
The Seattle Mariners baseball team plays in the county-owned Kingdome, near the site where Ackerley plans to build his privately owned arena for his professional basketball team.
Specifically, the baseball commissioner's office and league are concerned about traffic congestion and parking problems. They also object to a clause in the arena contract that guarantees Ackerley as good a financial deal as the city gives other sports franchise owners in the future.
Officials of the Seattle Seahawks football team have raised objections to that clause as well. Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan, who has talked of someday building an open-air baseball stadium with the help of King County or the city, has also voiced concerns over traffic and parking problems on nights when baseball and arena events are held simultaneously.
A spokeswoman for the American League, Phyllis Merhige, said Brown has ``grave concerns about a number of issues regarding the proposed arena.''
Mariners officials, who have lobbied the council to reject the arena contract as it is written, said they welcome Brown's visit but didn't ask him to come here.
``Basically, the American League and major-league baseball have some concerns about the basketball arena,'' said Gary Kaseff, chief operating officer for the Mariners. ``Bobby's coming out to express those concerns. He's coming on behalf of the American League and the commissioner's office.''
Mayoral aide Charles Rolland said he thinks the city can resolve most of the American League concerns with parking and traffic congestion. As for the clause that promises Ackerley equal treatment, Rolland says that will stay in the contract.
``We're not going to change our deal, '' said Rolland. ``All I've heard from the American League is take it out, take it out. There's been no willingness to compromise.''
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the arena contract late today. Under terms of the agreement, negotiated over the past five months, the city would forgive about $31 million in admission-tax revenues and would pay for $2 million in street improvements south of the Kingdome. A good deal of the money for the improvements would go to construct a pedestrian walkway over South Royal Brougham Way on which Ackerley would be allowed to place advertising.
In return for the city's contribution, Ackerley would build a $100 million arena and sign a 30-year lease with the Sonics. He also would construct an 1,800-stall parking garage on the east side of the new arena and has promised to put together an application for a National Hockey League franchise by the league's Sept. 15 deadline.
While the garage satisfies the city's zoning requirements, most of the Kingdome's tenants don't believe it will provide adequate parking to handle the crowds on nights and weekends when there are events at both sites.
Ackerley has satisfied the Seahawks' concerns about traffic and parking by promising the arena will be vacant during football games in the Kingdome.
But he's made no such commitment to the Kingdome's other tenants -- large trade shows and the Mariners - who fear parking and traffic problems will keep people from attending their events.
Exactly whom Brown will meet with isn't clear, but appointments had been set up in the offices of King County Executive Tim Hill, Seattle Mayor Norm Rice and the City Council.
In recent weeks, the Mariners have lobbied hard to persuade the City Council to amend the contract to delete the clause that promises Ackerley as good a financial arrangement as the city gives other sports franchise owners.
Smulyan has visited council members on several occasions, arguing that the clause needlessly drags the Mariners into the arena contract with Ackerley. He says it could someday prevent the city from entering into a contract with the Mariners to build an open-air stadium or a stadium with a retractable roof.
``Our objective is to make baseball successful in the Kingdome,'' says the Mariners' Kaseff. ``But one thing that is apparent, a lot of our fans want outdoor baseball and, long term, we want to keep our options open.''
While some council members question the need for such a clause, others like the fact it's in the agreement and have no intention of removing it.
One city councilman, who asked not to be named, said the clause gives future councils an excuse for not getting into future stadium contracts with franchise owners.
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