April 11, 2012

Is Safeco Field middle-aged?

Safeco Field has gotten a lot of accolades for being a great place to watch a baseball game. However, it's now entering it's thirteenth year of existence and is ranked the fifteenth-oldest stadium in major league baseball. Isn't that weird? Remember what happened when the "new" Key Arena suddenly became unfit for the NBA? From SportsPressNW...

Between Camden’s ’92 debut and Safeco’s opening came parks in Cleveland, Arlington, TX. (where the Mariners play four starting Monday), Denver, Atlanta, Tampa and Phoenix. It is, in a word, astonishing.

The build-out for baseball in the past two decades is a reflection of many things: The game’s enduring appeal, public yearnings for nostalgia, connections and community, as well as the cunning of a monopoly operation that knows how to exploit those feelings and the vulnerability of electeds who know there’s usually nothing like a sports palace that can draw 51 percent of voters. Since 2008, things have changed.

With the prospects that higher employment and lower incomes, benefits, and job stability are becoming the new normal, the appetite for public palace building has shrunk. Certainly it has in Seattle, where various levels of government have rejected multiple bids by two public sports buildings, KeyArena and the University of Washington football stadium, to get public money for remodels. Back to Safeco. Having fresher parks around the country doesn’t mean Safeco is decrepit.

The building has been well-maintained and should easily outlive the Kingdome’s 24 years. But independent of nationwide trends, reaching middle age for an outdoor stadium in a marine climate means a continuing list of maintenance and upgrades, particularly with a giant mechanical, mobile roof.

The lease says the cost of these fixes are borne by the Mariners, according to the Public Facilities District that operates the shop. But if and when a big-ticket repair arises, the Mariners may suggest that the lease is unclear, and in any event, may ask/demand that the PFD chip in. That news would become public quickly.

While the issue probably won't be replacing the stadium, hopefully for the next 20+ years, but repairs to its infrastructure? The Mariners have been losing money so if something serious really comes up, will they step up to the plate and make the repairs? Our city governments across the nation were quick to pony up cash to build pro stadiums but now they're strapped for cash. You could see some serious debates and issues in the future, not just at Safeco but in other cities as well.

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