Ever since Real Salt Lake dropped into town, the problem of how to pay for the team's stadium has proved tougher than a corner kick. Tougher than squeezing a goal out of Ree-AL. Tougher, even, than waiting for Real to win a few games.
After considerable haggling, legislators took several shots (continuing the soccer metaphor) before they found the goal. Their solution:
Stick it to our visitors. Again.
Legislators produced a plan that extends by 10 years an existing tax for Salt Lake County hotel rooms (originally designed to fund the Salt Palace and Expo Center). The Legislature is telling Salt Lake County to use the first $45 million of that tax for the stadium, or else.
$45 million is what Real asked for.
$45 million is what Real gets.
Memo to Real: Anything else?
If you listen to lawmakers, now everybody is supposed to feel better. Hey, it's not our money!
But actually it is. It's money that could have been used for things that would have benefited Utahns more directly and intelligently, rather than helping a rich owner get richer. It's money that visitors or hoteliers could have kept, or a tax that could have been eliminated. Instead, visitors are being forced to pay for a soccer team they'll never see. It's like inviting a stranger to your house and asking him for a few bucks to buy a big-screen TV for some wealthy neighbors.
Meanwhile, legislators have been racking their brains trying to come up with ways to cut taxes. Heeellllooo!
How would you like to be Jim McNeil, president of United Concerts, which runs USANA Amphitheater. He noted that the tax subsidizes a stadium that will compete with his amphitheater. Every time he books a band into a local hotel, it helps fund the competition.
If the whole notion of building stadiums for the rich owners of pro sports teams doesn't make sense to you, raise your hand. As if on cue, team officials and legislators repeat the tired lines about "economic growth" blah, blah, blah, "more jobs," blah, blah, blah "urban development."
It's an urban myth and the biggest nonsense ever dropped on the American public. There is no proof that public funding of sports stadiums reaps any such benefits.
Utah taxpayers have been down this road before. They paid $18 million to fund Franklin Covey Field, some $20 million to fund part of the Delta Center, and hundreds of millions of dollars for the 2002 Winter Games. Is anybody better off economically because of it, besides possibly those who got low-paying jobs selling tickets and hot dogs?
Since World War II, more than 140 sports facilities reportedly have been built or refurbished in this country, with only 14 not using taxpayer dollars. It has added up to billions of taxpayer dollars. And yet, there is plenty of research that suggests that stadiums do none of the things they promise. The only thing they do for sure is make the owner richer.
Here's a novel idea: Why not make the owner of the team come up with the money, just as every other business owner does? Or: Instead of funding the team, why not finance it, with interest?
Real — owned by Dave Checketts — told the state essentially this: Deliver the money or we're out of here. Legislators rolled over for them. Nobody seems to have noticed that four pro soccer leagues have come and gone. Or that basketball games at the University of Utah and Brigham Young University, once packed for every game, are poorly attended, even when they play each other. Or that attendance has lagged at Jazz games.
All we're hearing are the same tired old lines, blah, blah, blah.
Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesdays. Please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.