Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Stadiums: Not So Good.

Ever driven down 71 through Cincinnati and noticed the side-by-side stadiums? Well it'd be hard not to, but with the promise of money for the schools and increased property values--at the expense of aesthetics--it was a hard bargain for tax-payers to pass up. Problem is, the benefits have not only been undelivered...they're actually making it worse!
CINCINNATI — Years after a wave of construction brought publicly financed stadiums costing billions of dollars to cities across the country, taxpayers are once again being asked to reach into their pockets.

From New Jersey to Ohio to Arizona, the stadiums were sold as a key to redevelopment and as the only way to retain sports franchises. But the deals that were used to persuade taxpayers to finance their construction have in many cases backfired, the result of overly optimistic revenue assumptions and the recession.

Nowhere is the problem more acute than in Cincinnati. In 1996, voters in Hamilton County approved an increase of half of one percent in the sales tax that promised to build and maintain stadiums for the Bengals and the Reds, pay Cincinnati’s public schools and give homeowners an annual property tax rebate. The stadiums were supposed to spur development of the city’s dilapidated riverfront.

But sales tax receipts have fallen so fast in the last year that the county is now scrambling to bridge a $14 million deficit in its sales tax fund. The public schools, which deferred taking their share for years, want their money.

The teams have not volunteered to rewrite their leases. So in the coming weeks, the county plans to cut basic services, lower its legal bills and drain a bond reserve fund with no plan for paying it back.

“Anyone looking at this objectively knows it’s a train wreck,” said Dusty Rhodes, the county auditor. “I told them they were making a big mistake, but they didn’t want to hear me.”
I have mixed feelings about stadiums. While they do encourage city pride and really elevate a city into a national scene, they come with an enormous price tag. They do spur economic activity, but often without prolonged sustainable business opportunities And it's pretty hard to argue that they are somehow environmentally friendly...regardless, this should just be a lesson to not roll with campaign promises and vote out of desperation.