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Robert Trigaux

Want a new sports stadium? Tightfisted taxpayers force new financing ideas




Rendering of Dolphin Stadium that includes a metal roof structure that would completely cover the stadium seating, but leave the field open to the air and allow in the South Florida sunlight. Photo courtesy of Miami Dolphins.

Wake up and good morning. The spirit of 2011 in a recession-wary country and state is one of trying to do more with less. And that definitely applies to efforts to try and build new pro sports stadiums. As the St. Petersburg Times reported in late December, a St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 telephone survey showed that two-thirds of Tampa Bay area residents oppose paying taxes for a new stadium -- even if that means the team would leave the area. Only a quarter of residents would open their wallets to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in town.

That does not doom the future of Rays baseball in Tampa Bay as much as force new stadium backers to rethink how to pay for such a project. This concept is explored in an interesting New York Times analysis that points out how, in the last few years, owners of the Mets and the Yankees in New York, the Jets, the Giants and the Red Bulls in New Jersey and the Cowboys in Texas built stadiums that they financed primarily themselves.

The analysis does not say this is a full blooded trend just yet. But it notes the national rise of fiscal hawks, refreshed anti-deficit fever and the rising Tea Party's distaste for government subsidy. To say these feelings are strong in Florida -- witness Hillsborough County voters' resounding rejection of a mass transit tax in November and the arrival of Florida Gov. Rick Scott and his slimmer government pitch -- is an understatement.

But for all the talk of no public taxes for sports stadiums, the New York Times analysis suggests many communities faced with the possible departure of a pro sports team may still cough up public funding than risk the loss of a franchise.

States the analysis: "But in just as many cities and states, lawmakers, often desperate to appease fans, are finding new ways to help their home teams. After arguing for fiscal austerity, politicians in Minnesota are endorsing a new stadium for the Vikings. A similar groundswell is happening in Atlanta, where the Falcons want a new stadium.

"I would like to be hopeful about the end of subsidies, but I’m not," Dennis Coates, who teaches sports economics at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, tells the New York Times. "The bottom line is, no matter how often the public sector says no, the people who want to build a facility will come back to that well because no is not permanent, but yes is."

In parts of Florida, taxpayer subsidy of sports stadiums is still alive and well. Last year, Miami and Miami-Dade County agreed to pick up three-quarters of the cost of a new stadium for the Florida Marlins even as they laid off hundreds of municipal workers.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports this week (along with the Miami Herald here) that the Miami Dolphins want Broward County to share its tourism tax revenue to help pay for a $225 million renovation to its stadium (see photo above) in Miami-Dade. The NFL is especially effective, it seems, in telling metro areas with aging football stadiums that they will never see a Super Bowl game there without a new or refreshed facility.

There's a similar appeal under way in Orlando where the Citrus Bowl is aging. Florida Citrus Sports officials are campaigning for a significant stadium renovation. And so far, according to news reports, Orange County and the city of Orlando have committed $175 million to renovate the 70-year-old stadium. The timetable is now unclear, though, because the economic downturn affected the plan. Tourism revenue in Orlando has plummeted. The Birmingham News quotes Florida Citrus Sports CEO Steve Hogan taking to the local air waves recently: "We've got to fix it, or we will be out of business."

So, Tampa Bay, you can see we're hardly alone in our challenge to figure out the community value of sports teams and how to keep them "stadium competitive."

Any ideas?

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Thursday, January 6, 2011 7:02am]


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