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Join the informed, opinionated journalists of The Times' editorial staff in lively discussions at our blog Ed Cetera.

June 13, 2012 at 9:38 AM

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Civil Disagreement: Ballmer, Nordstrom and the Arena

Civil disagreements, with Lynne Varner and Bruce Ramsey of the Seattle Times editorial board, is an occasional feature of the Ed Cetera blog. Today they react to the news that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and the Nordstrom family are part of the investor group trying to build a Seattle arena and bring NBA franchise back to Seattle. Is this a game changer?

Lynne Varner, left, and Bruce Ramsey

Lynne Varner: Bruce, finally, the names of at least some of the investors behind the proposal to bring an NBA team back to Seattle have been revealed! The Seattle Times reports that Steve Ballmer and Peter and Erik Nordstrom.

The names conjure power, money and deep roots in Seattle. That the arena plan has the imprimaturs of MIcrosoft's CEO and the Nordstrom family adds strength and credibility to the proposal. Financially speaking, these guys are deep pockets who should reassure the public of the stability of the investment team and the worth of the proposal. These guys aren't fools. They're not looking to lose money. Plus, they have experience in sports team ownership. Ballmer was involved in the unsuccessful bid to keep the Sonics in town. The Nordstrom family were the original owners of the Seattle Seahawks. One would think they know a thing or two more than the rest of us about owning a profitable team.

A note of caution: New names, however weighty, don't eclipse the old questions. Concerns raised in this Times editorial and this one, remain. The new investors should be as interested as everyone else in the answers.

Bruce Ramsey: Pardon my cynicism, Lynne. It seems like it's always some big name around here who wants to pick my pocket. For a while it was Paul Allen. His modus operandi was, "I'll put up several hundred millions of mine if you, the taxpayer, kick in some hundred millions of yours, to build something I want." Now it's this fellow from San Francisco who nobody ever heard of before, plus some Nordstroms and the CEO of Microsoft. What is it with rich people around here? They have the money. They have truckloads of money. Good for them! I'm not against rich people. Glorious to be rich! But if you're rich, and you want buy a basketball team, and you want to build a stadium for the team and you want to sell tickets to the public, fine. Do it. Do it yourself.

I'm a wage earner. I buy lunch just about every workday. For years I paid an extra sales tax for a baseball stadium I voted against, and the people of King County voted against (51 percent), and which the politicians built anyway. Finally I am out from under that tax. I understand that the arena proposal has no new tax on me, which makes it a less-bad proposal than the Mariner stadium was. Still, it involves the use of public funds, starting with my local government buying land a $100 million from a guy who just paid $40 million for it, and allowing him to deftly use public credit, public ownership and public revenues to reduce the costs of a private business venture.

Local government is about public safety, roads, schools, etc. Necessities. This is entertainment. And entertainment--whether rock concerts and truck pulls or Italian opera -- is not a "need." It's a "want." People should pay for their own.

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