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Stadium follies: Baltimore's lesson



Cross-posted from tbt*

With the Tampa Bay Rays angling for a new stadium, a Bloomberg News article on Baltimore's experience with the Camden Yards stadium built for the Orioles offers some interesting —and sobering — facts. Here's what reporters Darrell Preston, Aaron Kuriloff and Rodney Yap found:

Unfulfilled promises: Boosters of Camden Yards, built at taxpayer cost of $210 million, said the baseball stadium would lead an urban renaissance, revitalizing blighted neighborhoods and bringing jobs and tax revenue to the city's struggling downtown. More than two decades later, the pledge stands unfulfilled. Baltimore is burdened with 16,000 vacant properties and some of the highest taxes in Maryland. The neighborhoods around Camden Yards have fewer businesses than they did in 1998, and unemployment is rising in these areas, as are their rankings against other neighborhoods for violent crime and the percentage of properties in foreclosure. The ballpark and a National Football League stadium nearby will require state and local debt service of about $24 million in 2014.

It should be no surprise: Stadiums often fail to meet economic development goals because they stand empty except for a few hours on game days and during special events and consume available space nearby for parking, Victor Matheson, a professor and sports economist with the College of the Holy Cross, in Worcester, Mass., told Bloomberg. The jobs they create are often temporary, with relatively low wages, and sports venues tend to divert spending on food and recreation from other businesses. "Money is just shifted around," Matheson said. "There isn't much net gain. You're often just cannibalizing other areas of the city."

The team's owner profits: The public financing of Camden Yards helped drive up the price of the Orioles to $70 million in 1989 from the $12 million that Edward Bennett Williams paid for it in 1979. The new owner, buyout specialist Eli Jacobs, sold the team four years later for $170 million. The current owner, labor lawyer Peter Angelos, has seen the value grow to $625 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Poor priorities: "It's wrong to take money from taxpayers and hand it to millionaires and billionaires," said Arthur Rolnick, a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota who has studied the public cost of professional sports stadiums. "If you try to justify it on economic development, the arguments dissolve pretty fast. The public would be much better off if they invested in things that would improve the quality of life, like roads and bridges, education and lowering crime."

[Last modified: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 1:23pm]


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