I’ve been writing about taxpayer-subsidized stadium boondoggles since I worked for the Seattle Times. The economic development rationale for pouring millions of tax dollars into sports palaces is bogus. These deals are brazen wealth redistribution schemes under the guise of “public interest” investment. Both Republicans and Democrats alike have supported the shakedowns. And now you can add Naked Emperor Hank Paulson’s son to the list:
ntil Merritt Paulson came along, City Commissioner Randy Leonard had never been to Manhattan. Tom Miller, chief of staff to Commissioner Sam Adams, had never been to Kansas City. And the city’s most visible business, the Portland Trail Blazers, had never been receptive to the idea of another major-league sports franchise coming to town.
It’s remarkable what one guy with a rich father and an interesting idea can accomplish.
Just 18 months ago, Paulson, 35, was a midlevel National Basketball Association executive living in New York.
Since then, he’s moved to the Portland area, bought two minor-league sports teams—baseball’s Beavers and soccer’s Timbers—and now has propelled himself into the spotlight with an audacious proposition.
Paulson wants taxpayers to spend $85 million to build a new baseball stadium for his Beavers and renovate PGE Park—just remodeled in 2001 at a cost to taxpayers of $38.5 million—for soccer. In return, he’ll spend $40 million to bring a new Major League Soccer team to this city.
“I’m willing to make a bet on the Portland market—that’s an easy bet to make,” Paulson says.
It’s also, judging from past experience, something of a longshot. Portland has historically disdained financing sports stadiums (billionaire Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen built the Rose Garden with virtually no public money).
“Portland’s an ‘if you build it they will come’ city,” says Brian Berger, a former Blazers employee who hosts the nationally syndicated show Sports Business Radio. “People here don’t want to pay for stadiums.”
Then there’s the dismal economy, which will increase the demand for public services and decrease the resources to pay for them.
And finally, voluminous research undermines the premise that pro sports drive new economic development by creating jobs, revitalizing neighborhoods and generating tourism.
“The projections underlying these deals rarely pan out,” says Chuck Sheketoff, director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy.
Like taxpayer-mooching, over-promising father, like taxpayer-mooching, over-promising son.
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