Everett Memorial Stadium and Funko Field on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Everett Memorial Stadium and Funko Field on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Drive to build new AquaSox ballpark gets $7.4M boost from state

The proposed Senate capital budget contains critical seed money for the city-led project likely to get matched by the House.

EVERETT — State lawmakers are looking to steer millions of dollars to the city to help it build a new ballpark for the Everett AquaSox.

A proposed capital budget issued Monday by Senate Democrats earmarks $7.4 million to Everett for the project, which may take three years and tens of millions of dollars to complete. House Democrats are expected to include a similar sum in their construction budget due out next week.

“I’m happy to see funding included in the Senate capital budget to support our work, in partnership with the AquaSox, Snohomish County and others, toward having a baseball stadium that is compliant with the new standards set by Major League Baseball,” Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said in a statement Monday.

“It’s great news for baseball across the entire state of Washington,” AquaSox general manager Danny Tetzlaff said in a text message, while declining to comment further. “It’s the first step in a long process.”

The Senate plan spreads $24 million among 11 communities that are home to ballparks such as Spokane, Tacoma, Pasco, Bellingham and Longview. Those dollars are intended for field improvements and stadium upgrades, depending on the needs of each respective facility.

Everett stands to get the largest sum because it requires a brand new ballpark. When Major League Baseball took over administration of Minor League Baseball in 2020, it instituted new standards for minor-league facilities. Those standards include minimum clubhouse sizes for the teams, bathroom access from dugouts, specified location of bullpens, facilities for female team staff and umpires, training rooms for the home and visiting teams, and more, as reported by Baseball America.

The AquaSox, who are the Seattle Mariners’ affiliate in the High-A Northwest League, currently play at Funko Field, which they lease from the Everett School District. Funko Field, which opened in 1947 and has been the home of Everett’s minor-league team since it debuted as the Giants in 1984, simply won’t work.

The AquaSox also were elevated from Short Season-A to High-A in 2021, which increased their season length from 78 to 132 games, half of which are at home, and which run from April to September. That requires careful scheduling as three Everett Public Schools high schools as well as Everett Community College use the athletic fields at Everett Memorial Stadium.

Rep. Julio Cortes, D-Everett, appreciated Senate budget writers funded the full amount sought by the city at this stage. Ultimately, the city wants a place not only for the AquaSox to play in that complies with the new requirements but also has amenities for the community.

“I am really excited it is moving forward,” he said. “This is going to be fun when it opens.”

Time is of the essence. Major League Baseball reportedly wants upgrades made and mandates met by the start of the 2025 season. City and legislative leaders think MLB officials will be flexible on the deadline for Everett if it is clear the project is moving forward.

“That’s what we’re counting on. We’re feeling like Opening Day 2026 is as soon as it could possibly come together,” Everett Economic Development Director Dan Eernissee said Friday.

This is a big undertaking. Conversations ramped up in September when the city and county agreed to study a new stadium’s feasibility.

Franklin estimated the cost could be as much as $80 million. That would put it in line with the $85 million price tag of a new stadium for the Eugene Emeralds, another Northwest League team located in Oregon, as reported by KEZI. Taxes are helping pay for that stadium.

Everett leaders have said no new taxes would go toward the stadium’s construction. Eernissee and Franklin reiterated the point Friday.

“We’ll get as creative as we can possibly be to get it done,” Eernissee said. Contributions are expected from the city, the county and the AquaSox owners along with the state, he said.

Snohomish County is watching and waiting.

“We support any efforts that will ensure our residents can enjoy the benefits of professional baseball and our economy can benefit from the jobs it creates,” A Boungjaktha, the county’s executive director for economic development, said in a statement. “Until we see specifics about the location, design, and construction plans, and are asked to help, we won’t know what is possible. We don’t want to speculate at this stage, other than to say we are very supportive of keeping the team here.”

The city is looking to develop more than just a baseball stadium.

A public park and an outdoor amphitheater are part of the broader vision, Franklin said. Some city leaders are already using the acronym STAMP for the project for stadium, amphitheater and park.

An economic analysis released in December concludes two of the most viable location options are in close proximity to the Angel of the Winds Arena and downtown core.

One such site is east of Broadway between Hewitt and Pacific avenues. Like T-Mobile Park, where the Mariners play, it would be bound on one side by a railroad.

Its proximity to downtown and the dozens of bars and restaurants boosted the location’s profile, according to the analysis by Seattle-based planning and research firm Community Attributes Inc. Being across the street from Angel of the Winds Arena also helps foster an entertainment and sports hub, per the report.

The other site is the city’s current public works campus, nearly 14 acres close to Interstate 5 and east of the railroad and Everett Station, the city’s major transit hub.

One of that site’s flaws is the city would need to keep using the buildings for several years while it develops a new public works campus.

Razing and rebuilding Funko Field is on the list of potential options too. But given the school district’s ownership and demand for use, it is viewed as an unlikely option.

Eernissee said the goal is to continue scouring the community for potential locations, then narrow the options to three or four, and study them deeply. The city administration hopes to bring a recommendation to the Everett City Council by the end of the year, he said.

It’s an immense challenge and exciting opportunity, the mayor said.

“The AquaSox is something we all love,” Franklin said. “It is a vital part of who we are in this city.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

Ben Watanabe: 425-339-3037; bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @benwatanabe.

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