Here in the Seattle area, we're constantly hearing about the possible relocation of the Seattle SuperSonics NBA team, all due to the city's reluctance to build a new arena for the team. In a gross over-simplification, the public outcry has been vociferously against paying for a new stadium with tax payer dollars, just as it is all across the country. I believe "corporate welfair" is the words people like to throw around.
Well, I got to thinking. Last week we watched tens of thousands of people flee their homes from an onslaught of wildfires and they just so happened to take shelter in Qualcom Stadium, home to the NFL team, the San Diego Chargers. Two years ago, during Hurricane Katrina, not only did tens of thousands of people take shelter in the Louisiana Superdome, home of the NFL's New Orleans Saints, but the facility was left in tatters. The City of San Diego owns Qualcom Stadium and the Louisiana Stadium/Expo District owns the Superdome. The primary tenants of both buildings are NFL teams owned by very wealthy families yet both stadiums are public owned.
Would the public have been allowed to take shelter in a privately-owned stadium?
Before you answer that, let me ask a follow-up. Should the massive earthquake we all fear someday strike the greater Seattle area, will Boeing open its doors to the world's largest building in Everett and welcome tens of thousands of refugees in out of the cold? Will Microsoft allow those whose homes have been destroyed to spend a few fitful nights on a cot in their hundreds of conference rooms?
Those are rhetorical questions, but I'll answer them anyway. The answer is, of course they wouldn't. Nor would we expect them to. But we would expect to take comfort at Qwest and Safeco Fields, both of which are owned by the King County Stadium Authority. And we would expect to take shelter in those cavernous facilities regardless of who owned them. If Paul Allen had paid for every penny of Qwest Field himself, we would still expect to shelter there. But not in Boeing's factory. Or Microsoft's offices. And what if the private owners of the stadiums said no? Sure, it'd be bad for business for them, but what if they had flashbacks to the wretched conditions the Superdome was left in after Katrina and decided to take their chances with bad PR than risk a costly renovation?
By no means am I saying the public ought to fit the bill entirely for a new stadium or arena on the sole grounds of us maybe needing it as a place of refuge, but I do think these buildings serve a very vital secondary function as a disaster shelter. The public needs to recognize that whether they like sports or not, having those buildings yields a pricelesss benefit to the city as a whole, especially a city situated in such a seismically active part of the country like Seattle. And it's because of this need, among other reasons, that I think the city not only should help fund a new stadium every few decades when necessary, but that it's in our best interest to do so.
The stadium we buy today just might be the only place to turn tomorrow when we have nowhere else to go.