I hope your’re sitting down for this

Because it’s a huge shock:

When they surprised the public with plans for a new ballpark for the minor-league Braves a year ago, Gwinnett County officials said the stadium would cost $40 million and would pay for itself from Day One.

Neither statement has come true.

So far, county commissioners have committed $31 million in taxpayer cash for the stadium. And in September, they approved increasing the ballpark’s cost by nearly 50 percent for amenities and changes, much of which aren’t required for the Braves to play ball.

Still, three of Gwinnett County’s top elected officials say they stand by their decision to put taxpayer money into the stadium —- which now carries a $64 million price tag —- even as they slash scores of county jobs and cut services amid a recession.

“Our board was completely unanimous on baseball Jan. 15 of last year, and I think our board will be completely unanimous on baseball today,” said Commissioner Bert Nasuti, the project’s chief proponent.

As expected, J.C. — who is quoted in the AJC article — is all over it at Sabernomics.

My question is why elected officials seem so willing to cite budget problems to cut or scale back useful stuff like bus service and recreation centers yet never feel the need to change course when these stadium deals turn into budgetary disasters, as they almost always do.

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Comments

  1. alskor said...

    I always see these types of articles – why does no one ever consider that baseball might be a legitimate choice for public officials to favor spending money on over bus service and recreation centers. Certainly the argument could be made that this stadium will do more to benefit the quality of life for more people in this county.

    Further, this was an opportunity – if you don’t spend the money the team could leave, whereas you can always add to or subtract from bus service and rec centers. There arent a finite number of those. Lastly, this was a capital improvement that will be there for a long time, unlike increased bus service or rec center budgets.

    Im not saying that baseball is clearly a better choice to spend the money on than these things – I am saying a legitimate argument can be made for it whether you agree or not.

    Even though the money here is in a large degree going to benefit a private entity, that private entity does a lot to add to the quality of life for the area. Its the same choice colleges make when they spend money on their athletic teams. People want to go to colleges with big time athletic teams. People want to live in areas with nice minor league baseball stadiums and teams. That is something worth paying for and this kind of money seems to be the going rate. I think its time we stopped acting like spending money on sports stadiums is de facto outrageous and a waste of money.

  2. Taylor said...

    Craig,
    There is an article in the Sarasota Hearld Tribune about the city getting money for a new stadium for the Reds that will never be built.  Of course the law that allocates the money doesn’t have a provision in it for the state to reclaim the money.

    Both the Red Sox and Orioles have decided they didn’t want to take the Reds place when they move to Arizona next year for spring training.

  3. TLA said...

    Craig:

    You wonder why elected officials cite budget problems to cut useful stuff like bus service and recreation centers yet never feel the need to change course when these stadium deals turn into budgetary disasters?  You’re being facetious, right?

  4. Alex said...

    I think the outrage and claims of wasted money have more to do with the bald-faced disingenuousness that the County Commission has operated with.

  5. Pete Toms said...

    @ alskor.  The following is a quote from a recent Q&A;@ the Freakonomics blog with sports economist Andrew Zimbalist ( which I found by way of The Sports Economist blog ).

    “Cities spend millions of dollars to support a variety of cultural activities that are not expected to have positive economic effects, such as subsidizing a local symphony or maintaining a public park. Sports teams can have a powerful cultural or social impact on a community. If that effect is valued by the local residents, then they may well decide that some public dollars are appropriate. However, if the public or its political representatives are trying to make the case that a team or a facility by itself will be an important development tool, then the electorate should think twice before opening its collective wallet.”

  6. Tim said...

    Pete,
    Cities may spend a lot of money to support a variety of cultural activities, but the vast majority of those activities simply could not survive without public funding. I think the outrage toward publicly funded stadiums is because they are already associated with the big money of baseball.

  7. alskor said...

    “Pete,
    Cities may spend a lot of money to support a variety of cultural activities, but the vast majority of those activities simply could not survive without public funding. I think the outrage toward publicly funded stadiums is because they are already associated with the big money of baseball.”

    Is that realistically any different than spending dough on a new stadium to keep a minor league baseball team in your city? NFL deals – sure I can see that its not a benefit… and established teams like the White Sox arent going to leave Chicago… but a minor league team? There are many, many place in America that can support a AA baseball team.

  8. Tim said...

    alskor,

    I’m sorry, but I can’t understand what you want to say. When you say, “Is that realistically any different…,” what does ‘that’ refer to?

  9. Rob said...

    “…established teams like the White Sox arent going to leave Chicago… but a minor league team? There are many, many place in America that can support a AA baseball team.”

    Funny, I seem to remember the White Sox threatening to move to Florida when they wanted to build the new Comiskey.

    And more to the point, there are many, many more things an American city can support with its tax dollars than a baseball team.

  10. Beanster said...

    This is from a WSJ article on football over the weekend but the analogy holds for why politicians are drawn to these projects:

    “In some ways, the sports mania in these towns is a substitute for genuine economic achievement. Sure the middle class is disappearing. But, hey, how ‘bout them Steelers? Football triumphalism is a kind of civic cocaine, creating a sense of accomplishment where the reality is otherwise. (Maybe that’s what’s behind Western Europe’s soccer fanaticism.)”

  11. Scott said...

    I think Pete has it.

    If enough people in the community want a baseball stadium, then it’s a worthwhile investment. The community pays for baseball and it gets baseball in return. People (and when I say “people” I really mean “me”)get upset when baseball teams, politicians and other interested parties try to pass off baseball facilities as financial boons for their communities.

    Statements like “will pay for itself by day one” make my snake-oil senses go crazy. I’d be a lot happier if my local teams used the same approach as my local symphony, park & rec department, or public television station: “what we offer is worthwhile” please help us pay for it. I’d still wonder what they’re doing with all the money they ARE making, but at least I wouldn’t feel like they’re trying to con me.

  12. Tim said...

    Scott, what you say makes sense to me. A direct, honest approach is more appealing to the everyday Joe.

    My questions (and I am completely uninformed on this) are: (a) Is minor league baseball finanically viable without the support of public funds? And (b) Does minor league baseball get support from the major league affiliates?

    My perception (which I suppose is not different from the average, uninformed Joe) is that MiLB is financially viable on its own, and that is the difference between it and the local symphony.

    Am I way off base on this?

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