Recently in the Idaho Statesman, scribe Sven Berg gave a rosy image of the proposed downtown Boise sports stadium. The picture he painted: This project contains little to no public risk and there are “no red flags with Boise’s [financing] approach, which would rely on a mix of public and private money.”
Berg went through the various risks inherent in such a project. He showed how the current financing proposal allegedly mitigates those risks. Berg's commentary relied on a city-commissioned economic analysis study, which is flawed because it fails to account for the new risks that the city’s proposed stadium creates and the danger they pose to Boise taxpayers.
First, the proposed facility may or may not generate the revenue backers say it will. Case in point: Look to Nampa’s Idaho Center, which is a perennial drain of local taxpayer funds. After the Idaho Stampede basketball team left the facility in 2005, and other event venues opened throughout the Treasure Valley, the Idaho Center has operated at a perpetual loss. Canyon County taxpayers are still in debt to the facility—to the tune of about $1.5 million annually.
Second, there is no guarantee the touted economic development around the sports stadium will occur. Yet, the revenue markers for this city-commissioned economic analysis rely on the increased economic activity this stadium would promote.
Again, Nampa offers a prime example of the danger of banking on said private development. I lived in Nampa for four years. Each week I drove the main thoroughfare through downtown and saw the vacant storefronts in Nampa’s library square—a testament to the failure of urban renewal dollars to promote the very economic development they are designed to enhance.
As this example demonstrates, even if new facilities to house shops, eateries and breweries are built near the proposed stadium, it does not guarantee private parties will move in. Or stay.
Finally, the city-commissioned analysis fails to consider the effect that building a new entertainment facility would have on other entertainment venues—each dollar spent for a family’s entertainment at this new stadium likely means one less dollar spent at the local family Discovery Center, downtown restaurants, Albertson’s Stadium, or the Morrison Center for the Performing Arts. The city's analysis can not be taken seriously when it omits basic analysis that any real business report would include.
Unfortunately, public officials are not the ones who have to pay for the project’s shortcomings. Future Boise taxpayers will face multi-million dollar debt payments, local businesses will compete with a government-subsidized out-of-state developer for the same customers, and local schools, fire departments, and many others will have their tax dollars diverted towards this facility for a generation.
City officials and other proponents of a taxpayer-financed stadium believe their proposal will be somehow different from every other taxpayer-supported stadium across the country. The failure rate of such is high and they have failed to boost local economies. But, so long as city officials desire the grand ribbon-cutting ceremony of a shiny new facility, they will ignore reality and push for projects such as this.