It is not unreasonable, I don’t believe, to portray the pending fight over a new $1 billion stadium for the Texas Rangers as a proxy war—or at least a referendum—over the public financing of stadiums in America. Here is every variable that should make sports fans recoil in horror at the now-accepted practice of giving taxpayer money to billionaire owners so they can make even more profit:
- They already have a stadium. A lovely one! The Ballpark in Arlington is 22 years old and functional and charming and modern. The Rangers’ lease runs through 2024. There is no reason to build a new one.
- The owners are loaded. The Rangers are controlled by a group led by Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, both oil magnates and both with personal worths measured in the billions.
- The proposed stadium deal is pure blackmail. When the $1 billion stadium was announced, only $500 million of it was promised to come from the team itself. Why would the city of Arlington shell out half a billion dollars? Why would it spend anything? Because, even without having to say it, the implication—which is probably only a bluff—is that the Rangers will leave Arlington without a new, publicly funded ballpark to replace their perfectly fine one. The PAC formed to support a new stadium is even called “Keep the Rangers.”
- The stadium deal is shady as all hell. Arlington’s mayor promised a 50/50 split of the cost. But as much as $300 million of the Rangers’ $500 million share would be paid by a tax levied on parking and admissions. In literally every other ballpark deal, that tax has been used to pay the city’s share, not the team’s. Arlington and the Rangers are going to sell this deal as 50-50. It’s 80-20, with taxpayers on the hook for up to $800 million.
Battle was joined at a standing-room-only city council meeting last night, and the Dallas Morning News said most of the speakers were firmly against the stadium proposal.
“When you have a stadium that is 22 years old and is already paid off and everybody loves it, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me,” [Arlington resident William Busby] said.
“How can you support something like this if it is only going to benefit the Rangers and bring very little to the city itself?” Busby said.
But, frustratingly, there were those in attendance who have bought into the fear-mongering and false promises.
Like many pro-stadium residents, [Sylvia] Greene was worried that the Rangers might leave their city if the proposal doesn’t pass in November.
“There’s no question the threat is real,” she said. “We have to keep our team here.”
Steve Cavender, who favors a new stadium, said the economic impact of losing the Rangers would be devastating.
“Without them, we are going to lose about $70 million in economic benefits,” he said, “It’s good for the city, and this is one of those times when you don’t call their bluff.”
(Here is where we note that that economic benefit figure comes from a study commissioned by the pro-stadium Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau; that no independent study has ever found a real economic benefit to building a new stadium; and that, in any case, Arlington already has a ballpark, and already enjoys whatever economic effects having a stadium does or does not bring.)
Twenty Arlington residents spoke against the ballpark proposal; fewer than half of that spoke in favor. The City Council voted 7-0 to approve the ordinance.
A second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for Aug. 9, where it is expected to again be approved. That will trigger a special election on Nov. 8, where Arlington residents will go to the polls and decide whether to give the Rangers $800 million for an unnecessary stadium.