Tuesday, January 22, 2008

$150 Million Investment is a Bargain

Yesterday I rebutted many of the concerns non Husky fans have about state funds being used to refurbish Husky Stadium. Today I am going to present my views on why it should be done, and what to look for in the future.

The original estimates for Husky Stadium came in at around $450 million dollars, and included just about every amenity that you would have in the most modern NFL stadium. Obviously Turner, and his committee took the pie in the sky approach which included moving sidewalks and escalators to move people up to their seats. I can imagine the plans included a plasma television over every urinal too. I guess if you are going to put together a plan it is better to aim high and start cutting, rather than aim low and start cutting.

In the final analysis the stadium committee felt that they could get everything that needed to be immediately done for around $300 million which would still give Washington one of the best college football stadiums in the nation when the job is completed.

There was one problem about the $300 million, UW figured that the most it could squeeze out of donors, and season ticket holders in the short term to finance the project was going to be around $150 million dollars. Since they want to get the job finished in the short term the only solution was to ask the state for help.

The UW would like to start the job after the 2008 football season concludes. In the interim they would move to Qwest for the 2009 season, and move back to a new Husky Stadium in time for the 2010 season. That is pretty damn aggressive, but it makes sense since the cost of construction continues to escalate dramatically each year.

I laugh at people who are critical about President Mark Emmert. He has had my total trust and confidence ever since he was hired. I trust the guy to make the right decisions for the future, and I know he wants to win as much as any Husky fan does. The single fact that he is pushing this thing through this year is proof enough to me about his positive vision for Husky football. Firing Turner, and putting Woodward in his place to get things moving in the right direction is a brilliant start. Don't worry about the coach, that will take care of itself one way or another on its own after next season.

I really like the acting AD Scott Woodward who estimated that a "very, very, very aggressive" estimate would be that construction could begin this December, following the 2008 football season. Scott isn't pussy footing around, he is jumping on the opportunity to make it happen, and make it happen fast. He has what is called urgency, and urgency makes things happen. I hope they keep him on the job permanently because he has the right attitude.

The retro fit, rebuild, remodel, or whatever you want to call it isn't about cosmetics, luxury booths for the rich, or the pampering of 100 football players, and the coaching staff. The main concern is safety since the original bowl built in 1920 is rapidly falling apart as ancient cement structures tend to do after nearly 100 years of service. The South deck built in 1950 has been showing it's age for nearly 30 years, and isn't even close to being up to code in any way, shape, or form. An earthquake could cause a real disaster on that side of the stadium. So what it really all comes down to is the UW either needs to rebuild, or move the show downtown to Qwest which just happens to be the most modern sports stadium in America.

I can understand why some people think that UW should move downtown, but if you are any type of college football historian you realize that making such a move would strip the program of it's identity. People assume that the fans will follow the team downtown, but if you look at what has happened to other schools who have made that choice it has been the first step toward permanent mediocrity. Moving Husky football to Qwest would be a disaster the region would lament for generations.

Take for example the Air Force game disaster. UW played an opener against the Academy in Qwest and less than 40,000 fans showed up for the game! It was a total embarrassment for all involved even though it was officially a home game for Air Force. The point is Husky fans don't want to be at Qwest, they want to be on campus next to the shores of Lake Washington. College football needs to be played on campus.

Husky sports, particularly football, and crew are woven deeply into the historical fabric of the Pacific Northwest. Washington football, and crew teams put the city on the map early in this century, and have continued to do that over the decades. During this time the entire athletic program has been completely self supporting which is a rarity in college sports these days. If UW was to move downtown it would only be a matter of time till revenue short falls would have to be covered by the state legislature each year just like they are at WSU, OSU, and Oregon. It is truly a pay me now, or pay me much more later over the course of the future type of proposition.

The $150 million requested from the state of Washington is a bargain. Everyone benefits from the investment whether you are a Husky football fan or not. Husky sports bring in about $211 million in sales for state businesses, $83 million in labor income and almost $13 million in tax revenue every single year! They have been doing that for a century without taking a dime from the state, or University general fund!

Wouldn't you rather invest $150 million to make sure that continues for the next century? To me it is a total non brainer. It is a much better investment than handing Clay Bennett a $600 million dollar building in Renton. This is a community investment not a subsidy for the rich. This is an actual investment that will continue to reap benefits for at least the next 100 years!

What about other state schools?

I have absolutely no problem with the state chipping in to help with the athletic infrastructure at WSU, CWU, EWU, and WWU even though their programs have never been self supporting. If you make the investment they have a chance to be self supporting in the future, and that is really what this all about. Make the investment, and sit back and reap the benefits over the next century. I would love to see CWU, and WWU join EWU in the Big Sky some day because it opens up a lot of opportunities for the residents of this state.

Once again I would not be opposed if the state gave the other programs a boost if needed. If you are a Cougar, I can understand your point of view on this, but an investment in Husky sports is actually win/win for WSU, and the other state schools, because it opens the door for needed help in the future, and believe me that help is going to continue to be needed.

What about the Seattle Supersonics?

I don't want to give a dime to Clay Bennett period. Face it, they are no longer our Supersonics. The minute Schultz sold the team to out of state interests whose main desire was to move the team that franchise was as good as gone.

I don't look at Schultz as the enemy at all. Somebody gave his group a lot of money, and he said wow, and took it. The city of Seattle had more than enough chances to work with his ownership group. They were losing money, and the main reason they were losing money is that Key Arena was no longer a viable venue because it had been remodeled incorrectly to anticipate future needs in the first place. $200 million which is what they were asking for would have been a small price to make that venue viable, and keep the franchise in town. Schultz never put a gun to anyones head, what he was looking for was actually modest. The city should have found a way to get it done.

Extending the tax to raise $600 million on the other hand to build a new arena in Renton is preposterous. Sure the region will have to make that investment sometime in the future, but why do it for some out of town multi millionaires who want to control every aspect of it without investing a single dime? To me it would have been a bad investment because it does not benefit the public who is paying for it.

Husky Stadium on the other hand is all about the public, and the $150 million which would be raised by not even extending the taxes is one of the best investments the state will ever make when it comes to intercollegiate sports period! We all will miss who the Sonics were, but none of us will miss what they have become.

The Future of Key Arena

Key Arena will survive without the Sonics even if it never will again be the home of an NBA, or NHL team. For the NBA to move back, or the NHL to move in you are going to have to heavily remodel if you are the NBA, and basically gut it if you are the NHL. They never remodeled the thing right in the first place for big time sports. It should have been made to accommodate hockey, and basketball, not just basketball. It shouldn't have been built on the reliance of luxury suites either since only one tenant was in the building. When competition for boxes increased because of the Seahawks, and the Mariners the Sonics were left at the short end of the stick.

In the meantime Key Arena will be home to college basketball with Seattle University being the winter anchor soon as the Sonics leave. SU will be making the transition back to division one starting next season. Washington, WSU, and Gonzaga have all played games, or tournaments at Key Arena recently. The 17,100 capacity makes for a nice payday for participating teams. Think of Key Arena as the Northwest's Palestra in the future.

The Seattle Storm are staying and they will put fans in the seats during the Summer. Minor league hockey is always an option even though the current team is moving to the suburb of Kent. Look for Seattle to pick up some lesser sports such as indoor Lacrosse, and Arena Football etc... . Key Arena will survive just fine without the Sonics. Bob Whitsitt is already involved in picking up one of those so called odd ball franchises.

A New Sports Arena

Eventually we will need a new major arena to service the Puget Sound region. The new arena needs to be centrally located, it needs to be able to accommodate basketball, hockey, trade shows, concerts, and conventions. It needs to be located in the SODO area of downtown so it can neatly fit in with all the transportation grids/hubs in the area. It needs to be built by a public/private consortium, and most importantly it needs to compliment Key Arena, not put it, and the Seattle Center out of business.

As far as capacity it should seat between 22,000 to 24,000 depending on the event making it one of the largest arena's in the country. The Palace of Auburn Hills near Detroit seats a little over 22,000 and is the largest arena in the NBA. Key Arena for example has the second smallest capacity in the NBA. If you are going to build it new, make sure it is going to be big enough.

Every day the region waits it will cost them more money to build it which is the reality when it comes to construction. It also won't be built till somebody comes knocking on the door from the NHL, or NBA. I expect that knock to come sooner than later, and I also expect that knock to include the majority of funds to build it. Expect the city, state, or county to donate the land, and the two major tenants to foot the construction costs after naming rights have been divied out. If you can afford to pay Keven Garnett $23 million per year you can also afford to participate in the costs of building a new arena. Maybe you can get a guy like Kevin to help pay for building it?

What a new Husky Stadium will bring to the Community

A new Husky stadium first of all will be a major point of regional pride which will be the focal point, and symbol of University athletics. The updated stadium will house a team that will never move out of the area, and will never be threatened by escalating salaries. The new stadium will allow Washington to stay competitive at the highest levels, and it will be the catalyst in making sure Husky athletics stay self supporting for the rest of this century.

The new stadium will maximize revenues through concessions, and services that are currently not available. The more people purchase when they are in the stadium means more money is being made to support UW athletics in general. More money generated means more annual tax revenue for the state, county, and city. From a safety, aesthetic standpoint the stadium will finally join the twenty first century. A better overall experience will increase attendance, and demand. Better site lines, updated safety codes, larger individual seats all add to the game day experience. A safer stadium will allow better accommodation for those with disabilities.

Finally the stadium upgrades will let Washington compete with the top programs in the country on a regular basis. Every school that has invested in upgrades like this, let me use Ohio State, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Oregon State as prime examples, have had a significant, and almost immediate return on their investments.

Wisconsin which was once a Big Ten doormat is annually in the national top ten. The Wisconsin model by the way is the model the Huskies have chosen to follow. The Badgers play in college football's oldest stadium built in 1917. A new remodel has modernized the stadium into being one of the best in the country.

Oregon which was another doormat is now an annual BCS contender and fund raising machine. The 90 million Autzen Stadium investment looks like chump change compared to the results they have gotten from it.

Oregon State, once the most downtrodden program in all of college football, now has a newly refurbished stadium, and a bowl game streak.

Ohio State has played for how many national championships since the remodeling of their athletic facilities? Ohio State, like Washington, had a massive older stadium which cost hundreds of millions to be remodeled. that investment is being returned in spades.

Bottom line for Washington to be competitive at the elite level they need the new facilities which attract the best recruits, coaches, and support staff. $150 million is a small price for the public to pay to make sure Washington athletics stay self supporting for the rest of this century.


prrbrr said...

johnb, AMEN AMEN. Quite possibly your best blog to date. Passionate, emotional, and yet very businesslike and factual. Too bad we can't get the maroons at Olympia, Times PI, and News Trib to read it.

bigdave967 said...

I dont think anyone could have written a better blog...Congrats. I honestly agreed with 100% of what you said. I doubt any of you have been to a Arena Football Game, but they are so much fun. To be honest, they are better than an NBA game. You go to the stadium/Arena, drink your beers, eat your hot dogs and scream and hoot and holler. They are fast paced and you get to see some BIG hits. Guys who play with heart and have a lot to prove. Seattle could really use an Arena Team. They just need an Arena.

My dad has been to a lot of concerts in the Seattle area (over 50 years worth) and said that the accustics at KeyArena are horrible. If they build a new stadium they could easily make it a place that could be utilized 200 days out of a year...with WNBA, Arena Football, Minor league Hockey, maybe High School Basketball Tournament, Concerts, etc. Seattle is a beautiful city that has beautiful views and beautiful facilities...except KeyArena and UW stadium. Once they get the upgrades necessary, Seattle will once again be the Emerald City.

John Berkowitz said...

Thanks PrrBrr...I am pretty sure the UW will handle that angle on their own. you would laso be surprised who actually reads the blog as opposed to the few who post. I think it will plant the correct seed.

Dave...Key Arena is a great place to watch a game, but it simply wasn't rebuilt in a manner that worked long term to support an NBA franchise financially. It was also built to exclude an NHL franchise at Barry Ackerley's request.

Key Arena was rebuilt for the short term, and the short term was much shorter than anyone including Ackerley visualized.

When one single interest controls a public venue those type of mistakes happen.

t9odawg said...

Several heavy hitter politico's were interviewed on King 5 last night, including the Governor, and they are sympathetic to using "tax" dollars for safety reasons. This will be looked at hard during this legislative session. I have the feeling it will get OK'ed.
A permanent move to Qwest would kill Husky FB faster than Gerberding could have ever imagined. Very lttle tailgating and what there is is tightly controlled. You can't bring your own coffee, soda, snacks, etc into Qwest IIRC

John Berkowitz said...

I think it will get approved very quickly. It just makes too much sense.