Ask the people in Cincinnati about the wisdom of building publicly funded stadiums for major league sports teams.
Earlier this month, I wrote about the eagerness to erect new football and baseball stadiums in California. I suggested that public investment in any of the stadiums might not be the best idea. Three days after I posted that blog, The New York Times published a story about Cincinnati's fiscal woes stemming from construction of adjacent football and baseball stadiums.
In 1996, Hamilton County, Ohio, commissioners convinced voters to approve a half-cent sales tax to build and maintain two stadiums that would replace a 30-year-old facility that the Reds and Bengals shared. The county's studies said the stadium projects would ignite riverfront revitalization and, well, everyone would get rich.
Shockingly, things haven't turned out that way. Stadium construction cost far more than estimated. Riverfront redevelopment remains in the starting gate. And actual sales tax revenue did not match the forecast, even before the recession hit. Now, the county is draining reserve funds and cutting services simply to cover the stadium debt payments. Meanwhile, the Bengals' agreement lets the football team stop paying rent next year.
Cincinnati offers a valuable lesson for California cities and voters considering major league stadium and arena projects. We'll see if anyone is paying attention.
– Paul Shigley