The Birmingham City Council voted unanimously (with one abstention and one absence) yesterday on a “resolution of intent” to spend $90 million over 30 years toward a new football stadium. That’s along with $11.7 million a year from the state and county, all for a stadium that will be used mostly by the University of Alabama-Birmingham football team, plus a USL franchise.
That’s kind of a lot of money for a less-than-hugely-popular college team and minor-league soccer, but to hear Mayor Randall Woodfin tell it, this isn’t about supporting local sports. No, this is about an investment:
Addressing the council and members of the public, Mayor Randall Woodfin said the city needs to help fund the construction of the stadium to generate new revenue to pay for street paving, demolition of dilapidated houses and rebuilding sidewalks.
He said the city doesn’t currently have the money to pay for those priorities.
Here’s how Woodfin justifies this logic: The city will take $3 million a year that is currently going to pay debt service, and instead give it to the stadium. The stadium, in turn, will — according to a projection by the state-run Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, which hasn’t revealed anything about how it came up with this number, to my knowledge — generate $9.9 million a year in new tax revenue for the city.
If that sounds like magic beans, it should, because as we calculated here last week, the stadium would need to consistently draw sold-out crowds of fans, each of whom would have to spend hundreds of dollars per game, and none of whom would have been spending their money in Birmingham otherwise, for those numbers to pencil out. The best you can say about this plan is it comes down to “hey, if the city spends some money on a stadium, the state will spend even more — maybe, if it decides to pass a new car rental tax surcharge — and maybe we’ll end up getting a new stadium on the cheap for city taxpayers.” But that’s not nearly the same as “building a stadium will be a cash cow for the city,” which as Roger Noll noted yesterday, is exactly the reasoning that cities should never be using for building new sports venues.
Fortunately, at least the members of the Birmingham city council seem to have their heads screwed on marginally better:
“None of us think this is a slam-dunk win,” Council President Valerie Abbott said. “The devil is in the details. The details haven’t been worked out,” she said, which is why only a resolution of intent was considered Tuesday.
So… maybe once the council realizes that there’ll be no money raining from heaven if they spend on a stadium, they’ll reverse course and vote against it? Or does this just mean “we’re not approving anything until the state passes that car-rental tax”? Ideally the council would have found a way to express its skepticism some other way than a unanimous “yes” vote, but when Mayor Woodfin is the alternative, I guess you have to take what you can get.