Stop the Stadium Madness

Here are 10 good reasons

"I've had people who have been to the new ballparks come back and tell me they still like Busch best. It has a lot of character.... Busch has a great image to begin with in St. Louis and the improvements have enhanced it as a quality place."

That's how Bill DeWitt Jr., principal owner of the Cardinals, described the ruins of Busch Stadium in an interview with his hometown newspaper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, on Nov. 16, 1997. I think it was well put.

Now DeWitt says, "This park stinks for baseball." By coincidence, he wants the public to hand him a quarter-billion dollars to replace it with a new stadium. Or else.

Here's what's wrong with this picture:

1. What part of "They can afford to build it themselves" do we not understand?

If capitalism broke out today, we wouldn't be having this discussion. Several of the 17 Cardinal owners could write a check for the new stadium. Last week, the St. Louis Business Journal estimated their collective net worth at more than $4 billion.

The Cardinals don't need the public's money; they want the public's money. At least three other teams have sold for net increases of more than $100 million after getting the public to build them a new stadium.

2. Don't take my word for it. Go to San Francisco.

To the chagrin of baseball's ownership cartel, the Giants let their bluff be called, and the result is Pac Bell Park, a state-of-the-art stadium built entirely with private funds. Voters rejected handout requests four times.

Despite warnings that paying for their own stadium would put them at a competitive disadvantage, the Giants had the best record in the National League. But even after selling out every single seat for all 81 games, the Giants finished second in attendance to the "small-market" Cardinals, whose other revenues are similar to the Giants'.

3. Since when is it government's role to assure the success of a sports franchise?

The Cardinals argue that they can't "stay competitive" in Busch Stadium, and they base their demand for public funds on the "need" to be profitable. They stop just short of demanding a "fair rate of return" like the one a public utility gets.

Perhaps they should be offered the $250 million corporate-welfare gift they seek in exchange for state regulation of ticket prices, player salaries and profits.

4. If the Cardinals are such a public asset, why all the secrecy?

Although they're seeking all this corporate welfare in the name of civic pride and goodness, the Cardinals are as secretive as it gets when it comes to their business. They won't even disclose who owns what share of the team -- a real outrage -- probably to avoid the embarrassment of the public's learning how small a percentage is actually owned by current St. Louisans.

The Cardinals will not disclose the revenue and profit projections of a new stadium, nor will they open their books to the public. The public's wallet should be no more open than the team's.

5. The Division of Family Services is going to look strange when it opens an office to help baseball-player millionaires.

If state and local governments allocate $20 million or so for the next 30 years to retire the debt on a new stadium, the Cardinals won't be troubled with the cost of money. Thus $20 million or so could be freed up for additional player salaries to make the team more competitive.

Wouldn't state government be better off directly allocating $20 million in social-services funds for new free-agent deals? It wouldn't be a long-term commitment, and we wouldn't have to worry about these owners (or the next ones) conducting a fire sale of high-priced athletes.

6. The "economic benefits" of a new stadium don't pass the common-sense test.

Want to be an economist for a day? Go to Busch Stadium, Savvis Center or the Trans World Dome (or all three) and walk until you find a retail store or restaurant that has sprung up to meet the consumer demands of the millions of people who attend these venues. Better bring comfortable shoes.

Sports economists are nearly unanimous in refuting owners' claims about the financial impact of their franchises. Like the casinos, they eat a share of the entertainment-dollar pie in the region. They don't create the pie.

7. The mythical "Ballpark Village" doesn't pass the any-sense-at-all test.

If you're buying the Cardinals' dreamy rationalization about an adjacent "village" with 1,000 new residences, 500,000 square feet of new office space and dozens of upscale national retailers and restaurants, perhaps you should go down to the Santa Maria for a cup of java. Can you say "St. Louis Centre"?

Have you noticed that not a single dollar has been pledged by anyone for this exciting project? Where has all this stadium-generated activity been -- in the same spot serving the same population -- for the past 35 years?

8. What about other businesses?

Besides being an anti-trust-exempted monopoly, what's so special about the Cardinals? If they are entitled to having all state and local tax revenues they generate poured back into their capital needs -- as they insist -- why shouldn't Tony's restaurant downtown get the same treatment for a new wing?

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