An Interview With Field of Schemes Author Neil deMause Regarding The SODO Arena; Part 3

This is the third installment of my interview with Field of Schemes author Neil deMause. Check out Part One and Part Two.

NVR: The Key’s issue is it has one loading bay door and that’s down a quick narrow hill; according to these designs for the SODO Arena show a two to four semi-truck loading bay (slides 44-46). So, that makes it a lot easier for concert shows to get there sets in and out quickly in the Arena; that is really difficult at the Key because of it’s loading bays. As for the financing of the proposed arena, it sounds like you feel that the City could have gotten more out of Hansen; but are generally okay with the deal that the City did sign because the risk is mainly focused on Hansen not the City itself. So that bags the next question; How does this deal compare to some of the other deals in the Seattle area (the Key Arena, Comcast Arena at Everett Event Center, and the Showare Center)?

NDM: Couldn’t tell you, as I don’t follow non-major-league-sports deals that closely. (There are only so many hours in the day.) The Key Arena renocation deal in 1995 was sort of similar to the Hansen plan in that the city put up some money, not a ton, and “repaid” it via kickbacks of its own tax revenues. Hard to compare the two as they were for different purposes, and of course Hansen would be committing for the long term while the Key reno only bought 13 more years of the Sonics, but they’re both solidly in the ballpark of “meh.”

You didn’t ask about CenturyLink and Safeco. I assume because you knew what the answer would be there…

NVR: I have a feeling you aren’t the biggest fan of the deals that built Century Link and Safeco Field (which are paid off); as for Comcast and Showare the Cities really wanted to revitalize their downtown areas and create a lot of jobs. Everett put the shovels in the ground for Comcast and started building before the Silvertips were even a franchise; Kent wanted to build a building for the same reason as Everett, but they weren’t going to get an expansion franchise anytime soon, so they threw themselves at the Thunderbirds to get the building done soon.

Kent’s downtown has started to improve greatly as businesses are investing into the area around the Showare Center. Everett’s run into trouble because the County has put up a lot of roadblocks (the Event Center is located right next to the County jail).

Since we were talking about Safeco Field and Century Link, the tax used to pay Safeco (and part of Century Link) off was allowed to expire in October, 2011. The reason being? Safeco is paid off, boom.

NDM: “Paid off” is irrelevant — it’s like saying you got a great deal on some swampland in Florida because you paid cash instead of taking out a mortgage. The Safeco and CenturyLink deals involved massive public subsidies that those stadiums will never come close to paying back in added tax revenues. And in both cases the teams secured the cash by doing an end run around public opinion: going to the state legislature — twice — to overrule a public vote against the Mariners, and literally buying a referendum in the case of the Seahawks.I haven’t been to Kent or Everett, so I can’t vouch for the level of development there, but innumerable economic studies show that the spinoff effects of sports arenas are a small fraction of what their boosters claim them to be. (Arenas are a bit better than stadiums since they get more use, but they’re still dark half the year and all but a few hours a day, which makes them lousy catalysts.) Add in that minor-league sports franchises have the lifespan of a mayfly, and these are very risky enterprises for those cities: They could work out, or they could be mostly-empty white elephants within a decade or two.Look, nobody says that sports facilities don’t do *anything* to boost development and economic activity. The problem is that for the amount of public money typically required, the bang for your buck is dismal — on the order of one new full-time equivalent job per $250,000 in spending. Seattle, Everett, and Kent all could have taken the same amount of money and invested in other projects that would have done far more for their local economies, even if they were less flashy. (The two items that top the list for businesses choosing where to relocate, interestingly, are good schools and transportation infrastructure.) It’s one reason I’m happier with the Hansen plan: If you get the public cost low enough, the per-dollar economic impact starts to look a bit less egregious, at least.

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