Tacoma goes to bat for ballpark

New Stadium Render Wide.jpgThe Tacoma City Council on Tuesday night approved selling $28 million in bonds to pay for renovations at Cheney Stadium that will help keep minor league baseball in Tacoma through 2041.

“Many of us … have been waiting for this for a long time,” Mayor Bill Baarsma said of the project.

The nearly 50-year-old ballpark’s first general remodeling is the biggest piece of as much as $51 million in general obligation bond sales to cover a host of pressing capital projects.

Other projects include improving the Seaport Museum; covering infrastructure and new library costs for the next building phase at the Salishan public housing neighborhood; buying parking pay stations for downtown; and refurbishing the People’s Pool, the Old Town Dock and Fire Station No. 9.

Approval of the bond measure comes one week after the council agreed to a new lease with the Dallas-based owners of the Tacoma Rainiers that would keep the team playing at the city-owned ballpark through the 2041 season.

“We’re just thrilled,” Tacoma Rainiers President Aaron Artman said Tuesday night. “It’s the second step in the process, but arguably the most important step.”

The lease agreement hinged on a $30 million stadium remodel to be done in time for the Triple-A Seattle Mariners affiliate’s home opener in 2011. The lease also obligates the city to upgrade the stadium to include, among other amenities, new seating for 8,000 fans, 16 luxury suites, a kids’ play area, more restrooms and concession stands, and a new club level restaurant.

Much of the project’s debt will be repaid over the next 25 years by new revenues generated by the stadium, said city finance director Bob Biles. The city projects those revenues – including the team’s increased rent payments and additional money collected from new admissions, concessions, parking and facilities taxes and fees – will cover about $14 million of the debt.

The nonprofit Cheney Foundation will give $5 million and the city will kick in $2 million from funds paid to it by Pierce County for the County-City Building. That leaves about $9 million of debt payments to be paid over time from the city’s general fund, Biles said.

Before last night’s approval, former Tacoma Rainiers employee Glenn Sukys urged council members to ensure that citizens aren’t being priced out of games.

“If you’re going to have Joe Sixpack pay for these renovations out of these taxes, he should be able to get to the game and enjoy a hot dog,” he said.

Sukys noted that in recent years premium fan packages have eaten up much of the ballpark’s parking, often leaving unused parking spots off-limits to regular fans attending the games.

Councilman Rick Talbert said he has asked city staff and the team to resolve such parking issues.

“We’ll be looking at strategies, including a shuttle bus service, until we can find more parking,” Artman added.


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