Image of proposed San Diego convadium
  • Image of proposed San Diego convadium
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It is comforting to know that the presidential race is not the only wacko thing going on in this country. Voters in McKinney, Texas, have authorized spending $63 million on a new high school football stadium. This tops nearby Allen, Texas, which has a high school stadium worth a mere $60 million, although it seats 18,000 — 6000 more than the McKinney facility will seat.

Artist’s rendering of a proposed 50 million high school football stadium for the McKinney School District in Texas

Artist’s rendering of a proposed 50 million high school football stadium for the McKinney School District in Texas

As the voters approved the McKinney stadium, the superintendent of schools, one Rick McDaniel, enthused, “We’re visionaries,” according to fieldofschemes.com. Oh, yes. Call him Doctor Rick McDaniel. He has a doctorate from the University of North Texas. That’s why he knows a visionary when he sees one.

Eagle Stadium in Allen, Texas

Eagle Stadium in Allen, Texas

McKinney and Allen are near Dallas. The town of Katy, near Houston, is building a high school stadium that will cost more than $62 million, according to the New York Times.

Artist’s sketch of $58 million Katy (Texas) football stadium

Artist’s sketch of $58 million Katy (Texas) football stadium

Meanwhile, a new Major League Baseball stadium is likely to go up in Arlington, Texas. The Texas Rangers now play at Globe Life Park. Wails the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “At 22 years old, Globe Life is getting old, nearly too old.” Oh? The average Major League Baseball stadium is 25 years old, which is disgracefully young, because taxpayers stupidly pay for new stadiums when an older one should be just fine. The new ballpark will be supported through surcharges on sales, hotel, and car rental taxes. If the voters approve, Globe Life Park will be torn down and the space will be used for parking.

Global Life Park in Arlington, TX

Global Life Park in Arlington, TX

Why should this almost-adolescent, 22-year-old ballpark be put to death? It’s hot in a Texas summer. The new ballpark will have a retractable roof that will be closed in the summer, so the fans can languish in air-conditioned luxury. Announced cost: $1 billion, with the taxpayers paying $500 million and the team $500 million. But that widely advertised 50-50 split is fiction. A local TV station says that in reality, taxpayers could pick up as much as 80 percent of the tab as a result of hidden hanky-panky. Eighty percent is what taxpayers generally pay.

Then there is San Diego. The Chargers football team wants taxpayers to pick up the tab for a so-called convadium — combination convention center and football stadium. As Heywood Sanders, the nation’s expert on convention centers, points out, combined centers and stadiums have not worked well. The space on the floor of the stadium is too small for most conventions. The claim that the stadium can double as a convention center is really a sales pitch so voters will okay a big subsidy.

San Diego’s convadium will be considered an extension of the current center. But that is a bald-faced lie. The convention-center part of the proposed San Diego convadium will not be an expansion of the current center, because it will be five or six blocks away. Convention attendees aren’t likely to walk even a short distance to another building. If it is built, it will be a completely separate facility for different, smaller conventions and meetings, and possibly seldom used.

Only a handful of National Football League teams play in a stadium connected to a convention center. One of those stadiums will be demolished next year and another very possibly will be blown up, maybe soon.

Plans are set for the first implosion, the Georgia Dome. It opened in 1992 and will be closed for business in March of next year and then demolished — at the ripe old age of 25. The owner of the Atlanta Falcons and taxpayers are financing a new stadium. After the implosion, the Georgia Dome land will be used for parking for the new stadium.

Georgia Dome (Atlanta) Dome

Georgia Dome (Atlanta) Dome

Georgia wants to be Texas. Stadiums barely get into adolescence before they are demolished or deserted. Turner Field was built in 1996 for the Summer Olympics. The baseball Braves moved into it in 1997. The team leases the stadium from two local governmental bodies. But the ballpark is now 20 years old, and the Braves want a new, fancy façade. Next year, the team, with a fat subsidy from government, will move into a new SunTrust Park away from downtown.

Then there is a lonely — but youthful — domed stadium in St. Louis. “Demolish the Dome? Convention officials contemplate it,” blared a St. Louis Post-Dispatch headline in February. The St. Louis Rams football team will be performing this upcoming season in Los Angeles, where it played for many years. Missourians tried to offer a deal to get the team to stay, but there wasn’t a chance of that.

This makes the second time St. Louis has been cuckolded by an NFL team. The Cardinals departed for Phoenix in 1988. St. Louis wanted a football team so desperately that in 1995 it built a domed stadium with 100 percent taxpayer funding without a team tenant.

St. Louis city fathers wooed the Los Angeles Rams, who couldn’t wangle a stadium subsidy in Southern California. So, the team moved to St. Louis with an incredibly juicy deal. Stupidly, St. Louis promised that the domed stadium would be kept in the top tier of NFL facilities — forever state-of-the-art. But with new and renovated stadiums sprouting up in one NFL city after another, St. Louis could hardly remain top tier. So the Rams are departing.

The stadium, sometimes used for smaller get-togethers and attached to a larger convention center, could get demolished or partially demolished. The stadium is now called the Dome at America’s Center Convention Complex, one of four entities under one roof. The stadium could be used for other events, but it may make more economic sense to knock it down and use the space to enlarge the adjoining convention center.

“It’s still very much up in the air,” says Heywood Sanders. “There is no financing mechanism for a convention-center expansion. Local politicians are not rushing to embrace it. Local media have not done the standard [puff pieces] on it,” he says, pointing to skeptical stories in the Post-Dispatch.

St. Louis is sadder and wiser in one sense: most citizens don’t want to be shafted by the NFL again. But it will be a repeat loser if it spends a bundle of bucks on expanding its convention center. Fewer than 5 percent of convention centers bring in enough income to cover expenses, says Sanders. Convention centers exist to subsidize hotels and restaurants, and the taxpayers lose. This will get worse as attendance continues to fall and centers continue to expand.

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Comments

aardvark June 29, 2016 @ 5:18 p.m.

Coming home from the Padres game this afternoon, the afternoon idiots on 1360 were dissing an article in a "local publication"--they refused to name the publication--that stated how ridiculous it was to build a stadium/convention center combo in Downtown SD. The afternoon idiots were also wondering who this Haywood Sanders character is (since obviously, his ideas and articles over the years mean nothing to the radio yahoos on 1360 since it doesn't go with their desire to see a nee convadium thingy downtown for the Chargers, er, convention center expansion).

Funny--the unnamed article they were quoting sounded an awful lot like the one above.

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Don Bauder June 30, 2016 @ 9:20 a.m.

aardvark: Oh yes. They would have been talking about this Reader article. You have put your finger on one of the big problems in media coverage of the sports stadium subsidy scam: sports writers and sports talking heads are covering the story. This is true in other cities as well as San Diego.

What do you expect? These sports journalists view a new stadium as their own ticket to a continued full-time job. This was also the problem with the Petco scam. U-T sports writers are in the pockets of local teams, especially those begging for tax dollars.

Sports journalists think taxpayers should subsidize billionaire team owners. The journalists are contemptuous of those who want to see infrastructure -- streets, roads, sewers, water, and other critical needs -- come first. Best, Don Bauder

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ImJustABill June 30, 2016 @ 12:40 p.m.

I think at the national level more sports talk show hosts are starting to become more vocally opposed to stadium subsidies. From the promo to Bill Simmons' new HBO sports show "I believe that billionaires should pay for their own f***ing football stadiums."

But at the local level yes there is a strong sales pitch for the stadium and mocking of anyone who thinks a few extra potholes or an extra 4% on hotel bills should matter to anyone compared with the prospect of losing the Chargers.

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aardvark June 30, 2016 @ 3:40 p.m.

The national sports talk show hosts wouldn't be affected as much as local sports talk show hosts would be. The local talk show people could, in essence, be trying to save their jobs. Should the Chargers leave, there is really no need for 2 all-sports stations locally (and possibly 3, if 94.9 goes all-sports after the Padres move there next year, as some rumors have predicted).

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ImJustABill July 1, 2016 @ 6:40 a.m.

Yes that's definitely true. But I think there's been a shift at the national host level. 15-20 years ago the national hosts were either neutral or pro-stadium building. Now I think the consensus has shifted at the national level such that many hosts and pundits are pretty open about saying how the billionaire owners are screwing taxpayers.

The local hosts will never bite the hand that's feeding. As you say, with the Chargers gone there really isn't all that much to talk about local sports-wise - Gulls, Padres, SDSU is about it. I think we have a soccer team but not many people follow that.

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Don Bauder July 1, 2016 @ 12:10 p.m.

ImJustABill: Precisely. National sports journalists are appealing to their markets -- people who finally realize that taxpayer subsidies for multi-billionaires is colossal folly. But local sports journalists are worried that their jobs will go away if a team actually departs. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder July 1, 2016 @ 12:07 p.m.

aardvark: There is definitely more skepticism among national sports journalists than local ones, and for the reason you suggest: the local sports journalists could lose their jobs if a team departs. On the national level, more and more people are realizing that the taxpayer subsidies for billionaire sports team owners are a complete scam. So the national journalists are appealing to their audience. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder July 1, 2016 @ 12:03 p.m.

ImJustABill: I have been fighting the subsidization of billionaire sports team owners since 1995. I agree. There is no sane reason why taxpayers of cities with huge pension and infrastructure deficits should subsidize these enormously rich team owners. Best, Don Bauder

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aardvark June 30, 2016 @ 11:23 a.m.

Apologies to Mr Sanders--his first name is spelled "Heywood".

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Don Bauder June 30, 2016 @ 12:23 p.m.

aardvark: Heywood Sanders, a professor at the University of Texas/San Antonio, is the nation's expert on convention centers. He wrote a seminal piece on the overbuilding of convention centers for the Brookings Institution. He also wrote a book, "Convention Center Follies," which tells how convention centers got so glutted, but cities keep building new ones and expanding old ones, even though they are slashing prices because of the glut. Some cities are actually paying groups to use their convention centers.

Sanders points that out that much fewer than 5 percent of centers bring in as much money as they spend. In other words, convention centers are fat subsidies for hotels. Ask yourself: how often have you used San Diego's convention center? You are paying for it. Best, Don Bauder

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aardvark June 30, 2016 @ 12:40 p.m.

Don: The main reason I know of Mr Sanders is all of the other stories you have written regarding the convention center. He obviously shares facts that the pro-convention center expansion (or pro-convadium) groups don't want to hear and refuse to accept.

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Don Bauder July 1, 2016 @ 12:19 p.m.

aardvark: The consulting firms that deliberately ignore the massive overbuilding of convention center space, and keep telling cities to expand even more, despite their deep slashing of prices, have been exposed by Heywood Sanders in his book "Convention Center Follies."

He goes through city after city, showing how the consultants predicted how much convention center business would grow if the city expanded space, and how actually the business shrank dramatically and prices plummeted even more as the national glut expanded. Best, Don Bauder

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SportsFan0000 June 30, 2016 @ 1 a.m.

Corporate Welfare at its Worst. A Chargers Stadium in San Diego would cost the taxpayers a bundle. Let the Spanos family and the NFL pay for their own building!

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Don Bauder June 30, 2016 @ 9:25 a.m.

SportsFan0000: Absolutely. The billionaire Spanos family should pay for a stadium. It's not going to happen. The NFL itself attempts to force cities -- often financially broke cities -- to subsidize billionaire owners.

The NFL is now pushing Buffalo to get its taxpayers to finance a new stadium. Buffalo is a rundown, financially ailing municipality. It should tell the NFL to go to hell, where it belongs. Best, Don Bauder

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ImJustABill June 30, 2016 @ 2:51 p.m.

Unfortunately the words "attempts to" might be wishful thinking Don. "succeeds at" might be more accurate.

It will be hilarious if they promise a super bowl to Buffalo - I can't wait to see a SB played in 5 feet of snow!

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Don Bauder July 1, 2016 @ 12:14 p.m.

ImJustABill: Given the resistance to a subsidized stadium in Buffalo, I don't think we can yet say that the NFL "succeeds at" forcing cities to subsidize billionaire owners' stadiums. The NFL has succeeded in almost all cases, but there are, I hope, two holdouts: 1. Buffalo; 2. San Diego. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder June 30, 2016 @ 9:36 a.m.

Gabe Congoer: Should the convadium be built -- (God help us!) -- it would ONLY be used for smaller conventions. It could not be an expansion for a large convention. The Union-Tribune has called the proposed convadium an "annex." Such nonsense. An annex is attached to a building -- say, a wing of it. But this is the kind of propaganda word that will be used in coverage of the convadium. When you see such loaded verbiage, drop your subscription. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder June 30, 2016 @ 12:28 p.m.

David Crossley: Amen. Hotels have private, smaller convention centers. There is no need whatsoever for the convadium. The downtown boosters want the Chargers. They know there is no need for a smaller center five or six blocks from the current one. But they think voters will get suckered in when hearing that a stadium will be tied in with a convention center expansion.

But that is a lie. The convadium will NOT be tied in with the convention center. It will only be a place for smaller, completely independent conventions. After the original novelty effect vanishes, the convadium will seldom be used for convention purposes. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder June 30, 2016 @ 12:36 p.m.

Jay Holloway. "Obscene" is a good word. That is what NFL owners' profits are. Good example: Alex Spanos bought 60 percent of the Chargers for $48.3 million in 1984. Then he bought out some minority owners. As of last year the Chargers were worth $1.5 billion.

How much does the Spanos family want to milk San Diego for? An increase from $48.3 million to $1.5 billion is one helluva profit trip. How much more can San Diego provide this family, which is from Stockton. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder June 30, 2016 @ 12:38 p.m.

Mike Murphy: It absolutely does work for the promoters. See above. Alex Spanos bought 60 percent of the team for $48.3 million in 1984. Then he bought out minority owners Now the team is worth $1.5 billion. But the Spanos family, from Stockton, is back, hat in hand, wanting more money from San Diego. Best, Don Bauder

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MURPHYJUNK July 1, 2016 @ 6:49 a.m.

actually, I was referring to the real promoters, ( the ones that get paid to promote, get paid win or lose. ( much like the ones that run political ads)

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Don Bauder July 1, 2016 @ 12:23 p.m.

Murphyjunk: Media make oodles of money from sports advertising. That is why they support their home city getting fleeced by billionaires while seeing the city's massive deficits grow and grow. Best, Don Bauder

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ImJustABill June 30, 2016 @ 5:26 p.m.

A recent CA supreme court ruling has placed a block on the ruling that tax proponents were hoping was the precedent to enable 50% + 1 passage. The Supreme Court still needs to make a final ruling but at least for now it seems 2/3 vote will be required.

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2016/jun/29/stadium-initiative-faces-high-vote-hurdle/

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Don Bauder July 1, 2016 @ 12:26 p.m.

ImJustABill: The tale that the vote would take only 50 percent plus 1 was a case of skewing the news instead of reporting the truth. That case was never even remotely similar to San Diego's case. The vote will require 2/3rds. Best, Don Bauder

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shirleyberan June 30, 2016 @ 7:06 p.m.

Oppenheimer - don't assume everybody wants to give billionaires money for games. Brain radiation damage?

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Don Bauder July 1, 2016 @ 12:27 p.m.

shirleyberan: Defiinitely. Brain radiation damage may be one reason for people favoring subsidies for billionaires. Best, Don Bauder

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AlexClarke July 1, 2016 @ 8:06 a.m.

Proof that there is no limit to human stupidity especially Charger fans. Conventions, and I used to attend many, are getting fewer and smaller. Technology has replaced many of the functions that conventions did. Most conventions are nothing more than a way to get out of town and have fun on someone else's dime. An expense account is nothing more than creative writing.

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Don Bauder July 1, 2016 @ 12:29 p.m.

AlexClarke: Technology is making conventions smaller -- definitely. That, in turn, is making the glut even more massive. Thus, cities are losing more and more money on their convention centers. Best, Don Bauder

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shirleyberan July 1, 2016 @ 10:18 a.m.

Upside down and backwards. Livability.com most livable is about best high school football.

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Don Bauder July 1, 2016 @ 12:31 p.m.

shirleyberan; But how many high school football players are setting themselves up for fatal concussions later in life? Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder July 1, 2016 @ 11:59 a.m.

Joseph Oppenheim. Yes, as you point out, there is a "record setting entertainment/media value of live sports." There is no question that pro sports team owners, particularly in the National Football League, rake in enormous sums of money. They are billionaires and their teams are worth billions of dollars.

So why should these fabulously rich owners be subsidized by taxpayers of a city with huge pension and infrastructure deficits? It makes no sense at all. Best, Don Bauder

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Flapper July 2, 2016 @ 11:55 p.m.

Let's have an answer, Oppenheim. You started it, now finish it.

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Don Bauder July 3, 2016 @ 7:38 a.m.

Flapper: I agree. Let's hear Oppenheim expatiate on his views favoring subsidies for billionaires. Best, Don Bauder

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shirleyberan July 1, 2016 @ 2:23 p.m.

Don - Unevolved unsympathetic unmindful adult coma?

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Don Bauder July 2, 2016 @ 9:59 p.m.

shirleyberan: Let's face it. Billionaire team owners getting taxpayers to pay for stadiums is, plain and simple, a complete scam. I can't believe that people fall for it. Best, Don Bauder

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JohnERangel July 2, 2016 @ 9:51 a.m.

As someone who commutes on the blue line to and from work. The question that I have is this, "What kind of impact will the stadium construction have on my already tedious commute. If I'm not mistaken doesn't the blue line pass thru part of the yard that is going to be demolished? As anyone who regularly uses the trolley system knows, whenever they have to shuffle people around due to construction or whatnot, the riders usually wind up being terribly inconvenienced.

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Don Bauder July 3, 2016 @ 7:42 a.m.

JohnERangel: You may suffer inconvenience in your commute. You will certainly suffer having your pocket picked by billionaires. Best, Don Bauder

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