City leaders in Winston-Salem say that they’ve learned their lesson now that their plan to put $12 million into a $22.6 million stadium for the single-A Dash baseball team has ballooned to a $40.7 million stadium, plus $8 million in land costs, all of it publicly funded. The Dash owner, it seems, ran out of money after his business partner got divorced from his sister-in-law, and the city was left on the hook for the entire stadium cost. “From an economical, financial side of any project going forward, there were definitely lessons learned from this project that we wouldn’t want to repeat,” city finance director Denise Bell told the Winston-Salem Journal. “There has never been city oversight in projects like this.”
Better late than never, I suppose. Though you’d think Winston-Salem would have already learned this lesson in 2004, when it gave Dell Computers more than $250 million in tax breaks (including, according to Good Jobs First, “a computer manufacturing tax credit, job investment grants, tobacco settlement fund grants, training incentives, transportation infrastructure grants, workforce development grants, sales tax refunds, waiver of property tax for 15 years and 200 acres of free land”) for a computer plant that only cost half that to build — a plant, incidentally, that Dell just announced it is closing, laying off all 905 workers.
In any case, it’s not too late for other cities to learn the lessons of Winston-Salem. Says city manager Lee Garrity: “If we do any more projects like this where there is any upfront money, we will require extensive due diligence of the financial capacity of the developer and a market analysis. We would put in reporting on the status of construction and significant clawbacks if it is not done on time.” But that’s what they all say.