Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Wilmington Baseball Stadium: THE FACTS

In response to the local media scrambling to give wall-to-wall above-the-fold coverage to the creation of the PortCityBaseball.com website; a mediocre little short stop (pun?) on the web openly and shamelessly begging for our local governments to pour out taxpayer dollars for the benefit of a few folks in the baseball biz. Local government doesn't spend a dime without such propaganda mills as the Star News cheer leading the effort, and doing what they can to handle the PR and advertising of such ventures for the benefit of the city council.

With that said, consider some truth and research from a website with probably over a thousand times the popularity and return visits than the aforementioned one, but as usual, sure to be ignored by the press - even though we know they read the Wilmington Watcher on a regular basis.

Taxpayer-funded stadiums are nothing new. They have been done over and over again; every new guy to come on the scene with a new plan thinks he is going to build the better mousetrap, and inevitably failing in the end; the taxpayers left holding the bag, as usual.

Here is some data for those interested in holding an educated debate and position on the subject. For those who simply keep muttering the mantra about baseball on the river, and constantly closing their eyes dreaming of the publicly-funded smell of roasted peanuts, carry on.

Thanks to Tom Looney for sharing:

"Taxpayer-subsidized Sports Facilities: Who Pays, Who Wins?"

http://www.lessgov.org/html/stadium-money.html While the beginning of this article provides an argument against sports stadiums, the bulk of this document consists of an extensive bibliography of articles and books that deal with this issue.

• Joanna Cagan and Neil Demause, "Field of Schemes"

http://www.fieldofschemes.com This web site contains information on the current status of sports stadiums that are being built or rebuilt using public subsidies. As the title of this website suggests, the authors are opposed to the use of public subsidies for these projects. Of particular interest is their page entitled: "The Sports Swindle Ticker."

• Daniel Sutter, "Public Subsidies for Sports Stadiums Don't Spur Economic Growth"

http://www.ocpathink.org/economics/PublicSubsidiesforSports.html In this Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs article, Daniel Sutter provides a critical examination of the use of subsidies for the construction of new stadiums. He argues that the construction of new stadiums diverts consumer spending from other forms of entertainment without increasing the total level of consumer spending.

• Ronald D. Utt, "Cities in Denial: The False Promise of Subsidized Tourist and Entertainment Complexes"

http://www.heritage.org/library/backgrounder/bg1223.html In this October 2, 1998 Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, Ronald Utt argues that subsidized public investment in stadiums and similar tourist and entertainment facilities has not been a profitable strategy

• Heartland Institute, "Sports Stadium Madness"

http://www.heartland.org/studies/sports/sports-studies.htm This website contains links to an extensive collection of studies that indicate that public investment in sports stadiums provide few benefits for municipalities.


  1. Has anyone checked the attendance records for the Wilmington Sharks or the UNC-W baseball teams? Any consideration given that a new baseball option in the area will hurt attendance for these 2 teams we already have? These two teams give area residents the opportunity for family entertainment. This proposed new stadium, funded by tax dollars, is a prime example of the rich getting richer at taxpayer expense. Our illustrious city “leaders?” once again are trying to stick their noses into the private sector. Other county residents and teams be damned, we want this, and we will do this, common sense is not a consideration. If the Atlanta Braves think this is a great idea, let them fund it without any tax breaks or incentives from the county or state. If they are unwilling to do this, this should tell city leaders what they think the profitability is. I would also like to know what other things this stadium can be used for? Will these activities take away income from the convention center? Everyone knows the convention center might show a profit in 60 or 70 years, without any further competition.
    Also, please consider this is a minor league team. Rosters change all the time, so nobody becomes a fixture on the team that fans get to know. After the initial surge, attendance will be poor. If this happens with taxpayer money, millions of dollars will be wasted, another developer benefits from taxpayer money, and within two years, the stadium will sit empty. This will be the ultimate testament to another waste of taxpayer dollars. Ask the Mayor and Council Members and the developer if they are willing to co-sign using their own money to guarantee the loans. I bet their answer will cause a new dance sensation “ the 20 step backward, too fast too see”. Too bad this wasn't a requirement for the convention center also. Wilmington's City Government needs to concentrate on managing their responsibilities on what is already here, not wasting any more money.

  2. Also Forward ThinkingFebruary 4, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    Although I agree with your fundamental base line argument regarding funding and tax incentives for private sector entertainment facilities, I disagree with your assessment for the outcome of such a venture in Wilmington. Current sitting council members are the most progressive and forward-thinking seen here in many years. They have in most instances, had clear vision for long-term 'quality' growth in the community and should be allowed to pursue agendas that they feel provide betterment for the citizens of this community.

    A stadium on the Riverfront does many things for Wilmington. First, it provides a catalyst for secondary tier growth... something that is severely lacking here. As a person who for 40 years has watched economic growth spawn and multiply in other progressive communities in which I have lived, I can say with confidence that sound economic growth occurs when private industry make commitments to do. Traditionally, tax and other relocating incentives is how you get it done. Certainly there is risk. However, some of the best business decisions in this country were made when risk was involved. Since public controversy and meaningful debate always accompany these adventures, there will undoubtedly be checks and balances all along the way.

    Second, the Southeastern North Carolina coastal region is made up of beautiful landscape and attractive year long weather conditions. This is why people come here, first to visit and then to stay. As a building contractor in the new homes market, I hear this confirmation nearly every day from home buyers planning to relocate here. These folks come from communities which have professional sports teams and as a result, are starved for these types of amenities here. Make no doubt about it, tourism and retirement from those coming from other regions of the country, mainly the Northeast and Midwest, will drive the economic growth here in the future.

    Third, a well planned stadium can also be utilized as a concert hall and music amphitheater, bringing larger acts to Wilmington; as well as using it for educational and business purposes. A community entertainment facility such as this will attract good restaurants, not just downtown but throughout the coastal region; as well as accompanied public infrastructure and cityscape improvements, of which migrating residents to the area will demand. As a result, corporate shift of businesses from similar demographic communities will occur, bringing good job opportunities for local and regional college graduates who would rather stay and make a future in the Wilmington area, but are forced to relocate due to a lack of sustainable professional industry and medium-size business entities here today.

    I suspect this Minor League baseball argument will play itself out and eventually, we will see a stadium and quality hotel entity on the Riverfront. Let's hope all this negative energy used to gripe about big business taking our tax dollars to bring entertainment here, is directed toward improving the lives of those currently residing here, and those soon to come. This could become a WIN not only for the Braves Organization but also for the Wilmington community at-large.

    1. While I appreciate your feedback, I must disagree with you on several fronts. First of all, to call this current city council as "visionary" and "forward-thinking" I must ask of specific examples which led you to such conclusions. From where I am, I see a city council who forced an enormous convention center on us with the promises of a brighter local economy as a direct result. This was just the thing we needed downtown to bring in those secondary businesses that you refer to and it will draw folks from all over year around. Fast forward to now - this gigantic white elephant sits empty most of the time, and has been projected to run in the red indefinitely.

      This is your forward-thinking city council. The ROT funds - which they promised us would pay for it, do not pay for it completely. Now, general fund tax dollars are funneled into the convention center every year just to keep it afloat. We were specifically told that this would not happen. Yet there it is. In addition, these seven people cannot even get one single hotel built next to it in four years. When they had the one of the biggest hotel developers in the country interested, they lied to us, and still have not been held accountable as to why they backed out.

      The media dutifully reported what the city told them, that John Hammond hotels could not get the financing in this tough economy. However, that was completely false. If you read the letter from John Hammond, the specific reason was that they believed they could not make any money with just the hotel - they wanted to operate the convention center as well - which is how it works in most other parts of the country. The city manager and council got together and had to save face after such an embarrassment - so they spun together this tale of Hammond not being able to get the financing. This was a flat out fabricated lie - there is no way to sugar coat it.

      This is the same group of people that you entrust to build a baseball stadium? A stadium that a tax increase must be levied first of all to pay for - the very tax increase that Mayor Saffo said he did not support for such purposes when he was trying to swindle Wilmington into re-electing him on the campaign. As usual, it worked. Now he has went back on this promise, and is planning on raising taxes exactly for this reason. What kind of deal is this for the citizens of Wilmington? They pay more taxes so an outside conglomerate can profit off of a new stadium built for them? What a crock - this will fail just like the convention center - but much worse. Have you not read the studies about taxpayer-funded stadiums? Out of 30 that were analyzed, 27 experienced no economic benefit. 3 experienced negative economic consequences. This is the great vision for Wilmington? Somehow we are different? I don't trust these crooks to do the right thing - mush less with $60 million of taxpayer dollars.

      Here is that study: http://www.stadiummouse.com/stadium/economic.html

  3. I am a recent transplant to North Carolina from Indianapolis. Before the Colts, Fever, Ice, Pacers, and the Indy 500 Speedway, there was established in 1902 the Indianapolis Indians. For 65 years the team played in a privately owned stadium on 16th Street, named Bush Stadium. In 1996, Marion County, through its Capital Improvement Board (CIB), committed to a public-private partnership for the financing and building of Victory Field, a 15,000 person seating capacity stadium at a cost of $18 million. Follow this link to the sub-lease agreement between the CIB and the Team. http://capitalimprovementboard.org/agreements/INDIANS_Sublease%20Agmt.pdf
    Victory Field opened in 1996, attendance to the Indians’ games nearly doubled, and Victory Field was the catalyst for a revitalization of downtown Indianapolis. The downtown area realized over $3 billion in public and private capital investment in the decade following construction and opening of Victory Field. The ballpark is also home to the annual City, County, and High School Baseball State Championships.
    Is the Wilmington Baseball Stadium a good investment….yes, if he costs and financing are managed correctly. That being said, I have serious concerns about the construction estimates of $35 to $40 million, which in my opinion make this a very questionable venture.


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