For Allen, shorter Kingdome lease a first step to Seahawks deal
SEATTLE (AP) _ Paul Allen is another step closer to buying the Seattle Seahawks.
King County Executive Gary Locke on Monday said he and the Microsoft billionaire have reached a tentative agreement on Kingdome lease concessions Allen sought in his bid to buy the NFL team.
The concessions, which must be approved by the King County Council, will go into effect only if Allen buys the team, Locke told a news conference. Allen’s option to do so expires in July.
The agreement would effectively shorten the Seahawks’ Kingdome lease from nine seasons to three. It also would provide the team with an additional $1 million in revenue per year, primarily by reducing the team’s rent. The team would also get 100 percent of concession sales from home games.
Locke said the county would not lose money on that deal but would simply be giving up some of its Seahawks profit _ it would still make $100,000 profit off the team annually _ and could recoup some of the $1 million through the county’s guaranteed cut of possible new Allen advertising on the outside of the Kingdome and enhanced marketing of Kingdome skyboxes.
``These terms allow King County and the taxpayers to come out whole whether the Seahawks stay or leave,″ said Locke. ``We simply do not want nine years like the last two ... playing to half-empty stadiums because of questions about ownership.″
He said he would urge the county council to approve the deal. The council is expected to vote next Monday.
Allen has an option to purchase the Seahawks from owner Ken Behring, a California entrepreneur who earlier tried to move the team to Southern California.
``Since purchasing the Seahawks option in April, my first and foremost goal has been to help keep the team in the Pacific Northwest,″ Allen said in a statement.
``While the process has certainly had its fits and starts, I’m pleased to have reached a mutual understanding with the King County executive, and to (be) moving ahead with evaluating stadium alternatives.″
``This agreement does not subsidize pro football,″ Locke said, adding that even with Allen’s help, ``the road ahead will be difficult.″
Allen wanted a shorter lease so he could press the 1997 Legislature for quick action on a stadium-financing package for the team.
The Democratic Locke, who is also the governor-elect, will be in Olympia when Allen brings his case to a Republican-controlled legislature after the first of the year.
Allen said Locke had ``assured me that as governor, he would be an advocate for a long-term stadium solution, and I appreciate his support and partnership.″
Allen’s group, Football Northwest, may opt out of the Kingdome lease after three years _ after the 1999 NFL season _ under certain conditions:
_ Football Northwest could move the team without restriction after three years if it agreed to play at another Puget Sound area site.
_ If Football Northwest wanted to move or sell the team after three years, it must first offer it to a local owner at a ``fair price.″
_ If no local buyer were found, Allen’s group could sell or move the team outside the Puget Sound area but must compensate the county under a specified formula. If the team were sold prior to completion of the 2001 NFL season, the Allen group must pay the county 50 percent of sale profits. The county’s share of any profit would decline, according to a set formula, if the team were sold to an outside buyer in succeeding years, ending with a 5 percent county share if the team were sold after the 2004 season.
_ If the team were moved but not sold, Allen’s group would pay off the value of the old Kingdome lease.
Meetings were scheduled Monday and Tuesday evenings by the Seahawks-Kingdome Renovation Task Force, which is to recommend Friday whether to renovate the Dome, tear it down and build a new stadium in its place, or build a new stadium on one of two south King County sites.
Allen, who last week rejected a fourth option _ using the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium _ has long said he would want the team out of the Kingdome and in an open-air stadium.
The county is working with Allen in hopes of keeping the team in Seattle.
If the Allen scenario falls through, some believe the team could wind up in California or Cleveland through a Behring bankruptcy declaration.
The county council is already wrestling with financing for a new Mariners baseball stadium _ considering whether to support a $300 million bond sale for a project whose cost has risen from $320 million to $385 million.