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Copyright © 2001


If you're a Mariners fan nestled comfortably in your seat above right field at the pad in the south section of town known simply to the natives as "The Safe," money is the last thing on your mind.

That's because you are just taken aback in awe of the breathtaking beauty before your twinkling very eyes.

Just where to begin describing this ballpark with arguably the most incredible views from any professional sports venue on the planet today and host of the 2001 Major League All-Star Game?

How about the unbelievably gorgeous shot of downtown with the famous "Space Needle" hovering in the distance as the coast nudges West Seattle?

More magnificently, how about the picturesque view of quaint Elliott Bay, and massive but charming Puget Sound as ferries, ships and sailboats in between charter oh so peacefully wisk by with the gentle Northwest wind toward the snow-covered Olympic Mountains to the west and various ports of call?

But just a second there kids. Don't get too cozy.

All is not quiet on the western front.

There is no such thing as Utopia remember! Snap out of it! Walt Disney World's in Orlando, not Seattle!

Peer, or veer, down from your seat at Safeco, imbibe your $6.50 plus beer and $3.50 nachos and listen to the spirited announcer proclaim on the loudspeaker, "Now batting for the Mariners, the shortstop, number three, Alex Rodriiiigueeeeeez!"

Now you�re dreaming. You're thinking about money - like how your beloved Mariners lost "A-Rod" and "Junior" (All-Star Ken Griffey Jr.).

Pristine Safeco Field was supposed to help keep both of these All-Stars here, but the dynamic duo are not playing together in the Emerald City anymore.

That's because as beautiful and picture-postcard as Safeco and the view from its seats are, the field of dreams has also cost the Mariners a pretty penny - and then some.

The Mariners, who recorded total losses of $70.80 million in their last five years playing inside the outdated King-dump (dome), were forced to ante up much more do re mi when construction of Safeco went awry.

In a scenario that is unlikely to be repeated ever again by a professional sports franchise, the Mariners agreed to pay for any overruns on the construction of the new ballpark despite the fact that the organization had no control over its management, design and even its budget!

Can you say, "Oops!"

In October of 1995, the Washington State legislature provided the necessary funding mechanisms for the creation of a 13-member Public Facilities District (PFD) to site, design, construct and own a retractable roof ballpark within the city limits of Seattle.

"We did have an understanding to pay for overages but we didn't have any control over the project," said Mariners spokeswoman Rebecca Hale.

"We did not have control over the design of the project - we had input. That's the number one lesson we learned from this project."

The original budget for the project was $437 million, with the Mariners contributing $45 million and the public the remainder of the cost (the public's $392 million portion included $20 million set aside for contingency costs).

Ground broke on the new ballpark in March 1997, which is when the troubles really began. The PFD hired Seattle-based architectural firm NBBJ to oversee the project, much to the Mariners disapproval.

Although NBBJ designed Miller Park, a retractable roof ballpark that opened in Milwaukee this year, the firm had no other experience in the tough, number-crunching, ballpark-building business.

"What we didn't know was that the PDF had grossly underestimated the cost to build the ballpark," Hale said. "The problem is it was just so underestimated from the beginning."

When NBBJ designed the project for the Mariners new ballpark they only estimated for two-thirds of the concrete that would actually be necessary to construct it. Lacking at least one-third of the concrete needed to build the ballpark immediately added $60 million to its price tag. What's more, the original design of the retractable roof was flawed, which ultimately forced back the opening of the ballpark.

"The original design of the roof was way over what was allowed in the budget," Hale explained matter-of-factly.

"They had to go back and redesign (it), which caused some original expenses. By January 1998 it became clear to the Mariners that the PFD had grossly underestimated the cost of the project and were rapidly depleting the contingency."

By June of 1998, the PFD had spent the $437 million, which meant the Mariners were now liable to open their coffers to complete the project.

One month later, in July, the franchise dished out $85 million. The franchise then also advanced the PFD $80 million and another $19 million. Final price tag: $621 million, some $366 million more than had been budgeted for the Astros retractable roof ballpark in Houston, Enron Field, which opened in 2000.

"Steel and concrete prices are very high," Hale commented. "The cost of labor is very high in Seattle versus Houston. Also, there was environmental remediation - soil needed to be dredged."

"The number one thing we would do differently would be to try to get management control over the construction," Hale added. "We didn't have control over the budget or the design yet we were on the hook to pay the additional costs. When you have someone managing the project, but not the budget, you have disconnect."

Despite the turbulent road to constructing Safeco Field, Mariners fans appear pleased with the results. Safeco Field has drawn big crowds since its debut in July 1999.

"That's a nice feeling to know, through all the problems," Hale said. "There is a wonderful ballpark that is a result of this painful process."

It's no secret why Safeco is selling out nearly every game since its opening - it's outside stupid! Not since 1969 when the Seattle Pilots (now Milwaukee Brewers) played at Sicks Stadium have Seattle baseball fans enjoyed watching America's national pastime outdoors.

Additionally, Safeco itself is a sight to be seen. The ballpark, snuck five feet below street level, affords Mariners fans about as twice as many prime seats for viewing the likes of Edgar Martinez and fan-favorite Jay Buhner.

Sight lines are just one of the unique characteristics of Safeco however.

There are numerous scoreboards located throughout the yard, including two which let fans know exactly what is happening - at-bat by at-bat.

So, for example, if you're in the men�s or the ladies, and return to your seat to discover you already missed an out, just check one of these scoreboards on either the first or third base side for the details on what just transpired.

But perhaps the greatest aspect of Safeco is its location outdoors smack dab in what feels like the heart of the Emerald City. There's a certain connection, a certain pride Mariners fans now feel when they hear the Southern Pacific rail cars toot their horns as they pass by Safeco Field about three times per game.

As for the franchise, there still replenishing their checkbook.

The Mariners, who are paying the PFD $700,000 in rent annually to play in their new park, pocketed $40 million from Safeco, an insurance giant, for the naming rights to the new pad.

The retractable roof was another key component of the project because rain rules in Seattle 10 months of the year and about 50 percent of Mariners fans travel more than 50 miles to the ballgame - few with any intentions of witnessing a rain delay.

"We estimate the new ballpark will bring in $20 to $25 million. That will come from tickets, concessions and merchandise - all the different revenue opportunities that are so much greater than in the Kingdome," Hale said. "At the Kingdome we used to say perfect weather was 55 degrees and drizzle but here it's a very different story. This is a classic ballpark."

One that didn't come cheap either. But it�s a gem nonetheless.

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Copyright © 2001