Cities readers know that one of my biggest economic development peeves — right alongside government-backed casinos — is the gargantuan public giveaway to professional sports stadiums. And according to the Brookings Institution's Adie Tomer and Siddharth Kulkarni, writing earlier this month in the Sun Sentinel, the outrageous, over-the-top deal for the new Miami Marlins stadium should once and for all end the "era of publicly funded stadiums."
As has been widely reported in the Miami press, the Marlins's owner, Jeffrey Loria, was able to extract government backing for the new, architecturally innovative $600 million stadium. After promising the region that he would create a winner as well as attract some big name free agents, Loria then let go of several star players in a $160 million payroll dump via a ludicrous deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. But as Tomer and Kulkarni point out, the deal is even more disastrous than it seems:
The public was responsible for 70 percent of the total bill, while the ownership received revenues from public parking in addition to ticket sales. But the worst part may be the methods used to finance that public share. The Miami-Dade County Commission sold $500 million worth of public bonds, all of which were financed during poor market conditions resulting in higher interest rates.
The end result: a total public bill of $2.4 billion over 40 years. And you thought $600 million sounded expensive.
They point to a similar stadium boondoggle in Cincinnati where the public sector (in this case Hamilton County) was left with a bill of more than $550 million dollars. The public debt on that stadium now consumes "over 16 percent of the county's annual budget," they write, "forcing the county to cut youth services and other public programs."
I'm a big sports fan. Successful pro sports teams help bolster community morale and regional pride, as Tomer and Kulkarni point out. But I fail to see why taxpayers should subsidize wealthy owners and players. And that is finally becoming a more widely shared public sentiment, especially when these sweetheart stadium deals help bankrupt cities and counties and drain precious public funding away from essential public services.
Top image: Miami Marlins starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco throws the first pitch to New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter during their MLB spring training baseball game in Miami, Florida on April 1. The game is the first Major League game played in the new Marlins Park stadium. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)