Big League Headaches

I’m not a big fan of “public-private partnerships” in general, but especially in the building of sports infrastructure like stadiums and arenas. It is the rule rather than the exception that such ‘partnerships’ wind up costing more than advertised to build AND to operate, and the ‘economic impact’ (if any) is far outweighed by the profit taken by the ‘private’ side of the arrangement.

In essence, these partnerships are a dodge to get around the Arizona State Constitution’s “gift clause” and city procurement laws.

Scottsdale is no stranger to the 3P sales pitch. Thank goodness Glendale rather than Scottsdale is saddled with the Coyotes. But we replaced it with something only slightly less bad: ASU Foundation’s SkySong; which promises a century of taxpayer subsidy. There are many others, including the Scottsdale Cultural Council, the newly-approved Museum of the West, and the proposed Desert Discovery Center.

An article in the Republic today by Srianthi Perera starkly illustrates the problems with the whole concept of public-private partnerships: Gilbert baseball complex no home run for town. This should be mandatory reading for every elected public representative.

Big League Dreams Gilbert, an elaborate amateur-baseball complex pitched a decade ago as a financial and recreational boon for the town, cost taxpayers millions more than officials expected to spend on building it and appears to have generated little of the economic impact they predicted.

Perera goes on to describe how the 30-year agreement between the Town of Gilbert and California company Big League Dreams USA has exploded from a $22.7 million initial estimate to a $53 million projected final cost after repayment of bonds. Meanwhile, very little economic impact has resulted: BLD has taken $9.4 million in profit versus $250,570 to the Town of Gilbert.

At that rate, taxpayers won’t recoup their full investment for more than 100 years.

100 years? That’s a very familiar-sounding number!

Ironically, the home of ASU (and ASU Foundation) was the first mark for BLD, but wisely passed:

In 2003, negotiations had broken down between Big League Dreams and Tempe over a proposed stadium on the north shore of Town Lake. Staffers determined that “the repayment period on its investment would have exceeded the useful life of many components within the project” and that “it did not make financial sense,” Tempe spokeswoman Nikki Ripley said recently.

Meanwhile, from eventual victim Gilbert:

Former Vice Mayor Skousen, said “part of the dream was that they were going to create some economic growth in that area with all the people coming in.”

“I think, in hindsight,” he said, “it would appear that they knew better than we knew what to put in the small print in their contract. (With us) never having done that before, maybe they got the upper hand on that.”

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  1. It never ceases to amaze me, never does the money of such undertakings ever filter down to the citizens. First stop the promoters, then those in government with absolutely nothing left for the citizens or taxpayers.

  2. This appears to be the modus operandi of the TPC of Scottsdale.
    Fantastical benefits for the public, indirect of course, and always immeasurable.
    Tangible measurable dollars in to the pockets of the private party.
    Always quick payoffs for the private group and often guaranteed.
    Keep up the good work.

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