Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How 'Bout Them Stadiums!

I've been college-shopping with my daughter, who is very interested in Sweet Briar, a women's college in Virginia. Sweet Briar has a well-known horseback riding program with some of the most luxurious barns I've ever seen, and so I asked the dumb question parents are supposed to ask: are students expected to bring their own horse? (Because my daughter doesn't have one.) No, I was told--and the admissions person added something I found very interesting: the college has a rule that if you do bring your horse, you are automatically disqualified from getting any kind of financial aid--the thinking being that any student who can afford to keep her own private horse on the grounds at school should be able to foot the tuition bill by herself.

At this point, I decided I really, really liked Sweet Briar.

What does this have to do with the Braves leaving Atlanta? The new stadium is going to be built in Cobb County (where a lot of Braves fans now live, according to this interesting graphic in the Washington Post), and it's going to cost $672 million. The owners--a bunch of rich guys who include billionaire Ted Turner--are putting up something like $200 million of their own money, with the rest to be paid for by--you guessed it--the taxpayers. But that's okay! Because apparently this new stadium will create so many jobs in its new location that everybody will benefit. This is the huge whopper trotted out every time some sports mogul wants to build another palace, and it's especially effective in Atlanta, a real sports town which has always been The City Too Busy to Hate Money. Of course, the vast majority of the jobs created will be low- to medium-wage service sector jobs (somebody has to serve all those tables and sweep up all those empty beer cans)--and it goes without saying that a lot of the people who really could use jobs like that will be hard-pressed to get to this new stadium, because Cobb County is not connected to Atlanta's rapid rail system, known as MARTA. Back in the 1970s, it voted not to participate in MARTA, because at the time it was a white enclave and everybody knew that MARTA stood for Moving Africans Rapidly OuT of Atlanta. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Braves fans will continue getting to the games in their cars, further clogging roads in one of the most congested regions of one of the most congested cities in America. And isn't it weird, how easy it seems to be for these guys who own sports teams to get these tax breaks--especially in a region like Atlanta, where the average teacher makes $52,000 a year? Oh well, who cares. Their kids go to private schools.

I'm not singling Atlanta out here. Washington, D.C. recently made the Washington Nationals a very sweet deal, and Prince George's County bent over--well, I started to say backward, but let's just say bent over--for Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, so he'd build his new stadium there. The results are mixed: the Nationals ballpark is a great place and the surrounding area, formerly the Land of Blight, is indeed taking off--but it's two blocks from the nearest rapid rail station. Landover Field has made Dan Snyder a whole bunch of money, but it is nowhere near mass transit, and the only economic benefit to the surrounding neighborhoods is the kind you might realize with a bucket of soapy water and a squeegee. Wash your windshield, sir?

Two thoughts here. One: sports palaces without access to mass transit equal big money for fat cats and a rip off for the taxpayer. Two: taxpayers should demand that their government leaders adopt the Sweet Briar Rule: if you are rich enough to own a sports team, you are rich enough to pay for your own damn stadium.

CORRECTION: Ted Turner no longer owns any part of the Atlanta Braves. Today they are owned by Liberty Media, whose majority owner is some guy named John C. Malone.

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