FOUL PLAY II: Five More Cities That Want Taxpayer Money To Finance Sports Stadiums

Miami's Sun Life Stadium

In June, I wrote about five cities that were seeking taxpayer money to build new sports stadiums for professional franchises in their areas. Those projects are at different stages of development: Atlanta and St. Louis are still negotiating, Washington D.C.’s plan still isn’t off the ground, Santa Clara has begun digging, and Minneapolis’ stadium has already turned into a financial catastrophe.

Taxpayers in at least five more cities are facing the prospect of paying for new sports stadiums or updates to existing facilities for football, hockey, basketball, and soccer franchises, some of which don’t yet exist. Since the wheels of taxpayer-financed stadium boondoggles never stop spinning, here’s a look at five cities that are asking — or thinking about asking — taxpayers to help finance stadiums:

Miami: The Miami Dolphins want taxpayers to foot the bill for $199 million of a proposed $400 million renovation to Sun Life Stadium, a facelift owners say the stadium needs if the city wants to host future Super Bowls. A Senate committee unanimously approved legislation that would provide the Dolphins with $90 million in state funds. The rest would be paid for by an increase in Miami’s hotel tax. The Dolphins, however, agreed to put the issue before voters over the weekend, heeding the calls of lawmakers who didn’t like the bill. Miami’s taxpayers are already on the hook for Marlins Park, the $634-million baseball stadium that just opened last year.

Charlotte: Charlotte’s city council advanced a plan last week that would give the NFL’s Carolina Panthers $144 million to upgrade its stadium. The plan, if it is approved by North Carolina’s state assembly, would raise the city’s food-and-beverage sales tax by one cent. Lawmakers expressed fears that the Panthers could move to another city that has stadium plans, though no such city exists, and they voted on the proposal behind closed doors. The deal does require the Panthers to stay in town over the life of the 15-year agreement, but taxpayers will finance more than half of the proposed renovations.

Orlando: Major League Soccer wants to expand into Florida, and state lawmakers are trying to help it do so. State Sen. David Simmons (R) proposed legislation that would add MLS franchises to the list of those eligible for a monthly subsidy from the state, which could help build a new stadium for the Orlando City Soccer Club, a minor league team that hopes to move up to MLS. In October, the Orlando Sentinel reported that a new stadium could cost between $90 million and $95 million, though no financing plan has been proposed. “Certainly, we’d look for it to be a public-private partnership,” Orlando City President Phil Rawlins said, meaning taxpayer money would be involved.

Detroit: The National Hockey League’s Detroit Red Wings are seeking funds for a new arena, the state legislature passed a bill in December that could grant the team nearly $13 million in annual tax subsidies to help accomplish that goal. The franchise could qualify for other state tax subsidies if it applied for them, according to the Detroit News. Those same subsidies, available through the Michigan Strategic Fund, were used to give the Detroit Tigers $55 million in subsidies for a new stadium in the 1990s (the Tigers and Red Wings are owned by the same family). Financing plans have yet to be finalized, but the Red Wings hope to start construction by the end of the year.

Virginia Beach: Lawmakers in Virginia got their hopes up when the National Basketball Association’s Sacramento Kings reportedly showed interest in a cross-continent move to Virginia Beach. The Kings ultimately chose Seattle instead, but that hasn’t stopped Virginia Beach from preparing for its next run at a team. In January, a Virginia state House subcommittee approved legislation that would allow Virginia Beach to issue bonds to finance an arena, and those bonds would be paid off by sales tax revenues. The bill has a long way to go and its financial impact is unknown, but it’s clear that plans to finance an arena didn’t necessarily end with the Kings’ move to Seattle.

As we have detailed, stadium deals that rely on public funds rarely live up to their economic promise. Still, cities continually pursue these plans, even if they almost always leave taxpayers deeper in debt and facing budget cuts to vital public programs.