Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Long Reach Of “Booster Socialism"

Glendale, Arizona is less a community with professional sports facilities than a sports enterprise with a community held hostage to previous improvident decisions.”

That’s a great opening line by columnist George Will that has greeted readers in more than 450 publications across the nation in the last few days including the Durham Herald-Sun. Durham is similar in size to Glendale but Durham is the core city for a metropolitan area while Glendale is often dismissed as a suburb.Capture

Will’s a big sports fan, especially baseball. He’s also conservative - one of two - the other David Brooks, to which as a progressive-leaning Independent voter I try to never miss reading (I also follow a number of liberal commentators.)

He writes that Glendale, in fear of losing its NHL hockey franchise and already paying triple the rate for bonds, is attempting what Will terms “booster socialism.” They are trying to sell $116 million in bonds so it can give $100 million to a wealthy Chicago businessman to help him buy the team with the hope of repaying the bonds with parking fee rights it already owns.

The team doesn’t even reflect Glendale’s brand. Instead, the team showcases the name of nearby Phoenix, giving that community the reflected “billboard” effect without having to pay a dime of the $180 million in tax revenue required to build the hockey arena where the team plays.

While it is easy to dismiss Glendale’s dilemma, this juggling act is at play all across the country wherever communities are held hostage by not only mega-sports facilities but mega-convention centers and other facilities.

I remember being stunned as a member of an International board once when peers deep-sixed a convention expenditure study that was much more generalizable than anything done before.

The reason it was suppressed was that the expenditure estimates for conventioneers while still “huge” were not big enough to support bonds that had already been sold in some cities to fund huge convention centers. I almost threw up as the information was deep-sixed by an up or down vote, decided in the hallway, after a smidgeon of discussion.

Communities often become hostage to major sports and cultural facilities as are community/destination marketing organizations when those facilities almost always move to monopolize resources and attention intended to market the overall destination.

People may shake their heads at Glendale’s predicament but right under their noses in communities across the country, the same dynamic is at work often taking community/destination marketing organizations hostage as well.

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