When the Los Angeles city council approved a $250 million stadium plan for the Los Angeles F.C. MLS expansion team in May, I wrote that it looked like it would be entirely paid for with private money, “unless there’s some other shoe yet to drop.” And you know, sometimes I really hate being right:
Los Angeles City Hall is seeking to give a loan of up to $22.5 million to the developers of a new soccer stadium near downtown Los Angeles.
A motion submitted this week by City Councilman Curren Price asks for city approval for a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) loan for the backers of the Los Angeles Football Stadium.
Now, the HUD loan isn’t for the stadium per se — it’s for the “ancillary” construction, meaning a sports museum, conference rooms, and retail, i.e., all the parts of a stadium complex that don’t specifically involve watching the game. The excuse for using a federal housing loan program to build this is that it’s “economic revitalization,” which is the usual argument for this sort of thing.
If the government were just lending the money and the team repaying it, that wouldn’t be such a big deal. But HUD Section 108 loans are repaid by a local government’s federal Community Redevelopment Block Grant funding — meaning Los Angeles is considering taking $22.5 million in anti-poverty funds and giving it to the developer of a soccer stadium, because economic development.
MynewsLA reports that the city council voted on Friday to ask HUD for the loan, so presumably this is now up to the Obama administration (or its successor) to approve or deny it. I’m not sure what discretion HUD has to reject uses of its loans for really off-label purposes, but hopefully we’re going to find out.
UPDATE: A commenter who works in finance points out some fine print in the Section 108 program: The city’s CRBG funds are only used as security on the loan, but it’s still supposed to be paid off by the private developer. This is much better for the public than a straight subsidy, obviously — LAFC’s owners would be getting the benefit of a cheap loan rate, and there’s some risk to taxpayers if they default on the loan, but it’s not just handing over $22.5 million. You can still make a good case that HUD should be looking at this project with lots of skepticism — if building a soccer stadium is an anti-poverty program, then building pretty much anything is — but at least it’s less of a cash grab it appeared at first.