Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sports stadiums: if you build it, will they come?

For you football fans out there, here is a Sunday post about the recurring issue in many cities about building a new sports stadium, either for the local team or to attract a new team to town.  There are a lot of land use issues bound up in these controversies.  Cities like to have sports teams, not just for the city's sports fans, but also very much for the broader but nebulous civic sense that the city is a "major-league" town or that it has "arrived."  Claims are made about the economic development that must surely result from the construction of fancy new digs for the team.  Transit and traffic issues are involved.  Location: should the stadium be in the suburbs, or downtown?  What will be the impact on neighborhoods?  On property values and taxes?  On the environment?  Of course, the gorilla in the room is the question of who pays--the team or the taxpayer?  People don't want to lose their team, but neither do they want to be held "hostage" by the wealthy owners' demands.  Then there is the problem of land assembly.  How much eminent domain will be needed?

My sense is that over the last few years the public has become much less receptive to the notion of public financing for sports stadium (stadia?).  Yet the issue comes back repeatedly when a team makes noises about "needing" an upgraded venue. 

The nation's second-largest city (and media market) remains without a professional football franchise, but that isn't stopping Los Angeles from trying to lure one back.  From a recent article about LA's latest new-stadium proposal:

LOS ANGELES — Nearly 15 years after the Los Angeles area’s two professional football teams left for other cities, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill to clear the way for a new stadium seen as pivotal to drawing a team to the region. . . .

But the latest effort, to build a 75,000-seat, $800 million “green” stadium in City of Industry, a warehouse and shopping district 15 miles east of downtown, is considered one of the more viable to come along in a long time.

No taxpayer money would be used to finance it, a condition that has helped squelch other plans; the developer, the Majestic Realty Company, said it would seek private investors.

Here is a website about the proposal: losangelesfootballstadium.com.  Lots of design info and pictures.  I think it's particularly interesting in that I don't recall any previous proposals for a "green" stadium.  It's good that the proposal purports to eschew direct public financing; the state is mired in fiscal crisis, and LA is still paying for Jacko's memorial at the Staples Center.  But what will the indirect public costs be?  Will they be outweighed by the always-promised economic development?

Relatedly, in the other kind of football, soccer ("metric football"?), Houston wants to build a soccer-specific stadium for the Major League Soccer franchise Houston Dynamo.  The stadium is proposed for an area on the edge of downtown and on a proposed light rail line.  There was a little bit of debate over the proposed use of tax increment financing for certain aspects of the project.  [We call Houston the Unzoned City but there are some significant uses of Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones or "TIRZ"].  As far as the public "sales pitch" for the soccer stadium, Houston already has the team, but it would like to play host to potential U.S. World Cup games, thereby proving that the city has "arrived." 

There are also the peripheral legal issues around stadiums, such as regulating the "pedicabs" that operate to bring people to and from the game from distant parking.  (Here's what they look like.)  UPDATE: here's a USA Today article on the growing use of and legal issues about pedicabs. 

And of course, don't forget the simmering controversy over the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project, which combines a Kelo-style master redevelopment plan (and heartburn over eminent domain) with all of these issues about public involvement with bringing a new sports team (the NBA Nets franchise) to town, and the litigation in Goldstein v. New York State Urban Redevelopment Corporation

Brian Yates has an article on the subject called "Whether Building a New Sports Arena will Revitalize Downtown and Make the Team a Winner," Vol. 17 U. Miami Business Law Review p. 269 (2009).  So if you're headed out to the stadium today, enjoy the game, and think about all of the land use issues involved!  Thanks to Ryan Palmquist, Paul Farnum, Alan Saweris, and William Powell for links.

Matt Festa

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/land_use/2009/11/sports-stadiums-if-you-build-it-will-they-come.html

Architecture, Development, Downtown, Eminent Domain, Environmental Law, Green Building, Houston, Local Government, Real Estate Transactions, Zoning | Permalink

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