Next time you're down there, look closely at the neighborhood around Franklin Covey Field in Salt Lake City. Would you consider it economically vibrant?
How about this: Would you consider the stadium, located at 1300 South and West Temple, to be the southern anchor to downtown, or even close to downtown?
We in the media often forget to follow up on the statements politicians make in order to justify public expenditures. In 1993, Mayor Deedee Corradini was disappointed that, for political reasons, she couldn't build the baseball stadium in the heart of downtown, where she hoped it would help energize investment. But she believed the site where it ended up would do wonders for that area, instead, bringing a real return on the investment of public funds.
In part, she was relying on a study by the consulting firm KPMG Peat Marwick, which estimated the stadium would generate about $7 million annually in the community. She said companies, which she declined to name, had shown interest in moving in near the stadium.
In a news story I wrote on May 4, 1993, I quoted her as saying, "I envision 10 years from now the stadium will define the south end of downtown."
Eleven years have passed. You decide.
The neighborhood certainly hasn't declined, but it hasn't been developed much, either. Minor league baseball isn't exactly the hottest ticket in town.
I'm not trying to bash the former mayor or her consultants. I bring this up only because a bit of history may have relevance if the people of Utah get asked to help build a new soccer stadium.
And they will get asked. My sources tell me the question already is being asked.
Utah scored a major coup last week when Major League Soccer awarded a franchise to a Salt Lake City investor group led by Dave Checketts. The MLS may not be on a par with the NFL or major league baseball, but soccer remains the world's most popular sport, and this will help position the city internationally as the sport grows and blossoms in the United States.
But pro soccer, even at this high level, still is a gamble. Two years ago, MLS killed teams in Miami and Tampa Bay because of a lack of attendance. According to the Bloomberg news service, the Los Angeles Galaxy last year became the first team in the league's history to turn a profit, and that was only $150,000. There are no guarantees people here will flock to the games.
But even if they did, governments have no business spending public funds to build a stadium, even if it's only for part of the costs.
If you remember nothing else from this column, remember this: Just because a new soccer team is coming to town doesn't mean the people who live here suddenly will have new money to spend on tickets. If they do go to the games, they will do so with money they otherwise would have spent on other things a trip to the movies, perhaps, or an afternoon at an amusement park. If any government that taxes these people decides to use public money to build a new soccer stadium, it will be taking some of this money away, and that will be a drag on the economy.
That holds true even for the creative ways teams and politicians these days put together funding proposals, using redevelopment or economic development agencies.
The bottom line is as Raymond J. Keating, an economist who authored a study on the subject for the CATO Institute a few years ago, put it, "Taxpayers some of whom, oddly enough, are not even sports fans should not be forced to contribute to a team's payroll."
And yet taxpayers everywhere are doing just that. When Keating wrote his report in 1999, he found that $20 billion in public funds had been spent on stadiums and arenas nationwide during the 20th century. That figure continues to grow.
Most recently, the MetroStars, New York City's entry in MLS, announced it will build a new 25,000-seat stadium financed in part by a $130 million county bond. Dallas, Colorado and Chicago also have plans to build soccer stadiums. Columbus was the first MLS team to play in its own stadium, but that one was built with private money. Columbus taxpayers have made it clear they won't foot the bill to make team owners rich. The city's NHL team also plays in a privately financed arena.
That's the model Utah should follow.Pro soccer is terrific. A good team would be a source of pride. But if we're smart enough to learn from the past, we won't make the team a burden on the economy.
Jay Evensen is editor of the Deseret Morning News editorial page. E-mail: [email protected]