Update: Regalado clarifies that it's his "hope" that the new stadium could bring new economic life to the area, but not a promise he'll be making to residents before a vote on the project. His full comments are at the end of this post.
If there's one place in America where the "build a stadium and the money will come" lie shouldn't fly, it's Miami. We've already suffered third-degree burns from that tall tale. It's exactly what politicians promised would happen in Little Havana as they crafted the worst deal in history to build Marlins Park. And four years later, zero new business has arrived.
So why in the name of Miguel Cabrera is Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado trotting that falsehood out yet again? Speaking to the school board yesterday about David Beckham's latest plans to build a new soccer stadium next door, Regalado said the new park would bring a "renaissance" to Little Havana.
No. No, it won't. Stop making this argument. There are plenty of good reasons to support Beckham's plans, which — at this stage at least — are light years better for taxpayers than the Marlins fiasco. But revitalizing Little Havana isn't one of them.
"The next stadium that has a significant impact on revitalizing a neighborhood will be the first one," says Neil deMause, author of Field of Schemes, a book about how stadium deals cheat taxpayers. "And that goes doubly so for soccer stadiums, which are dark 9 days out of 10."
Study after study has confirmed deMause's take on the impact of new stadiums on neighborhoods. One of the most recent came two years ago in Milwaukee, where debate raged about whether to gift the Bucks with a new publicly financed stadium. The city's Legislative Reference Bureau took a look at the science and came to the only conclusion serious people can draw: There's zero evidence that new stadiums positively impact a local economy.
Economists like Andrew Zimbalist have contributed compelling research that, in fact, stadiums might hurt smaller businesses in neighborhoods, because fans with finite entertainment dollars to spend pour that cash into tickets and concessions at the new ballpark instead of the corner bar or restaurant. Even worse, the money they spend on live sports doesn't really stay in town; most goes to out-of-town owners — ahem, David Beckham, ahem — and athletes.
Tomas Regalado seemed to understand this. He was elected, in part, because he opposed the putrid Marlins Park deal. And just this summer, he told the Herald he'd learned his lesson about promising economic dividends from stadium projects. “I don’t think we should promise economic development for the area if the soccer stadium is built,” Regalado said in August. “I don’t think that should be the sales pitch because it’s not a reality.”
So what gives? Was he misquoted? Drunk, perhaps? Regalado's spokesperson hasn't responded to requests to clarify his comments to the school board.
Let's hope it's not a hint of Beckham's plans on how to sell his stadium to voters — especially because his deal, as it currently stands, doesn't look terrible for taxpayers. The city and county would give Becks and his partners permission to build their park on their land, and Beckham's group would pay for all construction costs.
The county would then transfer ownership of the land to the school board, which would have some sort of partnership to use the facility, possibly for high school games and big events. That piece alone could save the school board around $1 million a year in rental fees, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the board yesterday. Beckham would also pay about $800,000 a year in usage fees to the county.
The catch, of course, is that Beckham would get out of paying property taxes under the deal. How much would that take out of the county's coffers? There's no exact estimate yet, county spokesperson Michael Hernandez tells New Times. But the Marlins parking garages cost about $2 million annually in county taxes; Beckham's adjacent land looks to be about two or three times bigger, so it's probably a fair guess he'd be saving upwards of $6 million a year.
That's not insignificant, and there's a fair argument to be had over whether the benefits outweigh that cost.
But let's be dead clear about the benefits. Because they most certainly won't include a "renaissance" for the community around the ballpark.
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Update: Regalado tells New Times that while he does have "hope" that Beckham's project will inject economic life into the area near the stadium, he won't be making promises of new business in the area.
"What I told the school board is that I hope it brings a renaissance because the other stadium didn't bring it," Regalado says.
Why would this stadium be different than Marlins Park? Regalado says the various Miami Dade Public Schools events held at the park could drive money in a way that sports do not. "There would not only be games, but graduations held there. When you have graduations, people usually go and they take the family and go to a restaurant and a cafeteria and hang around afterward," he says.
As he said in August, Regalado says he won't be campaigning on the idea of more business coming to Little Havana. "I will not campaign on this stadium bringing a big change to the neighborhood because we aren't sure that it will do that," he says.