Both arts organizations are furious about the request, and have jointly released a statement accusing Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels of trying to "transfer the public funding burden for the city-owned facility to the private sector."
The council has asked each organization to pay $114,000 this year toward a $456,000 payment, and $227,000 next year toward a $910,000 payment. In 2002, Nickels pledged that no public money would be used to pay off the debt.
Nickels suggested that the arts groups raise ticket prices in order to meet the debt, or else that their rents be raised. Currently the organizations pay a total of $1.1 million in rent for the use of McCaw Hall.
The $127.8 million facility, which opened in June 2003, was built with a combination of private and public money. Because of the economic recession, King County and Washington State fell $11.5 million short of planned contributions.
The council, in deliberating the debt, pointed to a 2002 letter signed by Speight Jenkins, the opera's general director, and Kent Stowell, the ballet's artistic director, pledging to cover any financial shortfall, whether public or private, that might result from building McCaw Hall.
The statement released by the two arts organizations says the letter was signed when Nickels and city officials threatened to shut down construction if the $72 million in private funding fell short, which at one point seemed likely.
However, the ballet and opera raised the full amount of private funding necessary, and see this latest request as part of a pattern of "[violating] the public/private partnership tenets that the private sector embraced in good faith."
There are no plans under discussion for paying the interest debt beyond 2006.