SEATTLE (AP) - A boost at the ballot box from hometown fans may be enough to keep the Seattle Seahawks from flying away.
A proposal by billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to tear down the 21-year-old Kingdome and replace it with an open-air stadium was ahead by 17,850 votes following Tuesday's statewide referendum, thanks mostly to support in the Seattle metropolitan area.
"Our projections show us ahead and the trend is positive. I'm very optimistic at this point," Allen, potential Seahawks buyer, told a cheering crowd in Seattle.
King County Executive Ron Sims said he and Allen had agreed on the wording of a letter of intent that assumes passage of Referendum 48, the stadium-financing plan that was ahead by 17,850 votes today. Under the agreement, the King County Council will approve the various taxes called for in Allen's $425 million financing plan, and Allen will exercise his option to buy the Seahawks.
"Even though the issue is not yet decided, it's our belief that it's time to move forward because we believe the voters have spoken and Referendum 48 will pass," Sims said at a news conference this morning.
The measure led with 699,239 votes, or 51 percent, to 681,389, or 49 percent.
It was winning approval in western Washington, but it trailed in the rural, eastern part of the state. In King County, the state's most populous, the measure was winning by more than 50,000 votes.
Allen and Sims had acknowledged earlier that the outcome of the referendum remains uncertain because most counties voted by mail only, which means ballots could continue arriving for several days.
Allen said last year he would buy the National Football League team if taxpayers agreed to his $425 million plan to demolish the aging Kingdome and build a more profitable stadium, exhibition center and parking garage in its place.
If the statewide vote goes against him, Allen walks away, and current owner Ken Behring continues trying to move the team from Seattle.
Allen has come under fire for offering to reimburse the state the $4.2 million cost of running the special election. Foes say he's using his immense wealth to manipulate the political system for personal gain.
Under the referendum, taxpayers would foot about $300 million of the cost and Allen has agreed to put up $100 million. The remaining $25 million of the cost would be covered by a sales tax deferral on construction materials, paid after the stadium is built.
The plan would have the public contribute its share through lottery games, tax breaks, a hotel tax, and higher taxes on stadium admissions and parking.
Allen, who is among the world's richest people and has spent about $40 million in his bid to buy the team, has said he expects to recoup about half of the $100 million by selling personal seat licenses. He has also said he expects to pay $200 million for the team, about double what Behring paid.