Cronyism: High Point To Use Taxpayer Money To Back Funding Of Baseball Stadium Complex

HIGH POINT – No matter how many times government bodies are confronted with the reality that centrally planned, taxpayer funded economic development schemes are a losing proposition that disrespect the rights of taxpayers, they never seem to get it.

This time it comes in the form of a stadium complex for a professional baseball team in High Point. Hailed as a potential boon for the local economy, the project will use $35 million in public bond sales to help build a stadium.

The project pushers have already raised $50 million, but are still turning to the public for the remaining costs.

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It is facilitated by a depression era bureaucracy called the Local Government Commission that provides financial assistance to local municipalities and approves borrowing. Staffed by the State Treasurer’s office, the commission is responsible for determining if the planned financing is ‘reasonable’ and also handles the actual selling the debt on the locality’s behalf.

“The Local Government Commission on Wednesday approved up to $35 million in limited obligation bonds to build a multi-use stadium. The Guilford County Board of Commissioners has yet to approve the city’s request for county revenue.

City resident James Adams objected to using public money on what he and others believe is a risky venture.

“I am not against the stadium,” Adams said. He opposes the construction rush to host the unaffiliated Bridgeport Bluefish team for the 2019 season.

“Shouldn’t the community have a voice in matters such as this?” Adams asked, suggesting the bond package be part of a ballot referendum.

Local Government Commission Secretary Greg Gaskins said the city met commission minimum requirements for bond approval, to be paid back over 20 years. Standard & Poor lists the city’s bond rating at AA+. Fitch rates it AA-. The city already paid $16 million in land acquisition and other upfront costs.”

Adams hits it right on the mark – at the very least voters should have a say as to whether or nor taxpayers are on the hook for tens of millions in debt. For a private development this is especially the case.

If these projects are so promising, why can’t they be financed by the private concerns that will reap the benefits from economic success? Well, it might have something to do with those private concerns mitigating their risk due to the fact that many such projects failed to generate the estimated return on investment.

“Adams said many economists have concluded taxpayers rarely get their money’s worth from publicly funded sports stadiums. He cited ballparks in New Jersey. Camden and Atlantic City hosted Atlantic League pro baseball teams that failed to attract fans and revenue. The stadiums closed, leaving taxpayers footing multimillion-dollar bills.

Shuttered stadiums across the country have common elements, Adams said. More and more taxpayer money is spent, construction costs exceed initial estimates, and projected revenue doesn’t materialize.

Nearby Thomasville, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem all field professional baseball teams..

But City Manager Greg Demko said studies show a potential market of 230,000 people, mostly south of High Point around Archdale, High Point, and Trinity. Data shows those areas have higher median income than Greensboro and Winston-Salem to the north, and their residents are unlikely patrons of the existing baseball teams.

Demko told the Local Government Commission that bringing the Bluefish to High Point is vital to revitalizing the downtown core. The prospect already generated local commitments to build a children’s museum, events center, park, hotel, and 200 apartments encircling the stadium, with plans for restaurants and retail shops.”

This is not economic development; it is a taxpayer handout to private developers. Picking winners and losers is not the role of government at any level, especially when the odds of success are questionable at best.

“But the city needs the bond package. In the past eight years the downtown core lost about $125 million in tax value, as blight, drug issues, lack of zoning inspections, and other problems have surfaced.

“Our downtown resembles kind of a Hollywood movie set 48 weeks of the year,” said Demko, who cited idle furniture showrooms, Demko said. Those once-bustling buildings now buzz just a few weeks in April and October when about 80,000 visitors shop at popular annual furniture trade shows.

Because so much of the downtown is expansive showroom space the city can’t reclaim its unique business district in a traditional block-by-block renovation of restaurants and shops by private developers, Demko said.”

There it is.  The city “needs” the bond – in government cronies’ minds the collective need trumps the individual’s right to their money. Because the city “needs” it, your concerns about how your tax money is spent are moot.

I “need” a bigger house, faster car, and shiny toys. Should the government use taxpayer money to backup bonds to finance my flashy lifestyle? Absolutely not.

This country was built upon the premise that private property was to be respected above all else, because it is essentially an extension of an individual’s right to life and liberty.

Being that the approving commission is staffed by the State Treasurer’s office and headed by State Treasurer Dale Folwell (R) – a stalwart fiscal conservative – what does he think of such taxpayer funded schemes?

““My fear is as things get cranking, and more people throw more money at you, that you will not use money to ease this debt, that you will use it to expand something else,” he said.

He abstained from what was an otherwise unanimous vote for approval, hinting at concerns over publicly funded sports venues.

“I have had a long history with stadiums, and I can tell you no one in this room wishes you as much success as I do,” said Folwell, a High Point native. “Maybe you can be the shining example of how to do this properly.””

That’s why Folwell was the right choice for State Treasurer – because he knows that bog government begets bigger government. Even in the face of unanimous support for a popular and flashy ‘economic development’ project, he is unafraid to resist the tide of money wasting government boondoggles and call it like it is.

If only the rest of our community and state leaders could be so principled…

 

 

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