Athletic Stadiums: A Rathole for Public Funds

One phony “public use” that courts have been swallowing in eminent domain cases, involves construction of professional sports stadiums on land taken by eminent domain. In California — where else? — the state supreme court went so far as to hold that a California city can do that, and also has the power to condemn the NFL franchise of a professional football team, in that case the Oakland Raiders. See City of Oakland v. Oakland Raiders, 32 Cal.3d 60 (1982).

Now, it appears that the economic chickens are coming home to roost and it turns out that a lot of those stadiums have been failures. Some have had to be demolished, and others have become ratholes for public funds. The problem is dealt with in a front page story in today’s New York Times. Ken Belson, As Teams Abandon Stadiums, The Public Is Left With the Bill, N.Y. Times, Septemebr 8, 2010, at p. 1A, continued at p. B13.

This is a long story, that we urge our readers to read in detail. Suffice it to say here that, unbelievable as it may at first sound, some of these stadiums have had to be demolished, while their sites continue to be burdened with bonded debt that is being paid off by the hapless inhabitants of the cities where they were once located, even though they are long gone, so that the payments, with interest, of course, are being made for nothing.

 For example, in the words of the Times:

“The old Giants Stadium, still carries about $110 million in debt, or nearly $13 for every New Jersey resident, even though it is now a parking lot.”

Then there is the demolished Kingdome in Seattle, still carrying a debt of $83 million, the demolished Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, carrying a debt of $61 million, and the demolished Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia that carries $300,000 in debt.

Then there are stadiums that are still standing but have no professional teams playing in them: the Astrodome in Houston, with an outstanding debt of $32 million, the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, with a debt of $10 million, and the Memphis Pyramid, paying off $65 million.

The Times notes that these debt figures are incomplete: they do not include many public costs, such as subsidies for land and infrastructure, ongoing public costs associated with operations, capital improvements and municipal services, as well as foregone taxes. Altogether, these items account for another $70 million, give or take.

Once again, your tax money at work.

To read the entire Times aricle go to http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/08/sports/08stadium.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper

The Times also notes that this topic is the subject of a forthcoming book by Harvard Professor Judith Grant Long, entitled “Full Count: The Real Cost of Public Funding for Major League Sports Facilities.” We can’t wait to read it.

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