For $238 million, the city could have bought herself a nice swath of quality affordable housing; small business grants to local entrepreneurs; or Kawasaki jet skis for every man, woman and child in the metropolitan statistical area. Hell, for over a quarter of a billion dollars, you could have a Kentuckiana stimulus package that could work just as good as the federal one that everybody believed false things about.
But no, we’re different. And so $238 million later, this fair city has nearly constructed a playground for an overpaid adulterer and the hapless kids who take his orders, all in the name of “economic development,” low-wage job creation and the almighty spectacle of watching sweaty men compete to lob balls into a hole. Let’s hear it for Possibility City!
After inviting the local media to take a tour of the arena — which resembles an aircraft hanger for basketball players and the 20″-wide asses of the fans who adore them — the Arena Authority was no doubt pleased that the story the hundred or so scribblers and photographers wound up telling ad nauseum was one of progress, glitz, hot b-ball action and/or the downtown that will be once the Yum Center opens.
What they forgot to tell you? For starters, Kentucky taxpayers will be the ones footing the bill for this unnecessary largesse. Via the wizardry of tax increment financing, the KFC Yum! Center will be bought and paid for with the ever-shrinking pool of our collective pre-tax gross income over the next bajillion (or so) years. As a result, Rick Pitino can feel more important while students at the University of Louisville are stuck with ever-higher tuition and fees.
Secondly, they didn’t tell you this because our community is one of many that operates under the illogic of allowing athletics programs (collegiate and/or professional) dictate our urban policy and supplant anything that resembles a legitimate strategy for lasting job creation.
But don’t take my word for it. Try The Nation’s Sports Editor, Dave Zirin:
The counterargument is that college athletic departments fund themselves and actually put money back into a school’s general fund. This is simply not true. The October Knight Commission report of college presidents stated that the 25 top football schools had revenues on average of $3.9 million in 2008. The other 94 ran deficits averaging $9.9 million. When athletic departments run deficits, it’s not like the football coach takes a pay cut. In other words, if the team is doing well, the entire school benefits. If the football team suffers, the entire school suffers. This, to put it mildly, is financial lunacy. A school would statistically be better off if it took its endowment to Vegas and just bet it all on black.
In truth, they are the result of a comprehensive attack on public education that has seen the system starved. One way this has been implemented is through stadium construction, the grand substitute for anything resembling an urban policy in this country. Over the last generation, we’ve seen $30 billion in public funds spent on stadiums. They were presented as photogenic solutions to deindustrialization, declining tax bases, and suburban flight. The results are now in and they don’t look good for the home teams. University of Maryland sports economists Dennis Coates and University of Alberta Brad R. Humphreys studied stadium funding over 30 years and failed to find one solitary example of a sports franchise lifting or even stabilizing a local economy. They concluded the opposite: “a reduction in real per capita income over the entire metropolitan area….Our conclusion, and that of nearly all academic economists studying this issue, is that professional sports generally have little, if any, positive effect on a city’s economy.” These projects achieve so little because the jobs created are low wage, service sector, seasonal employment. Instead of being solutions of urban decay, the stadiums have been tools of organized theft: sporting shock doctrines for our ailing cities.
But no matter: Let’s look at what you’ll be paying for, Louisville!
- 22,090 seats for basketball! Less so for other events, like hockey or bear wrestling!
- 71 suites, plus four party suites and 62 “Premium” boxes!
- Six bars/lounges, including the 8,500 sq. ft. Woodford Reserve Club!
- A glass mural that Authority Chairman Jim Host dubbed “the most spectacular thing you will ever see!”
- A Norton-sponsored immediate care facility, which requires insurance you probably don’t have!
- A 760-car underground garage!
- An unmistakable and crippling sense of fiscal ennui!
- A once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch The Fuckin’ Eagles, man!