Should Government Funds be Used to Build New Sports Facilities?

This issue has been brought up quite a bit lately. Here is an informative article on the matter (pay attention Trenton):

“Yes: Such facilities are critical to the long-term growth and stability of most urban centers.

Mark Rosentraub is one of a small, but well-publicized, group of individuals who have made their reputations in part by criticizing decisions by local civic leaders and voters regarding the construction and value of new sports stadiums. These critics underestimate not only the economic impact of new facilities but the intangible effects as well. The evidence and support of this positive impact is impressive. Economic analysts Dick Conway and Bill Beyers have conducted four studies during the last 12 years on the impact of the Seattle Seahawks football team and Seattle Mariners baseball club in that community. They have concluded that professional sports, like good schools, the arts, low crime rates, museums and parks add to the quality of life in a region. In that way, they make the region a better place to live and a better place to locate a business. Regions known for a high quality of life have a clear edge in this aspect of the competition for economic growth.

In March 1996, the voters in Hamilton County, Ohio, passed a 520 million referendum that included partial funding for new dual stadiums for the Cincinnati Bengals football and the Cincinnati Reds baseball teams. The teams also are committed to raising funds for the project. And this referendum committed $10 million annually for 20 years for the repair of Cincinnati public-school buildings.

While critics reject the need for public support for facilities, voters who stand to benefit from more-convenient and comfortable amenities in these new stadiums have approved public expenditures for NFL facilities in seven straight referenda during the last two years. For example, in November 1996, voters in Wayne County, Mich., approved partial funding to build a new sports-entertainment complex that includes a new football stadium for the Detroit Lions and a new baseball stadium for the Detroit Tigers in what traditionally has been an economically depressed section of the city. Mayor Dennis Archer and County Executive Ed McNamara led the effort in this public/private partnership. Archer did so because the project will create 4,700 construction jobs and 3,800 related jobs, increase tax revenue for the city and attract additional convention and concert revenues. Of course, Lions owner William Clay Ford also will contribute millions of dollars to the project for his club. The baseball owners will as well for their stadium. Sports owners, indeed, are paying their share of these projects — something the critics often conveniently overlook.

It takes a broad cross-section of voters to pass these stadium referenda. Voters in Nashville last year ratified a $292 million finance package to build a new football stadium that will be the home of the state’s first professional sports team, the Tennessee Oilers. Elaine Goetz, a grandmother and retiree, stated her reasons for voting in favor of the new project. “For me, it has nothing to do with football. I’m for it because of the legacy we will leave for our children and grandchildren. I have studied the situation carefully and am impressed by what this project will do for Nashville…. I’m confident that I’m doing the right thing by voting yes.” Although opponents quickly downplay the positives, economic projections show that 1,300 new full-time jobs, $65 million each year in new revenue, a revitalized East Bank of the Cumberland River and positive national exposure for the city of Nashville and the state of Tennessee will be created by the public/private partnership with an NFL franchise.

Rosentraub and I debated the issue of public financing for sports stadiums at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Philadelphia. After the panel discussion, I was approached by three women from western Pennsylvania who were big Pittsburgh Steelers fans. All three volunteered to do whatever they could to help pass the upcoming referendum that is scheduled in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area in November. If passed, the referendum would allocate public financing in a 10-county area for a new civic center and other public buildings — including a new 44,000-seat baseball park for the Pirates, a $260 million expansion of the Pittsburgh Convention Center, a new football stadium for the Steelers and other initiatives in the Pittsburgh Cultural District. These women understood that the development of such facilities is critical to the long-term growth and stability of their region.

At the same conference in Philadelphia, Washington state Sen. Jeanne Kohl also described how a local community’s investment in a professional sports team is vital to an area’s growth and development. Kohl chronicled her political involvement in the decision last June by King County, Wash., and Seattle voters to build a multipurpose facility which will be the new home for the Seahawks, but which also will serve the community in a number of other ways. She explained the intangible impact of a professional sports team on a community, as well as the new dollars that are anticipated to be spent in King County by both the residents and, especially, out-of-town visitors. Although not an avid sports fan, Kohl emphasized the pride and unity associated with having an NFL franchise in her community. She added that Seattle’s decision to construct a new facility for the Seahawks, which is only one of many such community decisions to renovate and/or construct public facilities each year, will attract new entertainment to the area, including professional soccer. There also will be a much-needed larger venue for trade shows in the new exhibition center. This multipurpose facility also will create the potential for revitalizing an otherwise underdeveloped region of the city and will keep Seattle a major-league winner.”

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