In the past, we noted from time to time that municipal financing of professional sports stadiums can be a case of pouring public funds into a giant rathole. Case in point: the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. See Manny Fernandez and Daniel Cadiz, Houston Tries to Find a Use For Its Fading Astrodome, N.Y. Times, May 24, 2012, at p. A15.
To make it short, if not sweet, the Astrodome was the first domed and air conditiooned stadium, built in 1965 as the “eighth wonder of the world.” Now, it sits abandoned — its erstwhile tenants, the Houston Oilers and Houston Astros having decamped for other venues. It costs the city $3 million annually to maintain it, even if in its present condition it is not usable for public events — the local Fire Marshall shut it down for that reason.
It could be demolished it, but that would cost $128 million, and then what? Or, it could be renovated for other uses, but that would cost $210 million. Either way, that remaining $30 million municipal debt would still have to be paid off by the public.
There is a moral to this story, and we are sure you can figure out what it is. As for us, we believe that people who want to go into business — and that includes the business of running professional athletic teams — should have to invest their own money, and not be able to stick municipal taxpayers with the tab. To quote Justice Macklin Fleming of the California Court of Appeal, promoters of these deals promise to bake a bigger economic pie with bigger shares for everyone. But all too often, what they deliver is pie in the sky.
Follow up. If you want to see the kind of abuses of private rights the county engaged in — it invented a 5 by 2300 ft. “park” which it claimed barred access of adjoining property owners — take a look at Simi Investment Co. v. Harris County, 12 F.Supp.2d 603 (S.D. Tex. 1998), affirmed, 236 F.3d 240 (5th Cir. 2000).