Numbers for new Marlins stadium don't add up

March, 24, 2009
03/24/09
2:54
PM ET
Looks like the Marlins are finally getting their new ballpark, and here's how the story is generally being spun:

"The Marlins are kicking in $155 million! And most of the public money will come from taxing tourists, so really it's the out-of-towners who will pay most of the tab! Yippee!"

You know better, right? If not, we've always got Neil deMause:

    • The county will now put in a whopping $359 million for stadium construction and roads and utilities, mostly from tourist taxes. While the Marlins argued that tourist-tax money legally can't be used for anything other than tourism projects, the way the county got these funds for the stadium in the first place was by funneling off new tax money to pay for what the tourist taxes had been previously pledged to -- meaning the cost will ultimately come out of the county's general fund.

    • The city puts up $119 million, mostly to build parking garages for the team.

    • The Marlins kick in $155 [million] in private funds, a good chunk of which will likely come from the sale of naming rights, assuming there are still any corporations left to buy naming rights in the future.

    • The team pays cost overruns on the stadium itself, taxpayers cover overruns on everything else, including the garages.

    • The team gets all revenues from the stadium itself, paying only $35 million in rent (part of its $155 million contribution). The city will receive revenue from parking at the new garages, and the Marlins have agreed to purchase some of the spots up-front for resale.

    So the public puts up almost exactly three-quarters of the cost, and the team gets virtually all of the revenues. That's not quite as bad as the Washington Nationals deal, but it's in the same, er, ballpark, especially when you consider that virtually all of the spending at the Marlins' new home will be cannibalized from existing spending elsewhere in Miami-Dade County -- unless you really believe that more people will schedule summer vacations to Florida so that they can see the Marlins play.

There has been a great deal written about the lousy economics related to stadium-building; it's almost always a losing proposition for the local citizenry according a simple cost-benefit analysis. Again and again and again, this is true. What I've never seen, though, is a study of why this happens, again and again and again. Is it because the ballpark proponents contribute money to -- i.e., bribe -- the local politicians? Is it because the politicians are driven to make their mark on things, and building a huge concrete playground for millionaires is one of the biggest marks one can make? Is it because the voters really do want to spend their tax dollars on those huge playgrounds?

I just don't know. We've got the numbers. We've had them for a long time. Yet despite the numbers, the playgrounds just keep getting built, one after another after another. So, now I'd like to see some of the psychology.

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