The Times fumbles the season of stadium giving

It’s Christmas, so with little else to report — aside from something about some bill the Senate passed — newspapers turn to burning off stories they haven’t found room for on newsier days. For the New York Times, that’s a long piece by Ken Belson on how cities that built stadiums years ago are seeing fiscal woes now. Belson’s lede: “Years after a wave of construction brought publicly financed stadiums costing billions of dollars to cities across the country, taxpayers are once again being asked to reach into their pockets.”

It’s certainly nice to see the Paper of Record giving this topic attention, even on a day when nobody’s going to read it. Unfortunately, though, the actual article is a muddled mix of differing anecdotes. Most of it is devoted to the Cincinnati Bengals situation, where, as reported back in August, reduced sales-tax receipts have left Hamilton County with a $14 million a year shortfall in its stadium payments, with local school systems already having given up funding to help fill the gap. That’s certainly dire, but it’s not actually taxpayers “again being asked to reach into their pockets” to pay for stadiums — any more than it’d be correct to say your car payments went up just because you lost your job and had to dip into your savings to pay them. Either way it’s the same public expense; it’s just a matter of which pocket the money is coming from.

The other examples cited, meanwhile, aren’t all the best parallels to the Bengals fiasco: Indianapolis and Milwaukee seeing shortfalls in stadium bond funds are similar “dip into savings” deals, but Columbus being asked for increased subsidies for the Blue Jackets is genuinely new expense, as is Glendale considering lease concessions for the Phoenix Coyotes. And New Jersey’s mulled ticket surcharge for the Devils is, as discussed here previously, potentially a way to get the team to give the taxpayers money, not the other way around.

The most enlightening part of the article, meanwhile, is probably this snippet buried deep on the jump page:

Compared with the lucrative deals for teams in Baltimore, St. Louis and elsewhere, the Bengals won a particularly lopsided lease.

Bob Bedinghaus, the commissioner who spearheaded the stadium project, said as much in 2000.

“They’re an organization that’s run by lawyers, and they look for every penny around every corner,” he told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “It’s going to be a difficult relationship going forward for the next 30 years.”

Bedinghaus lost his re-election bid soon after. He now works as the Bengals’ director of stadium development.

You know, it might actually be time to do something about that.

One comment on “The Times fumbles the season of stadium giving

  1. The Times article mentions Miller Park in Milwaukee, WI, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. Residents pay an increased sales tax to fund the stadium, and the NY Times article states that because sales receipts are down, the increased sales tax will stay in force for a longer period of time to pay off stadium debt. My relatives in Milwaukee and surrounding cities all tell me that they expect the sales tax increase to remain after Miller Park is paid for, because it will be too tempting for public officials to keep the increased sales tax for their own pet projects.