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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Excellent Counterpoint in the Strib on Stadium Boondoggle


Kenneth Zapp from Metro State hits a home run with the oped:

Kenneth Zapp: Rethink stadium numbers - and let voters decide
Having people who benefit from a new Twins ballpark pay for it would be good economics.
Kenneth Zapp

Published: March 01, 2006

Kenneth Zapp: Rethink stadium numbers - and let voters decide

Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer: This fall, consider the peace platform
One reason the public is so adamantly against public funding for new Twins and Vikings stadiums is that their boosters, with unfettered access to the media, continually mis-state the facts for their own purposes. At least the Star Tribune is consistent here (editorial, Feb. 19).

The Star Tribune's calculation of the public's share of the proposed Twins stadium (65 percent) omits key factors such as $84 million for land and site development, $34 million for bonding-related costs, possible cost overruns for environmental cleanup and other land-related issues, and at least $1.4 million a year in capital improvements.

Most public funding data on the Star Tribune's list include land, site development, and other costs. Therefore, the public's portion of the total project would be at least 75 percent.

But the story is even worse. The Star Tribune does not discuss what the team's owners would be getting for their "contribution" of $125 million. The team would control naming rights, concession contracts, personal seat license fees, luxury box and club seating premiums, advertising revenue, and other event revenue. As Britt Robson detailed in City Pages last year, the total of these revenues far transcends the contribution.

Having people who benefit from the stadium pay for it would be good public policy (and good economics). This could be done by a range of user fees. The Hennepin County proposal, however, even excludes Twins tickets from the new sales tax. Why? Because the Twins want to keep all the new stadium revenue for themselves.

The Star Tribune falsely suggests that the public is being unfair to a well-run operation. It is instructive to look at the situation in St. Louis, a market that most closely resembles ours. The team there (Cardinals) has averaged more than 3 million in attendance each year. Why are the Twins drawing so many fewer here? Who is to blame -- the team or the fans?

When the Cardinals announced plans for their new stadium, they offered to pay between 75 and 85 percent of the stadium costs themselves, with the public paying the minority share. Why should the public here pay the majority share when the fans in St. Louis, whose team seems better operated, pay so much less?

The law in our state requires that a referendum be held in order for a local jurisdiction to impose a higher sales tax on itself. This is called direct democracy. The projects listed in the Star Tribune editorial did not require this referendum; there was no exemption given for them.

Curiously, boosters such as the Star Tribune seem confident that their perspective is correct. Why, therefore, do they not trust the public to see the wisdom of their arguments?

Kenneth Zapp is professor and director of graduate programs in the College of Management at Metropolitan State University.

Even the Twins have backed down on the economic development arguments for the stadium.

Citizens for a Stadium Tax Refendum organizer Laura Lehmann sent a counterpoint into the Strib. They did not publish hers. I will be getting a copy of that and will post it here in the next few days.