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REAFFIRMING  SUPPORT  FOR  STADIUMS
Plain  Dealer,  The  (Cleveland,  OH)  -­  Sunday,  November  30,  1997 Author:  TOM  BRAZAITIS What  do  you  suppose  the  outcome  would  be  if  Cuyahoga  County  voters  got  a  second  chance  today  to  cast  ballots on  whether  to  impose  a  "sin  tax"  to  pay  for  Jacobs  Field  and  the  Gund  Arena  in  the  Gateway  complex?   That  question  came  to  mind  as  I  listened  to  a  scholarly  debate  sponsored  by  the  Brookings  Institution  on  whether people  get  their  money's  worth  when  they  agree  to  pay  more  taxes  to  subsidize  professional  sports  facilities.   Roger  G.  Noll  and  Andrew  Zimbalist,  editors  of  a  new  tome  on  the  subject,  "Sports,  Jobs  &  Taxes:  The  Economic Impact  of  Sports  Teams  and  Stadiums,"  took  the  side  that  in  dollars-­and-­cents  terms,  public  investments  in  sports facilities  simply  do  not  pay  off.   Rick  Horrow,  a  sports  facility  marketer  primarily  in  Florida,  and  Tom  Chema,  who  directed  the  Gateway  Economic Development  Corp.  during  the  building  years  from  1990  to  1995,  maintain  that  dollar  signs  are  not  the  only  way  to measure  the  dividends  a  city  reaps  from  its  sports  franchises.   You  may  recall  that  when  the  vote  took  place  in  May  1990,  Cleveland  voters  rejected  the  idea  of  a  public  subsidy, 56  percent  to  44  percent.  Voters  in  the  suburban  areas  of  the  county  approved  it,  however,  by  55  percent  to  45 percent  and  in  sufficient  numbers  to  carry  the  day  with  a  narrow  majority  of  51.9  percent  of  the  total  votes  cast.   Voters  cast  their  ballots  based  on  estimates  that  the  two  facilities  would  cost  a  combined  $174  million.  Sure,  they expected  some  cost  overruns  -­  how  many  times  has  a  government  project  come  in  on  budget?  -­  but  who  could have  anticipated  a  final  cost  of  $328  million,  almost  89  percent  over  budget?  With  costs  for  land  acquisition  and financing  added,  the  bottom  line  was  a  whopping  $461  million.   Ziona  Austrian  and  Mark  S.  Rosentraub,  authors  of  a  chapter  in  the  Noll-­Zimbalist  book  titled  "Cleveland's  Gateway to  the  Future,"  calculated  that  one  year  after  the  facilities  opened,  the  public  sector's  investment  weighed  against the  jobs  created  put  the  cost  of  each  new  job  at  $231,000.   Armed  with  such  statistical  evidence,  Zimbalist  came  down  hard  on  public  subsidies.  "They  are  a  bad  economic idea  and  they  are  rarely  offered  honestly  to  voters,"  Zimbalist  said.  He  said  the  playing  field  for  stadium referendums  is  so  uneven  that  sports  promoters  outspend  opponents  by  anywhere  from  25  to  80  times  to  get  their way  on  voting  day.   Once  a  stadium  is  opened,  money  spent  there  goes  disproportionately  to  the  owners  and  the  players  on  the  sports team,  Zimbalist  said.  Players,  knowing  their  careers  will  be  short,  tend  to  bank  most  of  their  millions.  They  rarely live  full  time  in  the  city  where  they  earn  their  paycheck,  so  the  money  they  spend  benefits  other  communities.   Noll  chimed  in  that  the  $3  or  $4  annual  cost  per  capita  to  subsidize  a  sports  stadium  doesn't  seem  like  much,  but that  people  should  not  delude  themselves  into  thinking  the  $300  million  or  $400  million  they  contribute  "is  somehow going  to  revitalize  our  city.  ...  The  overwhelming  evidence  is  that  it's  not  true."   Introducing  Chema,  moderator  Dave  Maresh  -­  the  ABC  Nightline  correspondent  -­  inadvertently  set  up  Chema's counter  argument.  "Anybody  who  had  been  to  Cleveland  15  years  ago  and  has  visited  within  the  last  18  months  will have  seen  a  transformation  on  a  scale  that  I  think  is  probably  unmatched  in  America,"  Maresh  said.   How  much  credit  the  Gateway  project  deserves  for  that  transformation  can  be  debated,  but  in  the  minds  of  many people  in  and  out  of  the  city  it  is  inextricably  linked  to  what  has  become  known  as  the  "Cleveland  miracle."   Chema  said  the  public  agreed  to  pay  58  percent  of  the  project's  costs,  not  the  whole  amount,  and  that  proponents of  the  stadium  and  arena  had  to  outspend  their  opponents  substantially  because  "the  playing  field  is  uneven,  but  in the  other  direction.  You  don't  have  to  spend  much  money  to  convince  the  public  that  the  principal  beneficiaries  are
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going  to  be  rich  players  and  rich  owners."   Sports  owners  feeding  at  the  public  trough  also  must  answer  critics  who  ask  why  these  huge  sums  of  money  are not  spent  on  improving  education  or  feeding  the  homeless,  Chema  said,  as  if  that  actually  is  what  would  happen  if subsidies  for  sports  arenas  were  rejected.   Ballparks,  stadiums  and  arenas  have  more  in  common  with  roads  and  highways  than  with  factories  and  shopping centers,  Chema  said.  A  road  by  itself  does  not  produce  many  jobs  or  bring  in  much  income,  but  it  indirectly benefits  many,  many  people.  The  same  is  true  of  sports  facilities.   A  stadium,  Chema  said,  reaching  the  crescendo  of  his  argument  provides  a  base  for  "a  critical  mass  of  people  to share  their  desire  for  interaction."  This,  he  said,  contributes  to  the  long-­term  survival  of  cities  and  of  civilization itself.   It  was  left  to  Horrow  to  play  the  pride  card:  "How  do  you  quantify  the  pride  instilled  in  a  community?"  he  asked.   What  would  Buffalo  be  without  the  Bills?  Green  Bay  without  the  Packers?  Cleveland  without  the  Browns?  The  vote to  subsidize  the  building  of  Jacobs  Field  and  Gund  Arena  primarily  was  to  keep  the  Indians  from  moving  out  of town  and  luring  the  Cavaliers  downtown,  and  only  secondarily  out  of  hope  for  an  economic  benefit.   When  the  Browns  made  good  on  their  threat  to  go  to  greener  pastures,  Cleveland  got  a  taste  of  what  it  is  like  to lose  an  important  member  of  the  civic  family.  When  the  Indians  adapted  to  their  new  surroundings  by  making  two trips  to  the  World  Series  in  three  years,  the  city  basked  in  the  national  spotlight.   So  if  the  vote  were  held  again  today,  I  think  the  result  would  be  the  same  -­  and  then  some. Caption:  DRAWING  BY:  JOHN  OVERMYER   Memo:  Brazaitis  is  chief  of  The  Plain  Dealer's  Washington,  D.C.,  bureau. Edition:  FINAL  /  ALL Section:  FORUM  OPINION  &  IDEAS Page:  1E Column:  TOM  BRAZAITIS Index  Terms:  COMMENTARY Dateline:  WASHINGTON Record  Number:  09334086 Copyright  1997,  2002  The  Plain  Dealer.  All  Rights  Reserved.  Used  by  NewsBank  with  Permission.

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