Can stadiums save downtowns—and be good deals for cities?

February 23, 2018 Sanjana Saluja

Can a new stadium not just generate development, but actually be a good deal for the city? In Sacramento, an urban revival kicked off by a new arena offers a convincing case. Curbed takes a closer look.

As Sacramento continues to grow, rebuking its reputation as a second-tier city to become one of California’s many hot real estate markets, it seems fair to give credit to the arena. Located near a new light rail stop, it’s high-tech, sustainable, and transit-oriented. It’s helped boost pedestrian traffic in the immediate area by 10 percent, according to the DSP report, and the stadium even contributed $3.5 million to the region’s farms and food providers by sourcing products within 150 miles of the stadium.

That sounds like a good deal. But the case isn’t as open and shut to economists. Analyzing the economic impact of such a development is more art than science, they say. And while the Kings and Sacramento leaders make a convincing case for the arena’s impact on a flourishing downtown, it’s important to look at opportunities seized and unrealized alike.

According to a 2017 poll of economists, 83 percent surveyed said “providing any new state and local subsidies to build stadiums … is likely to cost the relevant taxpayers more than any local economic benefit guaranteed.” In the last half-century, stadiums have typically been heavily financed by public subsidies: a 2016 Brookings Institution study found that the $28 billion price tag to construct or renovate professional sports stadiums between 2000 and 2014 relied on $13 billion in publicly financed, tax-exempt bonds.

Can new deals and developments in Sacramento, or even Minneapolis, be exceptions to the rule—and offer cities a square deal? Click here to find out.

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