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Should public money pay for a new Vikings stadium? (Wrap-up of 5/16-5/20 online debate)

Posted at 9:00 AM on May 20, 2011 by Michael Caputo

Well, the Insight Now debate on public financing of a Vikings stadium mirrored in some ways the disdain that polls show for tax support of sports facilities.

The debate also revealed an unspoken factor in the stadium question, call it the "civic pride" factor, which emerged in the discussion between our two economists (Dennis Coates, economics professor specializing in the business of sports, and Edward Coulson, a planning and housing economics professor who studies stadium development). We also saw a few other lesser known points emerge.

We have a short wrap up for you... but if you prefer to see the "debate in full" just click here.

Whither, the pride argument?

There was no shock that many of the comments in our debate thread showed a dislike for public financing of sports facilities. (Click here for a reminder of the Arden Hills stadium proposal and its public spending and taxing component)

And yet, these facilities still get built ... and usually with public dollars involved. Just look at Target Field and the Xcel Energy Center.


Perhaps the answer has nothing to do with the economic reasons given by Ramsey County commissioners for a new Vikings stadium at Arden Hills. (Click here to read University of Maryland economist Dennis Coates's critique of Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett's economic support. Then check out another breakdown of the county job-creation defense).

Instead it might have everything to do with civic pride. As debate participant Dean Seal put it, a "well rounded metropolis" needs communal gathering spots like a stadium. Even those opposed government financing in general hold their nose when the money is applied to a stadium. The loss of the team would be a psychic blow to the community.

Penn State economist Edward Coulson talked over and over about the civic pride dimension. Coulson wrote:

" An old-growth forest might be worth preserving, or it might not, but the basis for using state revenues to do so probably shouldn't rest on how many jobs its preservation creates. One may object to the comparison of environmental treasures to professional sports in the Twin Cities but the arguments are really quite similar. In both cases, a wide swath of the population gets a psychic boost from its existence, but no one can make them pay for the mere psychic boost. That, in essence, is what it means to be a public good. So the government typically has to play some role in keeping it in place."

Even that "psychic boost" has a residual economic benefit by raising property values (a function of people seeing a community as more desireable to live in, of course). Not everyone, bought that argument.

Would absence make the heart grow fonder?

Coulson gave us another statistic that showed just how much communities might feel the loss of a major league sports team, or at least an NFL football team.

Five of the six cities that last lost an NFL franchise spent more in public financing to get a replacement team.

Los Angeles, the only one that hasn't, would dearly love to replace the departed Rams. That fact has become a big bargaining chip for the owners of the Minnesota Vikings who have cast an eye westward.

Redevelopment is a mixed bag

Vikings ownership desires Arden Hills because of the ability to develop around the stadium. Zigi Wilf, a developer by trade, could have shops, restaurants and attractions like a Vikings Hall of Fame museum as part of the complex.

But is this ancillary development really worth as much as advertised? Coates wrote:

"Modern stadiums and arenas have a wide range of amenities within their gates ...(t)hat limits the spending fans are likely to do in the local neighborhood, possibly harming businesses outside the gates. (And) even where this redevelopment occurs, it is largely at the expense of the rest of the metropolitan area."

However, there were those in our online debate, such as Patrick Wiggin who lives close to the Arden Hills site, who saw the stadium as a way to clean up the old Army Ammunitions Plant, a Superfund site.

Riordan Frost, who studies transporation issues for Minnesota 2020, highlighted his concern about the cost of road infrastructure. Frost wrote that the transportation costs for this one project would eat up about a quarter of the amount Gov. Mark Dayton has set aside for new transportation maintenance.

He also worried that not using the transit and existing roads at the Metrodome site would be a mistake.

Now you've got a taste of the debate that happened. What would you add?

THE DEBATE IN FULL - The Assertion: Public financing of sports stadiums in Minnesota should end.

Monday: Opening Statements

Tuesday: Rebuttals

Wednesday: Rebuttals

Thursday: Closing Statements

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