Teach a man to build a stadium, and he will complain for a lifetime

It’s widely agreed, even by people who don’t like paying public dollars for stadiums: UW’s Husky Stadium is a disaster waiting to happen.

While this may sound a bit like a Sonics-style “but MAAAAAAAAA, you SAID I could HAVE a new STADIIIIIIUUUUMMM with MORE BOXES and THAT KID’S LUNCH MONEY” whine, the Huskies have a bit more justification. Husky Stadium is nearly 90 years old. It shows. Rust, exposed rebar, dangerous wires, you name it: the stadium is a mess, and needs to be fixed.

All well and good, but somebody has to pay for the damn thing. We’re only heading into a recession here. Anybody got a few hundred million burning a hole in your pocket?

Enter Art Thiel of the Seattle P-I. He’d really like a new stadium too. He had two ideas. The first, selling the naming rights to everything under the sun, has a lot of merit. I like the When You Wish Upon A Starbucks Husky Stadium Sponsored by Microsoft myself. Or maybe we could confuse the hell out of everyone and sell the naming rights to WSU.

Then there’s his second idea: sell off, or borrow against, UW’s Metropolitan Tract.

Don’t know the Metropolitan Tract? That’s the 11 acres or so of UW’s original 1861 campus, originally called Denny’s Knoll, roughly between Third & Fifth and Seneca & Union downtown. It is home to some of the most expensive real estate in all of Seattle.

In a moment of unprecedented forward thinking, UW never sold that land. The Fairmont Olympic, IBM building, all those skyscrapers in those few blocks? They’re leasing the land from UW. (Though for reasons too complicated to explain here, it turned out to be a hell of a deal for the tenants. They’re getting the land well below market value.)

The money UW receives from that land goes to fixing up UW’s aging classroom buildings. As a guy who works in a 100-year-old converted horse barn on UW’s campus, I am here to report: they need fixing.

At any rate, Thiel managed to, in the same breath, congratulate the university on conserving “the single shrewdest development in school history” and suggest mortgaging or selling that development for…all together now…an updated football stadium. Not an academic building, library, or new facility for classes. Why would a university need those?

Knowing this town, somebody will want to replace Husky Stadium in 10 years anyway.

Hey, Art. Stick with the naming rights.

4 Comments so far

  1. Square Business (unregistered) on February 27th, 2008 @ 5:05 pm

    I don’t understand. Don’t we have a perfectly good (and virtually brand new) 65K seat football stadium we already are paying for sitting empty every Saturday in the fall?

  2. John Eddy (unregistered) on February 27th, 2008 @ 5:41 pm

    "I don’t understand. Don’t we have a perfectly good (and virtually brand new) 65K seat football stadium we already are paying for sitting empty every Saturday in the fall?"

    Yes, but there’s cost involved there.

    Wear and tear on the field that UW will have to pay for on a weekly basis, including the quick repair job needed for back to back home games.

    Transportation for students from campus to Qwest Field.


    So, rather than making a lot of money by selling seats, the university would make a lot less money by selling seats.

    In all honest, I’d wager that they’d make the same amount of money on a weekly basis, *until the college stadium was paid off*, so, despite there being a pro stadium down the street, I don’t see a college wanting to pay for it.

    But what do I know. =)

  3. ryan (unregistered) on February 27th, 2008 @ 9:20 pm

    John, it sounds like someone’s argument is that building a $200m stadium is a better deal than using an existing one.. that seems like a pretty messed up argument to me.

    The reality on the ground is university in the US is less about learning and more about sports. It’s what drives alumni to give. So, somehow, the UW is going to have someone spend $300m on a stadium. I’m sure they can amortize the costs over 20 years.

    I just hope it’s not the state. But it will probably chip in a huge amount anyways somehow.

    Just the facts, gotta fix up the stadium, vs, say, fixing roads.

    This is such a poor state.

  4. John Eddy (unregistered) on February 28th, 2008 @ 10:57 am

    It may be a messed up argument, it may not.

    Short term? Yes, renting Qwest is a better deal.
    Long term? Owning your own stadium may be a better deal.

    It’s just like home ownership. On a month to month basis, it makes far more sense to rent (assuming that rent is cheaper than mortgage payments, of course).

    In the long term, once you own the house, it suddenly makes much more sense to have bought rather than rented.

    Add in the fact that the house you bought has a mother in law that you can rent out (such as a stadium could be rented out for events) and you get a bigger break. Using the university stadium for the end of the Beat the Bridge race surely gets the UW a tax break on charitable donations.

    I’m just saying that it isn’t simply a matter of ‘There’s another stadium in town, why not use it.’ There’s a lot more on the spreadsheet than that.

    FWIW, I went to a big sports school (Syracuse) and yes, sports is a big part of colleges. Hell, I went there because they were the only school whose name I recognized on the list of northeast Environmental Engineering programs (that I could get into, was far enough away, but not too far), because of that sports program.

    But I would argue that it isn’t sports that has shoved aside learnin’. It is research. Colleges make lots of money out of their research centers. Sports money just helps to pay for that.

    And honestly, do you think tuition rates would be rising so quick if sports were raking in the alumni bucks? Well, ok, probably. =)

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