A couple months ago, I was sitting in a movie theater watching Jurassic World. When life predictably “found a way,” I wondered what the board meeting that approved spending money on that park looked like. How could they have been convinced, after the events of the first three movies, to build yet another park with killer dinosaurs? Higher fences? More security? A brew pub?
After attending a hearing at the Saint Louis Board of Alderman regarding a plan to spend $152 million on a new NFL stadium, I don’t have to speculate anymore. Decades of objective research has shown that stadiums, and especially NFL stadiums, do not generate economic growth, spur revitalization, or greatly increase tax revenue. Saint Louis has direct experience of this with the Edward Jones Dome, which demonstrably did not bring in new tax revenues or revitalize any neighboring areas. What’s more, there are plenty of warning signs and gaps in the latest funding plan that should give residents pause.
And yet . . .
Stadium proponents pretended that a solid body of research and the city’s own experience do not exist. They argued, again and again, that the stadium will create jobs, redevelop the North side, and increase the city’s tax revenue. It’s like the last 20 years and all those studies on stadium projects never happened.
What about concerns over maintenance at the stadium or construction costs overrun? Don’t worry, say proponents, someone else will have to pay. Dave Peacock, head of the stadium task force, even suggested that the state government might handle cost overruns. With some members of legislature threatening to withhold bond payments to the stadium project without a vote of the legislature, asking the legislature to approve more funding for cost overruns is optimistic to say the least.
The bottom line for city aldermen on the current stadium plan is this:
1. The city would pay around $152 million to construct a new stadium, and likely more down the road in maintenance and operating costs.
2. Tax revenue from the project is exceedingly unlikely to approach the costs the stadium, which means that the money would be better spent elsewhere.
3. The new stadium and the presence of the NFL will probably have little effect on downtown development (unless you count bulldozing the North riverfront as redevelopment).
In other words, if we are basing this stadium plan on tangible economic merits, this should be an open-and-shut case. The fact that the plan is likely headed for approval is troubling. If city leaders can convince themselves that, despite all the evidence to contrary, this deal makes economic sense, what can’t they be convinced of? At this point, I don’t think I’d be surprised if the city approved a Jurassic Park and stuck it in the middle of downtown. I’d only be surprised if they decided not to subsidize it.