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Carl Hiaasen (Miami Herald) Editorial


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Let sports empires build their stadiums ? with their money

15 Apr 2005

Carl Hiaasen By Miami Herald [email protected]


The Florida Marlins stadium deal is running out of gas in the state Legislature, thanks in part to the good old boys at NASCAR.


One of the most lucrative sports empires in the world, NASCAR is asking the hard-working residents of Florida to contribute $75 million in sales taxes toward a new ??NASCAR Hall of Fame?? in Daytona Beach, Fla.


The plan is to build a world-class facility that presumably would display acres of blown engine parts and other historic racing memorabilia, attracting hordes of stock-car fans from far and wide.


Nothing wrong with that, except that NASCAR can well afford to build its own Hall of Fame. Last year, it raked in $2.1 billion on merchandising alone.


Competing with the stock-car moguls for subsidies are the Orlando Magic, which wants $99 million for a new basketball arena; Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and other cities seeking funds to improve their spring-training parks; and of course the long-suffering Marlins, who want a second $60 million tax break to cement a financing package for a new stadium next to the Orange Bowl.


Lawmakers now must decide whether to dispense the money to all, some or none of the greedy-in-waiting. As of late last week, the odds looked lousy for the Marlins.


It didn?t help that Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga told Senate President Tom Lee that he wasn?t really going to kick the team out of the football stadium, if they wanted to stay.


This assertion is muddling in light of the notice sent to the Marlins last November, stating that their lease at the stadium wouldn?t be renewed after the 2010 baseball season.


In any event, Huizenga?s word seems to have convinced Lee that the Marlins aren?t doomed to be homeless and are therefore in no urgent need of a bailout. And without Lee?s support, the franchise won?t get a penny.


Team owners benefit the most


Also working against the Marlins was a report by Ross Fabricant, an economist for the Senate, who reviewed 40 academic studies of publicly financed arenas and stadiums.


His conclusion: a bad deal for taxpayers. ??These kinds of activities do not yield a net economic benefit,?? he said.


Fabricant?s report was covered as big news, but it wasn?t. In almost every major city where public funds have been used to build or upgrade a pro sports facility, the promised boom and revitalization never came to pass.


Municipalities always fork out more than they get back. The much-hyped ??multiplier effect?? applies strictly to the enhanced net worth of the team owners.


Just look at downtown Miami, where not one but two publicly subsidized basketball arenas have brought traffic jams but no lasting commercial prosperity to Overtown, Fla.


Far away, in Broward?s western suburbs, the Panthers hockey arena stands as a monument to fiscal foolishness. Built with $184 million of public funds, the facility has in seven years made only one pathetic $364,000 payment to the county.


No wonder that a recent opinion poll showed that 80 percent of surveyed Florida voters oppose the $60 million tax rebate commonly awarded to pro sports franchises. Even seven out of 10 self-described Marlins fans said it?s wrong.


The team already cashed in once, then-owner Huizenga supposedly using all the money to refit the Dolphins stadium for baseball.


Judging by the dialogue so far, the current Legislature isn?t quite as gullible, or as friendly to sports tycoons, as some in the past.


Florida is already on the hook for half a billion dollars in glorified welfare to 14 pro franchises as well as other sports-related rip-offs ? including $50 million for the PGA World Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla., and $15 million for the International Game Fishing Association museum in Dania Beach, Fla.


You can hardly blame the guys at NASCAR for trying to get in on the action. If taxpayers can be fleeced for stuffed bass and antique golf shoes, why not for 73 old pairs of Richard Petty?s wraparound sunglasses?


Right now, NASCAR?s got a better shot at scoring than the Marlins do.


The notion of a stock-car hall of fame has won favor with Sen. Jim King, the Jacksonville Republican who chairs the important Senate Commerce and Consumer Services Committee.


King and other supporters say Daytona Beach has a nifty plan to reimburse Floridians for the lost taxes. How? By selling specialty license plates.




Every time somebody buys a NASCAR tag, a few bucks would go toward paying back all those taxes that paid for the racing hall of fame instead of less glamorous needs such as schools, child protection or the eviscerated Medicaid program.


There?s a bright side for baseball fans: If the Legislature is dumb enough to fall for Daytona?s license-plate scheme, the Marlins might still have a chance at a stadium deal.


They should immediately promise to repay the state by selling Carlos Delgado key chains and Josh Beckett bobble-heads. By the time sales reach $60 million, nobody will remember what the money was for.


Which is the whole point of the game.


Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.

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