Sports and the city has been a prevalent topic in the Shaping our Towns & Cities discussions. We’ve talked a lot about how sports, and local sports teams, can provide an important expression of community identity and a way to bolster civic pride. This can have spill-over effects in the ways that cities and towns take shape as meaningful spaces–or as spaces that convey meaning for the lives of the residents. Along these lines the question has come up about what buildings in the cities and towns of today play the role of the cathedrals of the past–buildings that draw the community together and point to a meaning beyond the mundane routine. Are sports stadiums and arenas the cathedrals of our contemporary cities?
Another aspect of this is the economic dimension, especially when you think of the massive public investment in professional sports arenas. Sally Jenkins at the Washington Post had a great article on this after this year’s Super Bowl, “After a bloated Super Bowl in Dallas, it’s time to rein in the big game.” She talks about the exorbitant prices for tickets, parking, and concessions at Cowboys Stadium–as well as the irony of taxpayers financing a quarter of the construction costs of a stadium whose “innermost marble interiors are totally inaccessible to the average fan.” Of course, it’s not just the Cowboys in Texas. Across the US cities and states have been pouring public dollars into sports stadiums and arenas. Now as communities face deficits and cuts in public education and infrastructure, the question of their investment in our cathedrals of sports looms larger. Jenkins concludes:
But in the end, this Super Bowl taught me a lesson: Luxury can actually be debasing. The last great building binge in the NFL was from 1995 through 2003, when 21 stadiums were built or refurbished in order to create more luxury boxes, at cost of $6.4 billion. Know how much of that the public paid for? $4.4 billion. Why are we giving 32 rich guys that kind of money, just to prey on us at the box office and concessions? The Dallas deal should be the last of its kind.
When an owner grows tired of a facility and leaves, guess who picks up the tab? New Jersey still owes $110 million on the old Meadowlands home of the New York Giants and Jets, and when both teams moved to their new $1.6 billion, privately financed stadium, they got a huge tax break. According to the Wall Street Journal under their old agreement they paid $20 million a year in tax revenues; now they will pay only about $6 million a year. Know what New Jersey’s deficit is? I’ll tell you: $36 billion.