Wednesday, December 29, 2004

White Elephants Are Better Given Than Received

Somewhat surprisingly, even the newspaper columnists are beginning to catch on:

Eleven years ago, after the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to rebuild the city's arena for the [NBA] Sonics, city officials high-fived with the team's brass in the hallway.

They said it was a public-private partnership in which everyone wins: the pro-basketball team, the taxpayers, the economy, Seattle sports fans.

One watchdog named Jordan Brower didn't buy it. People called him a crank.

He predicted Sonics' revenue wouldn't cover the debt for the $74 million renovation. Taxpayers would have to clean up the mess, he groused.

Guess who turned out to be right: the high-fiving officials or the crank?

I bring this up because in January some of these same high-fiving officials will ask the state for up to $240 million to bail out the Sonics and the city.

About $180 million is to rebuild the arena — again. It's only 9 years old, yet the team says it's too small.

The rest is to pay off the $58 million debt left from that "win-win" 1994 deal. As predicted, Sonics' revenues have fallen well short of covering the payments, leaving taxpayers to make up the difference.

....instead of owing $58 million, we'd be on the hook for $240 million. That's on top of what we already owe for Safeco Field, Qwest Field and the Kingdome. That's right — they're asking for more, and we aren't even done paying for a stadium we blew up in 2000.

....What if we gave the city-owned KeyArena to the Sonics? (We'd keep the land.) They could remodel it at their expense. The Sonics would get all revenue from sports, concerts and other events, instead of sending a cut to the city.

With this one-time gift the city could get out of the arena and sports businesses, maybe forever.

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