More trouble is bubbling for those who hope to make economic arguments for major public/private capital projects — for sports specifically, but also by proxy for the arts. This article in the Boston Globe suggests that the equation linking major facilities to major economic return is losing believers, if not losing steam:
This new skepticism of public sports team funding is thanks in part to a small community of economists who have taken up and methodically rejected many of the claims made about the economic benefits of major league sports teams: that they create jobs or bring money to local businesses or otherwise spur economic growth. ”Generally speaking,” says Andrew Zimbalist, a professor at Smith College and a leading sports economist, ”the independent research suggests that we can’t anticipate any economic impact” from sports teams and stadiums.
Thankfully for the sports franchises, many cities are immune to the consistent perspectives of economists on the issue. (According to economist Allen Sanderson, ”Cities would be better off…if the mayor were to go up in a helicopter and dump out $100,000.”) Whether it’s for sense of pride, sense of place, love of the sport, or the bidding frenzy associated with a strategically scarce resource (professional sports franchises), they continue to invest significant amounts of taxpayer cash.
While the Globe article focuses exclusively on sports facilities, you could easily replace the phrase ”major league sports facilities” with ”world-class cultural facilities” to see where the debate is going. Even though most city officials have yet to catch on, we’d best be polishing up a different set of arguments (and start thinking differently ourselves) for the battles yet ahead.