SEATTLE - A nationally known, and highly cited, stadium finance critic finds fault with a new claim about the Seattle Arena project.
This follows a new claim by a group saying the Seattle Arena project gives investor Chris Hansen close to $731 million in public subsidies.
Neil deMause, who authored "Field of Schemes" and has studied stadium and arena deals for years, wrote a blog post Wednesday finding fault in the math of the group, which calls itself "Sonics Without Subsidies."
"$731 million is, needless to say, unexpectedly high for a project that will only cost $490 million to build total, that will only involve $200 million in public spending, and that after tax revenues and rent payments are shuffled back in forth, I’ve estimated previously would leave taxpayers with at worst a $21 million loss. So where does Stockmeyer’s hired economist come up with $731 million?
The answer, it appears, is it depends on what you mean by 'loss.' Seattle’s Initiative 91, passed back in 2006 by city voters, requires that the city turn a 2.7% annual profit on any investment it makes in a pro sports facility. Under Hansen’s deal, the city would take out $200 million in bonds, which would be repaid entirely by Hansen, so there would be no cost to the city. But — here’s the catch — if you count the $200 million as a city expense, then city is getting stiffed its 2.7% annual return on investment. If you do the same math for the missing annual return on tax credits and property tax breaks Hansen would be receiving, then subtract the $92 million in land value that the city would be getting back in the deal (Hansen would buy the arena land and give it to the city), voila! $731 million!"
DeMause was cited by Arena project opponents and supporters in the lead up to a vote on the Memorandum of Understanding. Seattle's City Council, and King County Council both approved an MOU on the framework of a deal, which could provide up to $145 million in city bonding, and up to $80 million from the County.
He writes that he still feels the same way about the deal.
"I’m on the record as being pretty meh about it, though 'meh' is still better than most arena deals from where I sit. But it’s not a $731 million 'subsidy' or 'tax break,' no way, no how," wrote deMause.
Attorney Cleveland Stockmeyer made a presentation before reporters Tuesday, which claimed Hansen is being given hidden subsidies in the deal.
"Every one of them is a special tax break the normal person is not allowed to get," said Stockmeyer.
The attorney said the study was independently done by Dr. Adrien Gamache, an Eastside financial expert and paid for by his group.
Stockmeyer has represented people who were a part of the "Citizens for More Important Things", the prime sponsors of Initiative 91. His suit challenging the Arena was already dismissed in King County Superior Court.
However, Stockmeyer says this study proves taxpayers are not getting a return on their potential investment, and the analysis shows that. He says the group will sue if elected leaders do not adjust the MOU.
Seattle City Councilmembers Sally Clark, and Tim Burgess, who both voted for the plan, have declined comment. King County Executive Dow Constantine also declined comment. Seattle Mayor-Elect Ed Murray said, through a spokesman, he won't comment on any potential public policy until after he takes office next year.