Part One of Two: State paid for 56 stadiums since 1999
Whether professional sports corporations could survive without subsidies for their playing fields, courts, rinks and diamonds is a legitimate question for the taxpayers providing those subsidies
Between 1999 and 2009, state taxpayers in Pennsylvania coughed up more than $500 million for sports performance arenas, while county and municipal taxpayers – who also pay the state taxes – were saddled with a similar amount for those facilities in their regions.
More than $1 billion in taxes went into the stadiums, arenas and other facilities built in Pennsylvania during the administrations of Governors Tom Ridge (R) and Ed Rendell (D). But taxpayers will actually pay more because much of the tax financing for both professional sports teams and community facilities came in the form of bond issues of between 20 and 30 years in duration.
A bond issue, like a home mortgage, is spread out over two or three decades and the homebuyer, in this case the taxpayer, winds up paying back 2.5 to three times the amount of money originally borrowed.
Taxpayers may eventually pay as much as $1.5 billion for the existing plethora of athletic fields.
Since March of 1999, the state has released 56 separate payments around the commonwealth for stadiums and athletic facilities, totaling $504.1 million. Some of the payments have been for local high school stadiums and fields. Those payments are over and above funding provided through local school property taxes.
Of the 56 payments, 32 of them went to major league professional sports franchises or minor league affiliates.
The most prestigious of the facilities are those that house the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League and the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball.
The Steelers play at Heinz Field, which opened in 2001 at a cost of $357 million, with the Steelers putting up $76 million and taxpayers put on the hook for $281 million. PNC Park also opened in 2001 for the Pirates at a cost of $262 million with state taxpayers picking up $75 million, regional taxpayers $137 million and the Pirates $50 million. The Pirates’ share was partially paid by the $30 million PNC Bank gave them for naming rights to the predominantly publicly financed stadium.
H.J. Heinz paid the Steelers $57 million for 20 year naming rights to the football stadium, significantly defraying the Steelers’ costs, but not the taxpayers’ debt.
Ironically, before any public funding was committed, voters in Allegheny and surrounding counties voted more than two to one against the new sports facilities.
In Philadelphia, Lincoln Financial Field opened in 2003 and serves as home to the NFL’s Eagles, Temple University football and a venue for concerts. It cost $512 million to erect, with private financing accounting for half of the cost and public sources providing $256 million. Lincoln Financial paid $140 million for the naming rights for the field, commonly called “The Link,” for 21 years, cutting the Eagles’ initial costs by more than half.
Across Pattison Avenue is the six-year-old Citizens Bank Park, which houses the Philadelphia Phillies and some entertainment events. It cost $458 million to build, with taxpayers and private investors splitting the billed costs 50-50 or about $229 million on each side. The state put up $85 million in tax dollars for each field, along with a $10 million taxpayer “supplement” for parking facilities.
Despite the taxpayer investment, parking in the Phillies’ lot is currently $15 per game; up from $10 last year.
The Delaware River Port Authority kicked in $4.5 million from bridge tolls and PATCO High Speed Line fares for the Eagles practice facility, located near the other two stadiums in south Philadelphia.
More recently, state taxpayers, via the General Assembly and Mr. Rendell, put in $34.5 million for a new professional soccer stadium in Chester, Delaware County.
The team is known as the Philadelphia Union, akin to the New York Giants pro football team playing in New Jersey, and the new soccer stadium is located in the district of state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware).
Bankrupt Baseball Town
In Harrisburg, the virtually bankrupt capital city of Pennsylvania, $17.5 million in state tax dollars were spent for improvements to a minor league baseball park on City Island last year.
The stadium houses the Class AA minor league affiliate of the Washington Nationals. The city actually owns the professional franchise, known as the Harrisburg Senators.
Pro Hockey, Too
In Hershey, taxpayers put up $25 million for the Giant Center arena that houses the Hershey Bears, reigning champions of the American Hockey League.
The stadium largesse of taxpayers seems virtually unlimited and hits all areas of the state – Lancaster, Beaver Falls, York, Johnstown, Altoona, Washington – making it appear taxpayers without at least a major stadium renovation in the last decade have been shortchanged.
And it’s not over.
Mr. Rendell has offered $20 million in tax dollars to help build a new minor league stadium for the New York Yankees in Moosic, near Scranton, if the county commissioners of Lackawanna and Luzerne counties can come up with a way to raise a matching $20 million, and stop their intramural squabbling.
Coming Monday – PART II: Who Benefits When Taxpayers Build Pro Stadiums?