Friday, May 29

Stadiums Are Great, Or Not

Something you'll never hear from anyone associated with getting a new sports facility built:

"While the ballpark construction would create 453 jobs during construction, the $49 million total investment would actually create a net loss of 182 jobs citywide.

“If those individuals who put their money into baseball via taxes are allowed to put that money into the private market, that same amount of money would actually yield more jobs,” explains ECONorthwest number-cruncher Abe Farkas."

(From The Portland Mercury, via Field of Schemes).

Naturally, Portland city officials were less than keen to share this sort of news, and tried their best to keep it out of the public's view, but, eventually it got there. And so, naturally, the city tried to explain that the study (which they commissioned) was all screwed up to begin with.

After studying these situations (far too much, honestly) for the past few years, I can see both sides of the argument in these discussions. Certainly, pro sports teams provide economic activity and help keep neighborhoods such as the one surrounding KeyArena viable. Just talk to the folks running businesses in that area these days about how thrilled they are about the Sonics leaving town. Not much.

However, teams also are a consistent drain on public finances, and the bang for the public buck is often a whimper, relatively speaking. In the end, there is no logical argument for throwing money at stadiums - only an emotional one. When times are good, that emotional argument can be persuasive, as it was for the Seahawks and Mariners. When the economy is in a freefall and the state and city are scrapping together bake sales to pay for basic services, though, that argument becomes increasingly flimsy.

And so it is for the Sonics these days. Sure, some of the candidates for the Mayor of Seattle have thrown their two cents in about saving the Sonics, but most of that is posturing and looking to stake a claim to a perceived weakness of the incumbent, Greg Nickels. In reality, none of these people did much to keep the team here when it really mattered (although, to be fair, James Donaldson did more than the rest).

The Sonics are, it seems, not a priority in Seattle these days. Despite the fact that private backers were willing to cough up $150 million towards re-building KeyArena, it didn't happen, largely because the public outcry was not enough to convince legislators that it would be in their political interests to do so. To get a new arena, supporters must overcome two significant dead weights: 1) The fact that arenas and stadiums are not nearly the economic panacea supporters purport them to be and 2) The citizens of this area aren't sufficiently on board.

You can climb the mountain with one of those weights chained to your leg, but with both of them shackled to your ankles, you ain't gonna make it.

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