Dean: Important questions glossed over in Columbia’s rush to build baseball stadium

January 23, 2014 



— I am deeply concerned about the superficial information given to the Columbia City Council and the public about the proposed baseball stadium on the Bull Street property, and the rush to approval. At the Woodland Park public meeting last week, a Brailsford & Dunlavey official acknowledged that the City Council, city manager and chief financial officer had not received the company’s full feasibility study, which presents the most optimistic economic picture of a stadium. He acknowledged that the report did not include any projection of the economic impact of substitution spending.

In their 2000 study, “The Economics of Sports Facilities and Their Communities,” economists John Siegfried and Andrew Zimbalist wrote: “Sport stadiums, team and events have little or no positive effect on local employment, income or output. The projection process requires the analyst to make numerous assumptions. These assumptions leave the process open to error or manipulation and allow the exaggeration of impact. These studies are commissioned by team owners or a group justifying a public investment, so bias potential is high. Unchecked partiality can contribute to deleterious policy decisions.” They added that public officials should “be cautious about relying on promotional economic impact analyses as the main criteria for decision making” and citizens should “be wary of policymakers who blindly accept and tout the results of such analyses and the economic catalyst argument.”

I am concerned about the impact a stadium at Bull Street would have on revenue at Riverbanks Zoo and at small businesses, at Frankie’s fun park and the restaurants and shops in the Vista and on Main Street. A stadium will compete for the same dollars. We should take advantage of our investment downtown and not risk it on a business that invests very little of its own capital.

Minor league baseball owners’ record is clear: They remove taxable property from the tax rolls, ask for large public subsidies, invest little of their own money and play us against other cities. The framework for discussion relies too heavily on exaggerated claims of economic development, regardless of contrary evidence. Understanding the distribution of public and private benefits must be at the heart of a stadium financing plan. We should not be rushed to judgment.

John Mark Dean


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