Is Ballparks of the Ozarks Swinging for the Tax Incentive Fences?
Few would dispute that Missouri is obsessed with baseball. From the Major Leagues to the Negro Leagues, the Show-Me State has a long reputation for hosting some of the best baseball teams and talents the country has ever known. It isn’t surprising, then, to hear that a group of Saint Louis-based investors think there’s a market for a baseball-themed resort in Missouri, or that those investors just broke ground for it in the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri’s resort capital.
According to Ballparks of the Ozarks COO Bob Ramsey,
[the investors] didn’t want chain link fences [for their baseball development.] We didn’t want dusty, aluminum bleachers, with mom and kids baking in the sun and everybody complaining.
What did we want? We wanted [a] destination. We wanted amenities.
Our fields as constructed will be state-of-the-art. What will push our ballparks beyond what competitors have to offer will be our amenities. Families and teams from across the nation will be drawn to the “America’s Baseball Resort” experience.
As a former little leaguer, I’m actually pretty fond of chain-link fences, dusty fields, and aluminum bleachers, but we all know that resorts are supposed to be glitzy and glamorous. If given the choice between little league and big league amenities, developers will understandably pursue the big league amenities.
Folks may not know that to get those big league amenities, this proposed baseball-themed complex may be swinging for the fences to get financial assistance from the government. Novogradac, a national accounting firm that among other things helps “prepare tax credit applications,” hosts on its website what appears to be a New Markets tax credit allocation request for Ballparks of the Ozarks. New Markets tax credits are intended to
foster the construction and rehabilitation of real estate and the expansion of operating businesses in order to create jobs, generate economic activity and improve the quality of services in low-income communities and to low-income persons.
Unsurprisingly given those requirements, the request specifically says that the resort will “support existing ‘lake’ area businesses which struggle during off peak seasons” and will provide “opportunities for low-income, minority and disadvantaged youth to utilize high quality athletic facilities through affiliated organizations.”
In other words, to help the poor, the project summary suggests that the government should help pay for a baseball resort—and indeed, quite a lot of it. Novogradac’s page suggests Ballparks of the Ozarks is seeking to have $14 million in tax credits allocated to the project, and not only that, the summary implies that but-for the federal money, the project might not go forward.
How that jibes with the project’s recent “groundbreaking,” I don’t know.
I wish the developers of Ballparks of the Ozarks the best of luck, but there may be cause for concern from the perspective of sound public policy. If a resort can’t make it on private funds alone, taxpayers shouldn’t have to cover the gap.