OK, here's the big question: Is it worth it? Can Birmingham justify the cost of a domed stadium, even one that can double as a "multi-purpose convention center"?
And here's the answer: No.
And here are five reasons why:
A recent nationwide survey proved that, despite the claims of stadium boosters, sports facilities do not pay for themselves.
The economic impact of stadium project is routinely overstated by stadium advocates. The facts, according to Brookings Institution research, are these:
Regardless of whether the unit of analysis is a local neighborhood, a city, or an entire metropolitan area, the economic benefits of sports facilities are de minimus.
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More about stadium subsidies:
The sales tax places a disproportionate burden on the poor, because they must spend a larger share of their income on the basic necessities of life. Because the sales tax allows no exemptions for food or medicine, this burden is even heavier. (Oddly enough, the tax increase on automobile purchases is only 1/8 cent - one half of the BARTA assessment.)
MAPS proponents claim that the sales tax will be lowered again "after the bond conditions are met." But the wording of the MAPS legislation makes this highly unlikely. The Jefferson County Progress Authority is granted the power to come up with new projects and purposes for the sales-tax revenue for as long as it likes.
Read more about the tax increase
Keep in mind that most stadium projects are funded by private money in addition to tax dollars. Public financing of the planned $325 million San Francisco '49ers stadium comes to $100 million, less than 31% of the total.
The MAPS plan calls for 100% public funding. Why?
When we start talking about hundreds of millions of dollars, it's easy to lose any sense of perspective. Some kind of yardstick is needed, to help determine whether we're getting what we pay for. So here's a list of construction cost estimates for stadiums built in the 1990s, all of them lower than the $280 million figure requested by MAPS:
Const. cost Public share
San Francisco ('49ers) $325 million $100 million
MAPS domed complex $280 million $280 million
San Diego (baseball) $240 million $87 million
Tampa Bay, Fla. $168 million $168 million
Jacksonville, Fla. $161 million $150 million (est.)
Stadium news from other cities
original estimate latest figures overrun
----------------- -------------- -------
Baltimore (Ravens stadium) $200 million $220 million 10%
Cleveland (football stadium) $220 million $268 million 22%
Cleveland (Jacobs Field) $343 million $462 million 35%
Milwaukee (Miller Field) $250 million $400 million 60%
Seattle (Safeco Field) $320 million $415 million 30%
Cost overruns have also been an issue in the Oklahoma City MAPS program, from which Birmingham MAPS derived its name.
In light of this history, it seems only sensible for Birmingham to prepare for cost overruns when building the stadium/convention center - especially considering the ambitious scale of the project.
[A thought experiment] Assuming a 10% cost overrun for Birmingham (the lowest overrun on the list of current stadium projects) - our construction costs would climb from $280 million to $308 million. Other stadium-related costs are liable to increase by similar proportions, pushing our stadium costs beyond $500,000,000 - or half a billion dollars.
Unfortunately, there's nothing far-fetched about this scenario. Milwaukee's out-of-control project reminds us of just how bad things could get. A 60% overrun in Birmingham, by the way, would lead to $480 million in building costs alone. . . . or a total bill of nearly $750 million!
Stadium news from other cities
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Edited by Rob Collins