Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Please, Not Another Boondogle

The Houston Dynamo won the MLS Cup last week. For those of you who don't follow minor professional sports in the United States, that means that the Houston professional soccer franchise won the championship of the league in which they play. I am a homer, and I want Houston sports teams to do well; but I can't honestly say that I am happy by this development. It's not because I have any particular animosity towards MLS in general or the Dynamo specifically but rather because their victory makes it more likely that they will get an extraordinarily costly new stadium in downtown Houston at least partially at taxpayer expense. Sure enough, just like clockwork, the Houston Chronicle reports that negotiations for a new stadium are coming close to fruition:
The Houston Dynamo, fresh off the team's second straight championship, could have a private-public deal to build a stadium in place within weeks, city and team officials said Monday.

"I'm hopeful we can put a good deal together," said Andy Icken, the city's deputy director of public works, who is heading negotiations for the city. "If we're going to be successful, we'll be successful in the next two weeks."

Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Dynamo, is laying plans to build a 22,000-seat, open-air stadium at a cost of $70 million to $80 million...

Some members of the team, which won its second straight Major League Soccer championship Sunday by defeating the New England Revolution, said they are wondering why it is taking so long to secure a stadium deal.

"Mayor White, listen up: This team deserves it (a stadium)," Dynamo defender Craig Waibel said...

Nearly two years ago, AEG moved its franchise to Houston after failing to put together a stadium deal to its liking in San Jose, Calif. The mammoth entertainment company renamed the team the Dynamo, and executives promised to get a stadium built in its new home.

Oliver Luck, Dynamo president and general manager, said the team has presented a good proposal to the city and is waiting for a response. "We're close to a deal. It's really up to the mayor," Luck said.

White is seeking a deal that would not require the city to contribute public money. While AEG's proposal calls for the company to bear most of the construction costs, it still would require the city to provide millions of dollars in needed infrastructure improvements, city and team officials said. ("Dynamo stadium deal may only be weeks away" by Bill Murphy and Bernardo Fallas)

Well, I guess that I can be thankful that Mayor White is opposed to the contribution of public money to the project (although I'm not sure how that is compatible with the city ponying up millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements around the new stadium). Still, I don't like the idea of the city being involved in this at all. I complained about the prospect of this stadium in May when a Houston Chronicle columnist opined that the only reason that anyone could possibly oppose a taxpayer-funded stadium for the Dynamo was racism, and I still believe what I wrote then. The Houston Dynamo are a private enterprise just like any other. Why should they not have to build their place of business at their own expense. Building sports stadia at public expense, even partially at public expense, is bad public policy because it does nothing but transfer taxpayers' money into the pockets of the owners of the Houston Dynamo for the viewing pleasure of the few thousand fans who attend Dynamo games.

And no, Craig Waibel, Houston doesn't owe your team a stadium. Providing handouts to owners of sports franchises isn't among the city government's legitimate responsibilities. Houston didn't owe a stadium to the Astros, and the Astros mean more to Houston than your two-bit third-rate team ever could.

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