St. Louis Sports Online

Eric Niederhoffer 

St. Louis SportsOnline

columnist & principal photographer

Springtime for the Cardinals? 12 April 2003

April showers bring May flowers.

A popular line learned by many prior to grade school. With a little work and some help from nature, our efforts will be rewarded.

My wife and I constructed a garden so that we could enjoy fresh flowers during the year.

The St. Louis Cardinals are trying to construct a new baseball stadium so that they can provide entertainment for the general public and a profit for themselves.

Our garden was a success.

Will the Cardinals efforts to build a new stadium in downtown St. Louis be soon realized?

The garden story.

Early last year, sometime in March or April, I built a small raised garden spot for my wife. It consisted of a simple rectangular box, which was seated above and contained freshly prepared soil. She was delighted with the freshly stained wood box that contained at least a half-dozen bags of dirt, mulch and other good stuff that we figured would provide the best opportunity to grow some flowers.

My wife set out to use the garden to plant a combination of flowers and grown cover. We watched as the garden began attracting worms (a good sign) and much rain water. A few weeks later, the plants showed encouraging signs of taking to this soil. This contrasted dramatically with our previous attempts to grow in the clay-rich soil. The net result was an active and attractive flower garden that lasted through a good portion of the winter and is now ready for a new round with some fresh recruits from the local nurseries.

The Cardinals story.

In April 2000, the Cardinals organization sowed Ball Park Village as part of a new baseball stadium plan for downtown St. Louis. There was a lot of bargaining between the Cardinals organization, the City of St. Louis, the County of St. Louis, and the State of Missouri over the past few years. Coupled to the fiscal crises, the net result was not promising but the Cardinals appeared to hold plenty of chips. As interest rates decreased, there was much hope that cash-heavy investors could be targeted as potential landlords.

Is the lack of local talk in 2003 a sign that the anticipated financial environment has not quite matured. That's a few April showers-May flowers cycles. On February 25 of this year, Bill DeWitt, Jr. commented on KMOX that the project was on track and financial backing was still in the works.

Baseball 2003 has started and our beloved Cardinals have started the season 3-0 and are now 4-5 at this writing, after a short losing streak. I wonder how many people in the stands are thinking about the new stadium? I wonder how many people are thinking about the hot and humid weather inching its way forward?

Another voice on pro sports.

In the May 2003 issue of The Atlantic Monthly I found a summary of an article written by Tim Chapin (Identifying the real costs and benefits of sports facilities, this is a pdf file of a paper published in 2002).

Chapin is an assistant professor at Florida State University in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning. He has taken a different approach to public financing of professional sports.

From the abstract of his paper,

"While public spending of sports facilities has been staggering, this economic development strategy is rife with inadequate information on major issues relating to these projects. Decision makers often have a limited understanding of the real costs and benefits of sports facilities. This incomplete understanding often leads to unforeseen public expenditures at levels far above those originally budgeted for a project. Unlike most of the literature on sports facilities, this paper does not begin with the premise that sports facilities are poor investments, nor does it espouse the view that these investments provide benefits that far outweigh project costs. Instead, this paper assumes that decision makers require a baseline of information available to them when considering this approach to economic development. This baseline of information includes 1) a broad understanding of existing literature on sports facilities and economic development and 2) an awareness of the full range of costs and benefits of these projects."

Chapin has researched both the more tangible economic costs and benefits and the less obvious costs and benefits that only public policy debate can provide an answer to the ever growing call for public financing.

There are five conclusions from Chapin's research:

"1. A pro-facility argument that rests solely on the magnitude of the economic benefits conferred by a new facility is unsustainable."

"2. ... a sports facility must be assessed on both its noneconomic and economic merits."

"3. Traditional project impact assessments tend to focus on the direct economic costs and the direct economic benefits of sports facilities."

"4. Traditional project impact assessments only broadly incorporate noneconomic benefits while generally ignoring noneconomic costs."

"5. Noneconomic costs and benefits are conceptually well-understood, but the value of these impacts remain unknown."

In his concluding remarks, Chapin states what one might characterize as obvious. But his analysis seems on the mark.

"The debate over the prudence of public investment into sports facilities will almost certainly continue in the coming decades. Only when noneconomic impacts are as comprehensively investigated and as well understood as economic impacts can an accurate answer to the question "Are sports facilities worth it?" be supplied to decision makers. For now, then, the best approach public officials can take is to 1) acquire a broad understanding of the research into the impacts of sports facilities and 2) recognize the full range of costs and benefits that flow from these projects."

Someone has to make the decision.

When will it rain?


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