From New Jersey to Ohio to Arizona, the stadiums were sold as a key to redevelopment and as the only way to retain sports franchises. But the deals that were used to persuade taxpayers to finance their construction have in many cases backfired, the result of overly optimistic revenue assumptions and the recession.They could have added Nashville to the list of sports-rich, service-suffering cities.
Nowhere is the problem more acute than in Cincinnati. In 1996, voters in Hamilton County approved an increase of half of one percent in the sales tax that promised to build and maintain stadiums for the Bengals and the Reds, pay Cincinnati’s public schools and give homeowners an annual property tax rebate. The stadiums were supposed to spur development of the city’s dilapidated riverfront.
But sales tax receipts have fallen so fast in the last year that the county is now scrambling to bridge a $14 million deficit in its sales tax fund. The public schools, which deferred taking their share for years, want their money.
The teams have not volunteered to rewrite their leases. So in the coming weeks, the county plans to cut basic services, lower its legal bills and drain a bond reserve fund with no plan for paying it back.
“Anyone looking at this objectively knows it’s a train wreck,” said Dusty Rhodes, the county auditor. “I told them they were making a big mistake, but they didn’t want to hear me.”
Assuming they stay that long, the Tennessee Titans will be sponging off Metro Water Services revenues for the next 2 decades. Meanwhile, our stormwater infrastructure crumbles and the Mayor authorized a regressive stormwater pay structure, which hits the middle class and working classes harder, to curb the crumbling. Mayor Dean makes lists of Tennessee power brokers partly because he cuts millions from local services, even after writing a new sweetheart deal to woo the pro hockey team to stay.
And, by the way, the same promises that Cincinnati revenuers made about tax increases paying for everything at little risk to taxpayers are the kind of things we're hearing from convention center supporters. They promise to take care of every Nashville need up to tucking our kids in and keeping vigil over them every night. If it all sounds too good to be true, it generally is. Every single potential private investor is sitting our dance with the Music City Center out. In the case of the convention center, we're a dip in tourist demand or taxes away from our own train wreck.