New ballparks never about the public good

April, 6, 2009
ShysterBall, touching on an article about the first five years of Petco Park:

    More subjectively speaking, I have a brother who has lived in San Diego for about 12 years, and his impression is that, on balance, Petco has been a positive for both the city and the Padres. It's very nice and the area in which it sits has been transformed.

    Which isn't to say that Petco's example has caused me to rethink my strong opposition to public stadium projects. It may be among the best of these sorts of projects, but (a) I've seen no evidence that Moores and the Padres wouldn't have or couldn't have done this without so much public money if the city said no (and given the dearth of other viable locations for the team, exactly what kind of leverage did they have to begin with?); and (b) I've seen no evidence that, even if a large public component was inevitable, San Diego got the best deal it could. As one critic of Petco in the article says after noting that the city pays part of the park's operating expenses, "what possible rationale is there for ballpark's operating costs to be paid by the city? The Padres are a business, and a business pays for its operating costs."

    Which is another way of saying that, no matter how nice these parks are from a baseball and aesthetic and municipal development point of view, it doesn't mean that they represent anything close to good government, and that's my ultimate problem with them.

Craig is right: They most assuredly are not good government. Which is my ultimate problem, too. The ballparks usually are strong-armed through the system by well-heeled power brokers with the enthusiastic assistance of corrupt politicians.

But there's another issue here, too. I don't doubt that the area around Petco has been transformed … but that's what every team and mayor claims for every neighborhood around one of the new mallparks, and those claims are always overblown and sometimes flat untrue. What's more, nobody wants to grapple with the question of opportunity costs. Sure, the money spent on Petco probably contributed to improving the surrounding area … but was that the best way to spend that money? Probably not. Tossing a few hundred million dollars toward millionaires and billionaires usually isn't the A-No. 1 best way to promote the public good. Just as, you know, a general guideline.



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