Beginning in the summer of 1993, owners of the Seattle Mariners expressed the need for a new baseball stadium. The Mariners played in the Kingdome, which also hosted football, concerts, and other special events. The Kingdome was not well suited for baseball. The artificial turf made fielding difficult, home runs were easier to hit, and some balls struck the structure. But public funding to benefit a private company met opposition, particularly when the price tag was $250 million.
In 1995, the legislature rejected the use of state taxes for a new stadium and acted to put it to a vote in King County. Seattle Mayor Norm Rice (b. 1943) and Washington Governor Mike Lowry (b. 1939) and other leaders put together a package of taxes to fund the stadium. The ownership of the Seattle Seahawks demanded a similar deal.
The King County tax package failed at the polls on September 19, 1995. The Mariners owners set a deadline of October 30 for plans for a new stadium or the team would be put up for sale. Governor Lowry called the state legislature into special session to help solve the problem. After three days of contentious debate, the legislature authorized King County to levy taxes to pay for bonds to build the stadium. A public facilities district was established to build and operate the stadium. The county council approved taxes on restaurant and tavern meals and on car rentals.
Taxpayer suits opposing the legislative actions and the taxes failed in the courts. The team and the public facilities district battled over cost overruns. The name was sold to Safeco Insurance and the ballpark became Safeco Field.
The Seattle Mariners played their first game in the new facility on July 15, 1999 (they lost to the San Diego Padres, 3-2).