Friday, January 28, 2005

Municipal Fiscal Irresponsibility

Bob Herbert in today's NY Times:

"At $1.4 billion, this playground for the richest among us would be the most expensive sports stadium in the history of the world. The city and the state, which can't afford toilet paper for the public schools, would put up a minimum of $600 million and undoubtedly much more. The smart money says the public will take at least a billion-dollar hit on this project so Woody Johnson can hold court amid a sea of luxury boxes hard by the Hudson on the Far West Side of Manhattan."


This is worst kind of corporate welfare imaginable. Cities spending public money on sports venues. Republicans rail against farm subsidies as "enriching millionaires" - at least with farm subsidies, there's a chance that some of that money ends up in the hands of a family farmer. No common citizen gets any benefit whatsoever from the construction of a new stadium.

There are so many studies that demonstrate this is the biggest waste of civic economic investment they aren't even worth citing, yet mayors across the country still fall into this trap - most recently, Anthony Williams of the District of Columbia.

Everyone falls into the trap believing a new stadium can have an effect like Camden Yards did for Baltimore. Baltimore was a unique situation, and it can't be replicated again.

First, Baltimore is 40 miles from a major metropolitan area that until last month, had no baseball team. According to the U.S. Census, Baltimore is in the Baltimore-Washington CMSA, the 4th largest metropolitan area in the U.S., behind New York City Metro, L.A. Metro, and Chicago Metro and just in front of the San Francisco-Oakland Metro area. Of these top 5 metro areas in population, only Baltimore/Washington has one baseball team serving the entire area.

Second, Camden Yards was the first new baseball park constructed in the U.S. in the "throwback" style. Architecturally, it was unique and drew people from other nearby cities such as Pittsburgh, Philly, Richmond, and even Raleigh when it first opened. It also anchored the redevelopment of the Inner Harbor area, a blown out section of Baltimore that many of my former colleagues in Maryland used to describe as quite dangerous. Memorial Stadium was up near 28th Street, not downtown.

With the positive environment for attendance, the uniqueness of the park, and it's role in a redevelopment effort, Camden Yards has shown a slight benefit to the local economy, but nothing near the construction costs. The football stadium, built on the same site, has been a money loser for the State of Maryland.

Look at the City of Pittsburgh with a new football stadium and the nicest baseball stadium in America. The city is practically bankrupt and it will take close to a decade to get their finances in order.

The RBC Center, near RDU Airport sits vacant most nights with the NHL on strike, and even with a settlement, the future of the Carolina Hurricanes is in doubt. With a massive vacant building on the outskirts of town, the Mayor of Raleigh is pushing a new convention center downtown.

Take a lesson from these people about the perils of publically constructed sports venues. Mayor Bloomberg, you're never going to see a Camden Yards effect - tell the Jets to stay in Jersey or pay for a new stadium with their own money.

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