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Is There An “Option C” for Roberts Stadium?
By: Richard Poorer
Since the construction of the new Ford Center in downtown Evansville, citizens and politicians alike have debated about what best to do with the old Roberts Stadium. Proposals boil down to those in Camp A, who believe the Stadium should be torn down in favor of some other project and those in Camp B, who believe the Stadium should be saved and incorporated into some other public scheme.
In Camp A are those who want to see the property turned into a park or a set of sports fields. In Camp B, the propositions range from raising the floor of the stadium to solve flooding issues while incorporating the facility into some type of swimming center, basketball courts, tennis courts, or mid-sized venue.
Both of these main arguments fail to acknowledge the 800 lb. gorilla in the room – namely the logical solution to the problem: Option C. On the one hand, Camp A acknowledges the need to offset the cost of demolition with the revenue generated from the new project (which will also cost the taxpayers money to construct and maintain), and in some circular feat of logic uses this cost as the justification for the demolition itself. On the other hand, Camp B insists that revenues from some other use can effectively raise the floor, keep the parking lot paved, the roof leak-proof, the facilities clean, etc.
The fact is, even if the economy was not on the skids, no scheme could be guaranteed to be financially successful. Any imagined scenario has a large measure of risk to the taxpayer that their dollars wouldn’t simply be flushed down a perennial black hole of unnecessary spending on something no one will actually use. The authorization of more spending on a Roberts Stadium project for either Option A or B is also taking a risk that cronyism will rear its ugly head, and the job will simply go to he who has the most pull, not the best resume.
The only argument I have yet to hear espoused in any real detail is the free market solution – namely selling the old Stadium along with the land upon which it sits to a private entity in an open auction. This not only solves the problem of demolition cost, but also the political problem of deciding what purpose the property should serve. In this solution, the free market would decide the best use of the land and facilities through that old, dusty, arcane principle we used to know as “capitalism.”
According to some estimates, Roberts Stadium and the property on which it sits could be worth as much as $25 million. Finding buyers at that level for that Stadium would certainly be difficult, but $10 million? $15 million? Who knows? It’s possible. Even selling the Stadium for $1 is certainly preferable to spending $1.25 million on demolition or $500,000 on raising the floor and god knows how much more turning it into something the public may or may not use. And let’s not forget the government’s propensity to grossly underestimate the cost of just about every project it undertakes.
To invoke an example, let’s say I buy a shiny new automobile, let’s say it’s a Ford. It has more space, better gas mileage, better reliability, updated looks…the works. It cost me a pretty penny, but barring any serious unforeseen problems, I should begin to see my initial investment offset in, oh, about a generation or so. Now I have a problem of what to do with my old car. Sure it leaks a little, might need new floor panels, and isn’t the prettiest thing in the world, but it’s got new tires, is paid for, and with a little work, it will still make a good car for someone.
The fact is, besides my shiny new Ford, I also have several other vehicles for different purposes, so I don’t really need the other car. The question is, is it economical for me to follow Option A and pay someone to come melt it down into a huge chunk of steel I could then hopefully sell for scrap, or should I take Option B and plow more money into that old car to fix it up even though I don’t need it?
No one in their right mind would limit their options in this scenario to A or B. Anyone with common sense can see that there is a clear Option C, which is to sell the car “as-is” and get as much for it as you can without investing more money in it you may never recoup. Even parting the vehicle out yourself is certainly preferable to melting it down, and considering the lack of any practical advantages over your new car, it makes no sense to keep it and watch it just rot away either.
The fact of the matter is, no one in Evansville seems to want to admit that perhaps government solutions aren’t always the best solutions. They don’t “create” jobs or do anything that doesn’t eventually come out of the pockets of taxpayers. Someone always pays! No one wants to take the logical stretch necessary to see that things like an innkeeper’s tax “on visitors to our fair city,” which is the method proposed for paying for the razing of Roberts, is really a tax on the innkeeper! No one wants to admit that any taxes on the customers of a business is a tax on the potential profits of the business itself!
The only solution that will not cost taxpayers a dime is the one that involves selling Roberts Stadium, getting it off the books, and using the revenue generated to either fix something else like the sewers, or give the money back to taxpayers in the form of a tax holiday. It’s the only solution that makes logical sense…Option C.