Husky Stadium Renovation: Making the Case for Public Funding
By President Mark A. Emmert
As most of you have heard by now, Husky Stadium is in dire need of comprehensive renovations to ensure a higher level of safety, provide required seismic reinforcements, increase access for citizens with disabilities, and replace 90-year-old seating, missing railings, and inadequate lighting. The urgency and nature of these improvements call for a renewed public-private commitment to ensure that the stadium can continue to serve the University, our community, and our state.
The total cost of repairs and upgrades to the stadium is projected to be about $300 million. The University plans to meet these costs through a combination of private donations, higher ticket prices for premium seats, and a funding request to the Washington State Legislature. Specifically, we will ask the state to redirect $150 million in revenue from existing "tourism taxes" that previously have been used to pay for the construction of Safeco and Qwest fields and that are paid primarily by visitors to King County.
A request of this size and type raises a lot of questions, as it should. Here I will address some of the most commonly asked questions we have heard about our efforts to secure public funding for Husky Stadium:
Question: Why should Washington taxpayers foot any of the bill for renovating Husky Stadium?
Answer: Most of the public funding we are requesting would come from taxes paid by tourists visiting King County, so very little of the burden would fall on Washington state residents. Also, we believe some taxpayer investment in Husky Stadium is important for helping it continue to serve as an asset for the general public, not just the UW.
At least 20 percent of the stateís population follows the Huskies—with more than 1.3 million people watching Husky Football on TV or listening on radio. But Husky Stadium is not just the place where our football team plays a half-dozen or so home games every fall. For close to a century, it has also served as a regional landmark and the host of more than 55 community events—such as the Dawg Dash and the camp-out for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life—involving more than 88,000 people every year. Through the decades, the UW and the local community have reinforced Husky Stadiumís identity as a public facility serving a public purpose, rejecting offers to lease it out permanently for professional football or other sports.
- Generates about $12.5 million in taxes annually—about $8.2 million goes to state government and about $4.3 million to local governments
- Supports more than 2,000 jobs in the Washington economy, of which 500 are direct jobs
- Results in sales made within the state of Washington of as much as $210.6 million
- Creates labor income of approximately $83.4 million
- Attracts out-of-state sports fans in larger numbers than those attending Seahawks or Mariners games. (For example, our Sept. 13 football game against Oklahoma drew about 8,000 out-of-state fans to our city for two to three days.) Out-of-state fans spend an average of $137.79 per day on non-ticket costs, as compared with an average of $25.18 per day spent by local fans and $39.68 per day spent by fans from elsewhere in Washington state.
Question: Didn't the University bring in almost $2.7 billion during its recently ended fundraising campaign? Why can't you just use some of that money to pay for the stadium renovation?
Answer: Ninety-nine percent of the donations to Campaign UW are intended by their donors to be used to support specific educational functions or have been invested in an endowment for future educational use. More specifically, Campaign UW funds are being used for initiatives like:
- Students First scholarships, which help fund the UW's Husky Promise®—a guarantee of full payment of tuition and fees for academically qualified students from the state of Washington who come from lower-income families
- Research programs like the Department of Global Health and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that are helping transform our state into one of the worldís capitals of innovation
Redirecting any of these funds to Husky Stadium renovations would take money away from these kinds of initiatives and go against the wishes of the hundreds of thousands of people who contributed to the Campaign.
Question: Why don't you use your proven fundraising skills to get your donors to foot the entire stadium renovation bill?
Answer: An aggressive private fundraising effort is already under way. We expect private donations and the addition of more premium seating to cover half the cost of the renovations. That money will pay for upgrades and improvements to the fan experience and help in the recruitment of top coaches and players. Husky athletics has an extremely generous base of donors. Over the past decade, they have contributed more than $111 million, which has allowed the University to complete a variety of construction projects and to double the number of permanent scholarship endowments for both menís and womenís athletic programs.
The $150 million private fundraising goal for Husky Stadium is more than 50 percent greater than the total amount contributed by Husky donors during the last 10 years. Itís an ambitious undertaking but one that we believe can be successful. However, raising the entire $300 million through private sources is simply not feasible, given the urgency with which the repairs to the stadium must be made. That is why we must seek public funding now to help address the most urgent problems.
Question: Why can't the Huskies just play at Qwest Field?
Answer: There are a number of reasons why this would be a flawed move for the University and for the people of Washington, including the following:
- The University would have increased expenses, and Husky fans would have to pay more for tickets, parking, and concessions.
- The University has control over most revenue generated by games hosted in Husky Stadium. At Qwest Field, however, the UW would have much less control and face losing revenue. This poses a serious potential problem because 85 percent of the UW's athletic revenue comes from football, which is used to fund all other UW sports except menís basketball.
- College teams have lower priority in scheduling than the professional franchises that are these facilitiesí main tenants. The Husky season would have to adjust to meet the demands of the NFL and the Seahawks, Seattle's new Major League Soccer team, and other for-profit enterprises using Qwest Field and nearby facilities.
- University athletics are under the umbrella of the broader academic programs and mission of the university. Moving these games from campus to a professional facility would weaken these ties and send the wrong message about the interconnectedness of athletics and academics.
For more information
If you would like more in-depth information on this topic, these downloadable documents offer additional details:
- Husky Stadium fact sheet
- Renovation cost breakdown
- Husky Stadium economic impact
- Proposed Husky Stadium financing
- Community Resource and Public Asset booklet