College Football 2011: Husky Stadium Renovation

Stephen SmithContributor IMay 24, 2011

SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 19: Players and fans celebrate the Washington Huskies' 16-13 defeat of the USC Trojans on September 19, 2009 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Last November, the University of Washington’s Board of Regents approved a privately-funded $250 million renovation of decrepit Husky Stadium, home of the Washington Huskies football team.

The university had originally requested $150 million in public funding for the project, but that plan was rejected. In response, the board approved the private funding model, which will raise $50 million from donations, and finance the remaining $200 million with 30-year bonds. The bonds will be repaid through revenue generated by luxury suites, increased Tyee Club season ticket prices, and the sale of naming rights to the field, the tunnel through which players access the field and the football operations building adjacent to the stadium.

Washington will play its last football game at the dilapidated venue on November 5, 2011 against the Oregon Ducks. Beginning with the 2011 Apple Cup, it will play its home games at Qwest Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks, which is located a few miles south of the UW campus.

Assuming that the stadium project doesn’t suffer cost overruns (some predictions already exceed $300 million) and the Huskies can field a decent enough football team to generate the anticipated revenue, there is still one question many Puget Sound residents have asked: Why does the city of Seattle need two state-of-the-art, football-specific, 65,000 seat stadiums located less than five miles apart?

The University of Washington is a public institution, and as such it bears some responsibility to conduct itself in support of the greater public good. A fair portion of access points to the stadium, including the crumbling Alaskan Way viaduct and the inadequate SR 520 floating bridge, must also be replaced or rebuilt. And while the university won’t be funding those undertakings, which will cost about $8 billion, it will most certainly benefit from them.

While a handful of politicians have suggested that the Washington football team could simply play its home games at Qwest Field, the lack of vocal opposition to the renovation of Husky Stadium, particularly in the face of Seattle’s myriad infrastructure problems, is puzzling.

So why is there no criticism of the apparent boondoggle of renovating a venerated but massively neglected stadium? The answer to this question is quite literally beneath your feet, if you happen to be standing next to Husky Stadium.

On May 16, 2011, Washington Senator Patty Murray was on hand for the dedication of three tunnel boring machines that will drill twin 3.15 mile light rail transit tunnels from Westlake Center in downtown Seattle via the Capitol Hill neighborhood to—you guessed it—Husky Stadium.

The predicted cost of the University Link, or U-Link, is $1.9 billion and it is scheduled for completion in 2016. Luckily for Seattle and the Huskies, you, the American taxpayer, have already chipped in $830 million through a federal grant.

Said King County Council Member Larry Phillips, also in attendance at the dedication, “University Link will connect an incredible number of riders to our regional mass transit system. Light rail provides a fast, reliable connection for the thousands of students, faculty, staff and visitors to UW and the nearby medical and sports facilities."

In other words, the federal grant was, in part, secured through the suggestion that U-Link will serve Husky Stadium. Not renovating the stadium was never an option, because it would put $830 million in federal funds at risk, or at least make Seattle a questionable candidate for future grants. And Seattle will need more of your money, America.

Replacing the SR-520 bridge will cost an estimated $4.5 billion, and the Alaskan Way viaduct an additional $3.1 billion. Rest assured those projects will not be completed without federal dollars.

So on August 31, 2013, as you watch the Washington Huskies walk from the Dick’s Drive-In Football Operations Center, then run through Ivar’s Clam Chowder Tunnel and onto Starbucks Field at Husky Stadium, remember what a bargain you’re getting.

Soaking another $300 million into the Mistake by the Lake is chump change compared with the more than $10 billion required to rebuild Seattle’s transportation infrastructure. And if it helps to further loosen the federal government’s purse strings, it’s an absolute steal.