“Let’s say this again for the umpteenth time: Don’t use taxpayer money on sports arenas.”
Barry Petchesky of the hip sports site Deadspin.com offered that jewel while covering the decision by the American Hockey League’s Portland (Maine) Pirates to pack up and leave the city where they shot pucks for 23 years.
That’s not all they left, either.
They looted the locals like good pirates, leaving them holding an empty bag while paying off $34 million worth of bonds covering major renovations made to their arena in response to the team’s demands just two years ago.
Plus, the county remains on the hook for the arena’s annual operating losses, which were $600,000 last year alone with the hockey team still facing off at center ice.
Like Caribbean buccaneer Jack Sparrow, who answered Norrington’s charge that “You are without a doubt the worst pirate I have ever heard of,” with his classic “but you HAVE heard of me” line, it’s very good that the Portland’s minor-league Pirates’ abandonment of their enclave is attracting penalty calls nationwide.
Even worse, however, are communities whose clocks have been cleaned previously by sports arena-seducing pirates who are back asking for more.
It’s happening in Louisville, where swashbucklers once upon a time negotiated a bizarre lease on behalf of the University of Louisville Athletic Association (ULAA), which has resulted in the KFC Yum! Center arena authority losing nearly $10 million a year while ULAA—the facility’s primary tenant—rakes in more than $30 million annually.
Guess who pays for that $10 million loss each year? Why it’s Captain Fischer’s taxpaying mates!
Now, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration is gauging whether taxpayers will endure another pillaging in the form of a new soccer stadium.
So let me get this straight: Fischer’s mates are paying $10 million a year to cover Yum!’s losses, and he’s actually serious about spending millions more—possibly even going into debt—to provide Louisville FC, which is a two-year-old minor-league soccer franchise, with a new soccer-only pitch?
No wonder the city’s been coy for months and won’t talk about projected costs and whether it will ante up.
You can bet a pirate’s fortune it’s itching to do so.
It’s already sent $75,000 to Conventions, Sports & Leisure International in Minnesota to study the feasibility of a new 10,000-seat soccer stadium in the River City.
Why waste taxpayer dollars to find out what we already know? Similar facilities in other parts of the country cost anywhere from $13 million to a whopping $35 million.
However, Pirates of any kind—especially economic ones—can be very persuasive when they really want to spend someone else’s money.
They are good at offering sweet nothings to seduce their prey.
Among their favorites: “This improves the ‘quality of life’ in our city.”
It’s a nebulous promise, at best.
Or, how about: “Build it, and even if it struggles, the economy around it will develop and grow.”
That’s what we were told about the Yum! Center, too, where the Tax Increment Financing District around the arena has yielded only about half the promised revenue.
Speaking of promises, University of Louisville associate economic professor Jose Fernandez told Insider Louisville in January—when the city began considering a shiny new stadium—the empirical research doesn’t support claims by zealous soccer fans and big-government mayors that sports venues create notable economic benefits.
“Several independent studies have found no statistically significant positive relationship between sports facility construction and economic development,” the intellectually honest Fernandez said. “This result is contrary to most results from promotion consultants, but let’s face it, it is their job to find positive economic impacts.”
Just like it’s an economic pirate’s job to find the taxpayer-funded treasure.
It’s time for those taxpayers to tell them: “Shove off. Look somewhere else.”
Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at email@example.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.