Stadium follies

For more than a decade, there has been talk of building a “major league” stadium in Las Vegas — primarily to attract a major sports franchise. Some of these proposals have involved private funding, but most have relied on some sort of public participation. So far, nothing has been built.

But even during the ongoing recession, Las Vegas remains prime real estate for developers hoping to pitch such a project. That’s why a recent piece in the September issue of the Heartland Institute’s Budget & Tax News should be required reading for local officials.

Proponents wax eloquent about how such taxpayer “investments” will pay off in big tax revenues from “spin-off” development later on. But they usually don’t.

The $50 million Pontiac Silverdome? Sold off last year for a penny on the dollar.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the vacant Astrodome “carries as much as $32 million in debt — nearly as much as the original cost.” Olympic Stadium in Montreal was not paid off until two years after the Expos left for Washington, D.C.

Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh was still carrying $45 million in debt at the time of its demolition in 2001. Seattle’s Kingdome was razed in 2000; King County is scheduled to finish paying off the debt on that empty lot in five years.

“I don’t think you can get much difference of opinion among economists or sports economists around the country: The sports stadiums tend to be drains on local economies,” explains Allen Sanderson, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago.

These case histories are worth considering when the next developer approaches local municipalities with his hand out, offering only rosy prognostications in return.


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