Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Florida Cities Rethink Welfare for Baseball Teams

Stadia projects are often touted by municipalities as engines of economic development. When it comes to major league professional athletics, team owners exploit this sentiment by making demands on municipal governments to build or rehab facilities under the threat of leaving town.

It seems as if some Florida cities are saying "enough" to these demands. The site of Major League Baseball's spring training Grapefruit League, many Florida towns are starting to refuse the demands of teams to rehab aging stadia.

One major reason for this impending refusal is the increasing value of land in suburban or exurban areas in the state where a sprawl-based low-density development will undoubtedly bring in much more consistent revenue than a baseball stadium that is used for one month each year. The town highlighted in the article--Winter Haven--is situated in the fast-growing Interstate 4 corridor between Orlando and Tampa. In this case, the potential for selling the land to developer that will bring, according to Mayor Mike Easterling, "a Cheesecake Factory, a theater, upscale shops of every description," has more allure than subsidizing an underutilized baseball park.

Of course, the stadium approach to urban & suburban development is still strong in many quarters. In the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates, the village just approved a feasibility study to develop an indoor multi-use sporting & entertainment facility which will require $50 million in municipal-guaranteed financing. Unlike many cities who are held hostage to sports teams that threaten to leave if not given massive subsidies, Hoffman Estates is looking to use the arena to attract franchises--specifically expansion teams from the National Lacrosse League and the United Hockey League.

Critics have pointed out that the Allstate Arena--located several miles down Interstate 90 from Hoffman Estates--already hosts the type of events proposed for the new arena. One wonders about the sensibility of this type of suburban development. Fifty million dollars in guaranteed financing could be used for much more innovative projects.

(Linked to Outside the Beltway)