The Cincinnati Enquirer ran a long article on Sunday looking at Hamilton County’s lease woes with the Cincinnati Reds and Bengals, and looking at how other cities solved similar revenue shortfalls. The findings:
- Indianapolis raised sales and hotel taxes, plus redirected tax revenue from the stadium area to pay off construction bonds on the Colts‘ stadium.
- Cleveland sold off naming rights to Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field) and Gund Arena (now Quicken Arena), which had formerly been named for the Indians‘ and Cavaliers‘ owners.
- Orlando has scrapped a planned performing arts center* and cut back on police, fire, and road services to fill funding shortfalls on the Magic‘s new arena.
In other words, options for Hamilton County include raising taxes, cutting spending, or selling off anything that isn’t nailed down — sound familiar? Other already rejected options include declaring bankruptcy (would destroy the county’s reputation), selling the stadiums (no one will buy them), raising ticket taxes (the leases prohibit it, though it’s possible a voter referendum could get around this), default on the agreement to pay into Cincinnati’s public schools fund to make up for lost property taxes on the stadiums (school bondholders could sue), refinance the bonds (won’t save much money), buy the Bengals (too expensive), or end a riverfront development project (very little of that funding comes from the stadium tax fund).
The problem is that the damage was done when Hamilton County agreed to build the stadiums and agreed to those godawful leases; now, as I told the Enquirer, “The teams say, ‘You made a deal and if you got the short end of the stick, that’s not our problem.” At this point, barring a ticket-tax end run, the county seems like it’s going to have to pay off its stadium debt out of taxpayer pockets one way or another — unless they can find a way to retroactively revise the leases using time-traveling neutrinos.
*UPDATE: The Orlando performing arts center informs me that construction is underway for phase one of the project, with a groundbreaking having taken place in June. It’s phase two that’s currently not scheduled, according to the center, “due to construction timing.”