Husky fan questions UW's 'Qwest' for a new $250 million stadium
Why in the world is the University of Washington about to spend $250 million for a new football stadium? Why not just use Qwest Field instead?
Seattle Times staff columnist
Now that the UW athletic director has everybody talking about money, big-time sports and what it means to be a public university, Mick McHugh's here with a pesky question:
Why in the world is the University of Washington about to spend $250 million for a new football stadium?
"I'm here looking out at this $500 million football stadium, that we've already built, and which sits empty most of the time," McHugh said the other day. "Can't we think about all this a little differently?"
McHugh was at the helm of his Pioneer Square bar, F.X. McRory's. It's across the street from the Seahawks' football palace, Qwest Field.
For the past year, McHugh has been buttonholing anyone who comes by about his idea to have the Huskies play all their home games at Qwest.
As of now, the UW plans to break ground next year on remodeling Husky Stadium on campus. BusinessWeek magazine has dubbed it "the most expensive renovation of a sports facility in NCAA history."
Why not just use Qwest instead?
"Five miles from campus, we already have one of the best football stadiums in America," McHugh effuses. "It's 5 miles, that's all it is!"
We'd like our own stadium, the UW has said. For reasons of money and tradition.
There's a worry that games at Qwest wouldn't bring as much football revenue. That's possible, but McHugh says the folks who run Qwest Field insist it isn't true.
Then there's tradition:
"Moving games downtown to Qwest Field would significantly change the game-day experience," the UW said in promotional materials for the project. "Student attendance would likely drop off and the tailgating experience would be compromised."
It's good to see the UW standing up for what matters about college.
But seriously, anyone who's ever been to a Husky game knows the allure. It's a fine place to see a game. And after first asking for public money for the remodel, the UW now hopes to do it through all-private donations.
There's a larger issue here though — yes, larger than football — that Woodward unwittingly bumbled to the fore.
Which is: You build sports Taj Mahals, you get no sympathy when you come asking for the really important stuff.
Scott Woodward, the UW's athletic director, caused an interstate diplomatic uproar last week when he called the University of Oregon an academic "embarrassment." But what jumped out at me is that Woodward seemed to link a perceived decline in that school, and its ability to draw state funding, with its over-emphasis on building fancy new sports facilities.
"In my mind, it's a wonderful athletic facility," Woodward said, speaking of Oregon's remodeled sports complex. "But they've watched it at the expense of the university go really down."
In other words, where were their priorities?
Forget about Oregon, McHugh is saying. Where are ours?
"The UW is raising tuition, they're restricting local enrollment, they're closing themselves off from the community," McHugh says. "What if they took that $250 million for the stadium and used it for scholarships instead?"
McHugh's got a self-interest here — he wants 65,000 potential customers walking by his bar six Saturdays each fall. If you've ever met him, you know he's also got a gift of gab and blarney.
But McHugh is no sports hater out to deflate Husky football. He goes to Husky games, and his business lives or dies with the Seahawks, Sounders and Mariners. He argues that other schools — UCLA and Pitt, for example — have thrived at off-campus stadiums.
"You could have the Husky marching band going through Chinatown on the way to the game, with the whole of Pioneer Square in purple and gold. You could bring the UW to the city. The city would love it!"
I asked McHugh if it wasn't too radical to ask any big-time university to say "no" to its own football stadium.
"Well, then let's just be even simpler about this," he said. "These are lean times. We have a stadium. So the real point here is to just use what we already have."
Whoa. Now that is radical.
Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Danny Westneat
Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to email@example.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 206-464-2086
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.