Economic Growth? Paying for Sports Spectacles and Corporate Welfare?
By Dr. Barbara Falsey, President of the Urban Environment League.
Who remembers the dramatic final days before the 1996 referendum to pay for what was to become the American Airlines arena? The Heat were spending more than $3.5 million for ads illuminating a soccer field next to a new arena by the bay. Opponents had no money. The news media was clearly biased in favor of the deal, repeatedly showing the glitzy Heat drawings. Before the final vote Alex Penelas won election as County Mayor with ads showing him at a kids basketball court - opposing the potential deal. The wording of the referendum itself was deceptive. Subsequently, at the last minute Penelas struck a new deal with the Heat and - we were told- the public interest was greatly enhanced by an increased contribution by the Heat - who subsequently won the referendum.
Well what has happened to that promised soccer field by the bay in the ads, now known as Parcel B? Take a look. How much have county residents paid for their share of the deal vs what the Heat have paid after all their high salary expenses are factored in? Want to guess?
South Florida has a serious problem with remembering it's deals to promote the interests of wealthy sports franchises. We can’t see that the ruling sports -entertainment-gambling complex that too often speaks as the public’s representatives - has their own narrow set of financial interests at heart. This complex is not the same as the broad community interest.
Now, even as the embarrassments regarding the Marlins stadium deal for local residents repeatedly surface, we face New York real estate mogul Steve Ross who seeks hundreds of millions in state tax subsidies. Ross himself is worth an estimated 4.4 billon and wants extensive up front public subsidies for his private venture with cloudy assurances of paybacks in the distant future. What will the NFL contribute to the stadium?
It’s revealing to see many of the same players involved behind this new/old scenario. The key allies and lobbyists for Ross: Penelas, Brian May, Rodney Barreto, Ron Book, and Ric Katz. State Rep. Eric Fressen (Genting’s water carrier last year) is the house sponsor of the bill.
A classic Miami area political tactic is at work here: last minute timing, a big advertising push, a largely compliant news media – and a push related to an NFL decision deadline. And a largely confused public which is assured by the County Mayor – that this deal is so much better than earlier ones. Which is true but what a sad comparison and an inadequate basis for a Yes vote on this referendum.
That we have been here many times before underscores (1) our lack of memory, (2) the subtle collusion of the news media and the political establishment in promoting simplistic arguments for tourism, economic growth and (3) the continuing power of corporate welfare and their lobbyists and public relations shills (4) and the overall lack of attention or creative approach to the serious social needs of local residents.
“With your Vote” one Dolphin ad says “more than 4,000 new local jobs” will be created. Really? Good long-term jobs? We’ve heard that one before. The economic benefits will also largely go to Broward County - which is putting up nothing for this stadium.
Send a message that while such major needs such as housing for low income people, new educational programs, and even greater economic synergy for tourism beyond the sports complex remain unmet we should not subsidize a billionaire owner of a private sports franchise.
We should wake up to the fact that the Miami area is the nation’s poster child for being suckers for an endless set of fields of schemes.