Newspapers have long derided their sports sections as the “toy department” — more about cheering than actual journalism — but Houston Chronicle sportswriter Jose De Jesus Ortiz’s article on Friday about progress towards a new Dynamo soccer stadium takes rooting in the press box to an extreme. De Jesus Ortiz begins by declaring that Dynamo fans should be “doing cartwheels” over the fact that, notwithstanding that still no one has quite figured out how to pay for it, city and county commissioners have asked the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority to be the builders and owners of the proposed 21,000-seat stadium.
Why is this good news? Because, according to De Jesus Ortiz, the authority already built for Houston “among the best stadiums in the United States for baseball, football and basketball.” And then he goes further:
Contrary to what some would have you believe, taxpayer dollars weren’t used to build Minute Maid Park, Reliant Stadium or Toyota Center.
“It was very carefully drawn to tax hotel, auto and seat licenses,” [state Sen. John] Whitmire said. “So they’ve been great cost-effective venues to benefit not only Harris County but East Texas and Texas in general. We’ve received a Super Bowl, a baseball All-Star Game, a World Series and other major sporting events because of these stadiums.
“It cost no property taxes. It generates an increase in property taxes, which then you use for general services. It’s a win-win. The venues are built with bonds and you pledge user fees, parking, hotel, rental cars, seat licenses. Then the stadiums increase the value of the surrounding area, which creates taxes.”
That’s a large mouthful of justification, but none of it comes down to “no taxpayer dollars” — at best, if you believe the argument that the stadiums raised property values (without merely redirecting property increases that would have taken place somewhere in Houston anyway), it’s that “the stadiums were built with taxpayer dollars, but they ended up being a good investment in the end.” It’s a claim that’s hard to evaluate, though, since De Jesus Ortiz didn’t interview any economists or urban planners for his story — his only source, in fact, is Whitmire, who is the guy who came up with the idea of the sports authority in the first place, and so might not be the most objective observer.
Meanwhile, the more reality-based media — and yes, that’ll probably be the only time I use that term to refer to a Fox TV news outlet — reports that there’s a potentially large hurdle to the sports authority taking over the Dynamo stadium project, which is that the authority has a no-compete clause with the Rockets‘ Toyota Center that prohibits it from even discussing building a new stadium or arena within ten miles of that arena until 2013. Authority board chair Kenny Friedman says that he hopes the non-complete clause won’t apply since the soccer stadium isn’t planned for holding concerts; the board is expected to discuss this issue at a meeting today.