Thiel: Proposed Tacoma soccer complex 'worthwhile' if public contribution is minimal
Taxpayer money would be required to help build a proposed soccer complex in Tacoma. But is there support to use public funding for a sports-related project when the region is dealing with a homelessness crisis? It's the topic of this week's conversation between KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel and Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick.
LESS PUBLIC, MORE PRIVATE
The Tacoma City Council received a feasibility study about the project during a study session this week.
The centerpiece of the proposal is a $60 million, soccer-specific stadium where the Tacoma Defiance, the Seattle Sounders' affiliate team, and the women's professional team the Reign FC would play.
Both teams currently play at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, after recently moving from Tukwila and Seattle, respectively.
The proposed complex, which also would include housing and retail, would be built near Cheney Stadium in the central Tacoma area. It would be a partnership between the owners of the Sounders and the Tacoma Rainiers, the AAA team for the Seattle Mariners that plays at Cheney Stadium.
Right now, private funding would cover about $50 million of the $300 million cost. But Thiel said the private contribution needs to be much higher.
"There needs to be a much bigger private participation in sports projects like this because things are different now," he said. "I think a lot of people are excited about the prospects of developing that area and to have what they estimate to be about 127,000 users of the soccer stadium once it's up and running. I think a lot of people want to understand this in a way that justifies a public contribution."
Does he think it's a worthwhile project overall? That depends on how it pencils out.
"I think there's a different consciousness now about public contributions to sports facilities," he said. "That's why they've tried to make this more than a sports facility to induce public appreciation and cooperation with this.
"They're not going to put it up for a public vote, at least right now, so there will be a public comment period."
CAN'T COMPARE TO SEATTLE STADIUMS
Thiel said you can't compare this project to the public funding that was used to help build the Mariners' stadium, T-Mobile Park (formerly Safeco Field), and CenturyLink Field, the home of the Seahawks and Sounders.
"Those buildings happened in a different time — in the middle '90s — when governments actually had tax surpluses. It was a litttle more palatable but it still rankled a lot of people, then and now," he said.
He acknowledged that the Tacoma project is more than just a stadium.
"But it's going to come through a different lens of public consciousness, primarily because all municipalities in (the) Puget Sound and the suburbs are dealing with an existential crisis of homelessness.
"Even when the Mariners ownership tried to get more public money for renovations to the roof and other capital improvements, they ran into a buzz saw of people saying, 'Hey, we've got a crisis on our hands and we can't afford to help you do this.'
"A compromise was worked out. They still got some money. But the upshot is that all projects now are looking through a different lens than the middle '90s.
"And the owners of the Rainiers and the Sounders have to be conscious of how things have changed."