Columbus has no clue how Crew is spending $98m in city stadium money, can’t be bothered to check

I missed this news story from earlier this week about the Columbus Crew‘s new stadium spending until an eagle-eyed reader pointed it out to me, but unless you’re a regular reader of the Columbus Dispatch already, it’ll likely make your jaw drop as it did mine. I mean, the first line alone:

During the past year, tens of millions of public dollars have flowed toward construction of the Columbus Crew SC’s new Downtown stadium and its Mapfre training facility, but the local officials who approved the payments haven’t requested or received any details about how the team spends that money.

The Crew stadium project has never exactly been known for its transparency: Last year at this time, it was revealed that the city of Columbus had hidden $48 million in stadium costs in its “Other Projects” budget, effectively doubling the amount of city money being devoted to the stadium. (There’s at least another $65 million in county and state money as well, plus the value of public land being provided for the project.) Not even asking how taxpayer money is being spent, though, that’s pretty hardcore. And local officials are adamant that it’s not their job to pay attention to this stuff:

Asked how the public is to know what percentage of the total project cost it will pay, Ty Marsh, executive director of the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio and chairman of the Confluence Community Authority board, said: “I think the public would have to ask them,” referring to the team….

In fact, the Confluence Authority hasn’t met in more than 10 months, has reviewed no financials on the construction of the stadium it will lease back to the team, and has no immediate plans to meet in the future, Marsh said.

Okay, so the authority handing out the city’s money can’t be bothered to check on it, or even to meet. What about the city itself?

Asked if the city knows what had been spent to date by all parties involved, including the team, Robin Davis, spokeswoman for Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther, replied in an email: “You would have to reach out to the Haslams for that.”

This is great reporting by the Dispatch, and since we’re coming to it late, we have the opportunity to see all of the fallout that’s already coming from the paper’s bombshell. And the answer is … a Dispatch columnist wrote a long allegory about a crooked magician? Other than that, it doesn’t appear that the story has had any consequences: Pretty much all the reporting on the Crew this week was limited to reporting on how they had rescheduled last week’s game that was postponed after two staff members tested positive for the coronavirus.

So I guess it’s up to me to shout about this: Hey everybody, the city of Columbus is writing $98 million in checks to the owners of its pro soccer team without bothering to keep track of how they’re spending it! Did that do the trick? SHOULD IT TYPE IT IN ALL CAPS? This entire website, not to mention the book that inspired it, not to mention my entire life’s work as a journalist, is dependent on the idea that if you expose bad behavior, someone will notice it and call attention to it and maybe, eventually, things will start to change. If instead we’re just laughing and pointing to keep from crying, I guess that’s valuable too, but someone please tell me so that I can recalibrate my already-low expectations.

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8 comments on “Columbus has no clue how Crew is spending $98m in city stadium money, can’t be bothered to check

  1. *facepalm* You know what? Maybe those who were cynical of the “Save the Crew” movement were right all along. The city and its residents really might have been better off washing their hands of the franchise altogether.

    But really though, I’ve yet to see anyone other than Columbus fans defending this, which kinda tells its own story… just goes to show you that stadium politics are no different from the broader, partisan politics: questionable dealings and total lack of transparency are perfectly acceptable so long as an entity and its supporters stand to reap the benefits of both.

  2. 20 years ago 70K seat NFL stadiums cost less than $300 million. How has that become the going rate for MLS stadiums less that are a third the size?

    1. And in Columbus…not exactly Manhattan for land and construction prices. Sounds like a well feathered nest.

      I can only laugh. Only America really insists on putting stadiums “downtown.” In most places stadiums and arenas are nowhere close to such valuable land.

      1. The Ravens Stadium cost $220 million to build which is about $345 million in todays dollars and holds 70K seats. I obviously understand inflation but something isn’t right with these stadium costs. I get putting the stadium downtown (except NFL those can be anywhere) and I am not anti-stadium subsidy because unless you’re NY or LA you won’t get a team otherwise and having a team is quality of life amenity. However, I just don’t get some of the numbers these days. Especially for MLS, given that its essentially a minor league

    2. Because they can get it. It doesn’t cost much to build an actual sports stadium — I think I remember an estimate once that it would cost like $90 million to recreate Wrigley Field from scratch, which even with inflation would be less than $200 million today — but once you add all the bells and whistles and retractable roofs and pulled-pork sandwich restaurants and ginormous video boards so you can see what’s going on from your seats that are two miles from the field because of all the club levels in the way, you’re building less a stadium than, as Yankees COO Lonn Trost once said, “a three-star hotel that happens to have a ballfield in the middle of it.”

      And if much of the cost is on someone else’s dime, then why not? I’m more puzzled why people like Stan Kroenke spend so lavishly when it’s their own money, but I guess there’s a keeping-up-with-the-joneses aspect at that point.

  3. Is there reason to think the Crew are not spending this money the way they said they would? I’m not doubting that this is bad governance. I’m just wondering if there’s reason to think this will end very badly or just the regular level of bad.

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