I Support Partial Public Financing for Stadiums...There, I Said It
In Minnesota, we’re talking about building a new baseball stadium.
Here’s one example of where my thinking does not line up with traditional progressive or liberal politics: I support partial public financing for professional sports stadiums and arenas. I know, I know.
In the Twin Cities, if you listen to the hue and cry of owners and schools, the Twins, the Vikings and the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football team all need new stadiums. Today, all three play in the Hubert H. Humphrey (oh, Hubert, where are you now when we need you most?) Metrodome.
The traditional arguments you hear are:
Billionaire owners should fund their own ballparks – public financing is like a tax break or an enterprise zone for people who don’t need it.
Another argument you hear is that money used for ballparks would be better spent on social programs.
First, let me say that both arguments are true. Billionaire owners should pay for the ballparks in which their teams play.
But, just as the rich get richer, team owners know that they can move to another city that will build them a stadium. As long as that is true and they have a captive audience in the city where they currently reside, then city’s have two choices: either support a stadium or risk losing the team. For me, sports teams represent a net gain for the cities that have them (to quality of life, to tax revenue, to convention opportunities and marketing, to its ability to attract corporations and businesses, and to its ability to attract talent to fuel those businesses (not to mentions clubs and restaurants and the other forms of entertainment hosted at arenas and stadiums – like concerts and monster truck rallies)).
As well, there are better uses for public dollars than stadiums.
Homelessness, poverty, public health (mental and physical), hunger, joblessness, living wages, affordable housing, criminal justice, excellent education systems, the civic infrastructure, transportation, clean air, clean water, environmental programs, bicycle lanes, support for the handicapped, parks, museums, literacy programs, substance abuse education, the arts, historical preservation, fire, police, AIDS programs, ambulance, hospitals, and early childhood and family education are all civic initiatives I would pursue before I would pursue professional sports venues.
It’s just that in my view stadiums, if financed properly, can allow for all the other things to be done as well. I mean that in both respects. Stadiums don’t mean the depletion of public funds that could be used for essential and preferred services, and stadiums, if done intelligently, can mean income that can be used to support other initiatives.
Last, financing for stadiums are not preventing cities from addressing public health or homelessness. Apathy, poor priorities, tax avoidance at all costs, the expansion of conservatism and ignorance prevent cities from addressing social ills and providing for things that make our communities vibrant and pleasant (like museums, libraries, parks and schools).
Ultimately, I think stadiums provide venues for teams and provide sports for communities. Sports, in turn, promote civic pride, provide revenue, contribute to quality of life, and encourage tourism among other things. And while it’s true that most billionaire owners could afford to build their own stadiums (and it is true that they would get a nice return on their investment), and while it is true that there are higher and better uses for city and county taxes, and while it is true that progressives and liberals do not usually support partial public financing for professional sports venues, I have to admit that if I were the Mayor of St. Paul, and we could build a stadium to attract or retain a professional sports team, I would sign it.