The Hillsborough County Commission is set to vote tomorrow on spending $10 million in federal CARES Act money to equip the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ stadium with stuff to make attending games there … the word The Athletic uses is “safer,” but we’ll be the judge of that. Among the stuff that would be paid for with the public funds:
- Touchless ticket scanners: $502,475
- A new public-address system in parking lots so that fans can hear when it’s their turn to enter the stadium: $250,000
- Stanchions and barriers to “set up queuing inside the stadium for escalators, ATMs and other areas”: $225,000
- 6,600 traffic cones to mark off (socially distanced?) parking spaces: $50,000 (checks out: apparently traffic cones are crazy expensive)
- Conversion to touch-free toilets, sinks, and soap and paper-towel dispensers: $788,000
- PPE for stadium staff ($300,000), “employee protection guards” ($550,000), and reconfiguring the press box and other areas to make it easier for people working there to socially distance ($550,000)
So on the one hand, all these seem reasonable things to do if you’re looking to reopen a sports stadium anytime soon, and arguably even good investments for the longer-term future, assuming we’ve all recognized now that everyone communally touching the same items is a vector for all kinds of microbes. And the CARES Act money is earmarked for projects to improve “public safety,” at least according to The Athletic, though I can’t actually find the language in the bill itself. (It’s really long.)
On the other hand, the CARES Act money is finite, and Hillsborough County is looking at choosing to spend what cash it has on a publicly owned facility that mostly benefits a private sports business. (The University of South Florida also uses it for college football games, if there are any college football games this year.) Bucs owners the Glazer family stand to make a ton of extra revenue if they’re able to sell tickets this season, but it doesn’t sound like they’ll be on the hook for any spending to allow that to happen.
There’s also some curious information in The Athletic about the timing of the upgrades:
The agenda proposal calls for the first and largest phase of the project to be completed by Oct. 31 (about midway through the NFL season as currently scheduled) and the balance finished by the end of the year.
So at least half the season would be played without all the new fancy sinks and such, and the entire project would be completed just in time for the football season to end. But it would still come in handy for the 2021 season, if an effective vaccine still eludes us by then, and if it turns out to be safe for people to gather together so long as they don’t all touch the same things, which already doesn’t seem to be what science says.
In short: Spending $10 million in public on stadium upgrades to keep football fans (possibly) safer is arguably better than spending it on new clubhouse toasters, but maybe not absolutely the highest priority. And at worst, it can be seen as endorsing social-distancing theater: Should a county government really be spending any money on abetting the reopening of public gathering places in a state that has had more new cases in the last ten days than the entire country of China has since the pandemic began? Tune in tomorrow to see if that question gets raised by the county commission, or if it’s all just Hey, the federal government gave us this money, so it doesn’t really cost us anything, right?