May 10, 2016

Cities of All Sizes on the Hook for Sports Stadiums

It’s not just large cities that have fallen to the allure of a sports team.

The Los Angeles Rams made headlines in January when the team was green-lighted to rip up roots in St. Louis and resettle on the West coast. “Focused as we are on promoting Liberty and free enterprise, we consider the fleecing of taxpayers to be the essence of this story,” we wrote at the time. At issue was the decades-old Edward Jones Dome in The Gateway City, a structure the city paid $250 million to make. The city — and by extension the taxpayers — are still responsible for repaying $100 million. As much as sports team owners think cities are made of money, that’s money that could have gone to policing, maintaining roads or funding projects that will actually grow the city. However, it’s not just large cities that have fallen to the allure of having a sports team in the city. Last week, the city of Portland, Maine, learned its hockey team, the Portland Pirates, were setting sail for Springfield, Massachusetts. The Pirates were two years into a five-year lease after the city dumped tens of millions into renovating the city’s civic center. The mayor learned about the move when a reporter called him to get a comment.

Hartford, Connecticut, was one of those cities that lured a team from their home stadium. The minor league baseball New Britain Rock Cats agreed to move at the end of the 2015 season 15 miles to the capitol of the state after the city promised it a brand-spankin-new ball field. (Fun fact: Curt Schilling started his baseball career with the team.) One thing lead to another and the team is renamed the Yard Goats and the stadium is behind schedule. The 2016 season started and the Yard Goats have to play on the road because the stadium is still incomplete. The developer hopes to be done by May 17, but delays mean the city isn’t reaping the economic impact that it wanted by creating the stadium and attracting fans to the downtown.

All this illustrates the multi-million risk cities take on by bankrolling large stadium projects: If the team decides to pack up and leave, the city is left holding a husk of a structure that can be used for little else but sporting events.

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