Cougs steering clear of Husky Stadium bid
WSU's $70 million Martin Stadium renovation is under way without public funding, while the UW has asked the Legislature for $150 million.
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — It was bound to come up.
Almost as soon as the University of Washington announced plans this week to seek public funding to cover half the cost of a $300 million renovation of Husky Stadium, supporters of Washington State University began asking "what about us."
The rivalry between the two schools often spills over into the political arena.
WSU has a $70 million project under way to renovate and upgrade Martin Stadium in Pullman, home of the Cougars football team. So far, the university has not sought any public funding. Instead, the plan is to pay for the project through student fees, extra fees on tickets, donations and income from leases on new suites and premium seats.
News of the UW's request drew an angry response from some WSU fans.
"Why the hell would I as a Coug want to pay for the Husky Stadium renovation," said Kyle Bahl, a 2007 WSU grad who lives in King County, where the taxes for the UW project would be collected.
But WSU lobbyist Larry Ganders said Friday the university has no plans to seek help from the Legislature for its stadium project.
"I'm not getting in the middle of this," Ganders said. "This is a matter between the University of Washington and the Legislature at this point. We have always operated under the assumption that public funds were not available for projects like this."
And even if WSU did decide to follow UW's lead in requesting public funding, it would face opposition from Sen. Mark Schoesler, whose district includes Pullman.
Schoesler, a conservative Republican from Ritzville, said the chances of him supporting such a proposal are "about as likely as I am to vote for Dennis Kucinich."
"I think it's just a wrong use of public funds — to pay for sports stadiums that have been traditionally funded by students and alumni," said Schoesler, who was wearing a WSU lapel pin.
Under the Husky Stadium proposal unveiled this week, the UW plans to seek legislative approval to raise $150 million for its renovation project by tapping into taxes that are now being used to retire the debt on Safeco and Qwest fields.
The rest of the money would come from donations and revenue from premium seating.
The Seattle Sonics have tried unsuccessfully for three years to get the state to help fund a new basketball arena.
But the UW proposal won a fairly positive initial response from some key lawmakers. Democratic House Speaker Frank Chopp, who strongly opposed the Sonics' requests, said he was open to helping fix up Husky Stadium. The university is within Chopp's legislative district.
Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, said Friday she hadn't heard any resistance yet inside the Senate Democratic caucus. And she said she has seen "no indication" that WSU will now try to seek public funding for its stadium project.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she won't be surprised if it comes up. "I'm sure some people will raise the issue of precedent," she said.
UW proposes extending some of the special taxes that were imposed just in King County on hotels, restaurants and car rentals to help pay for Seattle's pro sports stadiums. Aside from getting the Legislature's OK, the university would need to get local approval from the Metropolitan King County Council.
Ralph Thomas: 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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