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Is There An “Option C” for Roberts Stadium?

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.

28 Responses to Is There An “Option C” for Roberts Stadium?

  1. X-Factor Reply

    December 7, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    The Ford Center is sinking on the south side of the building. 6 inches so far. Why has no one reported this?

    The Ford Center only had one fire extinguisher when it opened. The only access to the top floor is by elevator. Guess what. During a fire, the elevator automatically drops to the first floor and is disabled so there is no way for those folks on the top level to get out other than the stairs. So if you’re in a wheel chair or a walker or can’t take steps and you’re on the top level, your goose is cooked.

    The Ford Center does not have restrooms in the top level. During the Shrine Circus old people and folks with disabilities with tickets on the top level had to go down stairs to use the restroom on the lower level.

    I wonder how nice Roberts Stadium would be right now with $137 million in renovations. Heck … How nice would it have been for $65 million in renovations? Maybe they would have had money to fix the floor and buy two or three more fire extinguishers!

    • blanger Reply

      December 7, 2011 at 9:16 pm

      I think I like you….I’ll sweeten the pot, how nice would Roberts be if they had spent $20m on it (it already has fire extinguishers)(which brings up the question of who inspected the arena before it was opened to the public? state fire marshal?), just think of all that left over money they could have spent downtown, or just saved the taxpayers, or developed and implemented a plan to satisfy the EPA, or starting a venture capital program to attract business/people with a brain to locate or stay here, when you stop and think about it building a new arena was probably the dumbest idea anyone could have come up with, other than building in the location they did.


      • Richard Reply

        December 7, 2011 at 11:07 pm

        All talk of what should have happened two years ago is moot.

        • blanger Reply

          December 8, 2011 at 6:48 am

          Maybe…but it’s fun to reminisce. ;)


  2. X-Factor Reply

    December 7, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    Oh. And by the way. I favor keeping the Roberts Stadium area in public hands, not private. Try to save it and use it for another function that benefits the public if financially feasible; and if not incorporate the area into the Wesselman Woods Nature Center, only sort of like a Central Park in New York.

    • RailOverAuto Reply

      December 7, 2011 at 10:57 pm

      Thank you for your support of Roberts Stadium X-Factor. Also, take into consideration that you cannot expand Wesselman Woods as those trees are nearly 300 years old and will not work with newly planted trees in a park. A new park will stick out like a sore thumb, will cost a fine penny to build, and will will drain the Parks Dept each year which we have seen would be detrimental…

      • Brad Reply

        December 8, 2011 at 1:05 pm

        Great discussion, and a necessary one. Copied my comments from the SaveRobertsStadium Blog:

        If you really want to save Roberts, you need to look at what happens to other Stadiums in this sort of situation…

        Take Old Yankee Stadium – A historic field if ever there was one. The proverbial House that Ruth Built. How many millionaires would have loved to own that old park and done something with it? It could have been the ultimate museum/exhibition park. But it was torn down. Government didn’t care, ultimately.

        Take Tiger Stadium in Detroit – It was a historic field with players like Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and countless others having played there, yet, the people of Detroit did not give the free market a chance to save the historic Stadium and it was eventually torn down.

        In that situation, they even got Federal earmarks of almost $4 MILLION to do something with it, and it STILL failed! Why? Because the government doesn’t care. There is no immediate advantage to them to keep it. It was better for them to exercise some ‘power’ and spend some money. Many from the private sector expressed interest in buying it. The City would not sell it and give them a chance. The insistence on CONTROL is what led to failure to save that historic ballpark.

        Roberts Stadium doesn’t have a fraction of the history Tiger Stadium had. You do the math and see where this is heading!

        If you don’t reassess and quickly start advocating an Option C, we’re going to be standing in an empty field where a Stadium once stood in a couple years’ time. Mark my words!

        • blanger Reply

          December 8, 2011 at 1:22 pm

          Agreed…maybe someone here knows but I thought that the jehovah witness had at one time offered to buy Roberts, they certainly would have the financial means to do so, could that offer still be active or be brought back to the table, we know without a hotel next to the arena that the jehovah witness conference is going to be very difficult to hold at the new arena.


          • BigPappa

            December 8, 2011 at 1:45 pm

            There’s no hotel next to Roberts and they’ve been coming there.

          • blanger

            December 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm

            Oh I agree Papa…but the logistics of Roberts vs the Ford Center are quite different if in no other regard than parking, it was a given renting Roberts that there would be ample parking (right outside the door) but transport to and from would be needed. With the Ford Arena there will be no weekday/daytime parking and the to and fro traveling is a extra added burden.

            Of course this is JMHO

          • BigPappa

            December 8, 2011 at 2:46 pm

            In a C&P article today, the VenueWorks guy said the J.W.’s had a large event at The Centre the day of the UE vs. Butler game. Wonder if The Centre would be a better venue for their convention rather than Roberts or Ford Center? I see what you are saying about parking though blanger.

  3. RailOverAuto Reply

    December 7, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    There is no need for an “Option C” The correct path is to outsource to an organization such as SMG or form a non-profit entity that answers to city hall…

    • editor Reply

      December 8, 2011 at 8:45 am

      Great ideas except for he “answers to city hall” part. I think most all of us can clearly see that most of what answers to city hall does not do well. Roberts is sitting there awaiting a wrecking ball because of the ineptness of city hall.

      • RailOverAuto Reply

        December 8, 2011 at 9:07 am

        It’s not as bad as it sounds. SMG answered to city hall and Venuworks still does. Yes, it gets messy during contract negotiation time but outside of that SMG and Venuworks are left alone to do what they need to do.

        • editor Reply

          December 8, 2011 at 9:10 am

          That is because they did not answer to city hall on a day to day basis. They were contractors left to do the job. It only got messy when city hall stuck their noses in at contract renewal time.

          • RailOverAuto

            December 8, 2011 at 9:22 am

            That’s what Option B is-outsourcing. There is no need to answer on a day to day basis. But if the company is messing up, proposing to do something that could harm wesselman, or failing to land the proper events then they have to answer to city hall which is what needs to happen.

            All of these people advocating for a park really don’t understand how phony it would be and that you can’t “expand wesselman park” nor do they have a price estimate for it.

            And this whole option C point is moot as Lloyd Winnecke has said its done to Roberts Stadium renovated or a park. There is no interested investor and the city is not going to sell to someone who may do like dawn heil did and propose a campground next to it.

          • Richard

            December 8, 2011 at 9:38 am

            RailOverAuto’s argument here is baseless. Here’s why…

            First, we have ZONING LAWS that would ensure the integrity of the area, and any intrusion upon Wesselman Woods would have recourse in a civil court.

            You’re doing the job or corralling the sheep with a wolf rather than a sheep dog.

          • RailOverAuto

            December 8, 2011 at 1:09 pm

            The zoning laws are exactly why no one is interested in purchasing Roberts Stadium. With “Option B” there is no need to mess with any of that.

      • Richard Reply

        December 8, 2011 at 9:19 am

        I admire the passion and enthusiasm present in Camp B people, their efforts have, at the very least, made the ineptitude of decision-makers clear (if they needed any more help in that matter), but their faith in City Hall is wholly misdirected and rather ironic under the circumstances. It is the politicians with the most to gain from an Option A “solution”, because it is the one that will WASTE the most taxpayer money and allow them to line the pockets of whatever crony is itching to tear the place down.

        Just because a new Mayor has an “R” after his name doesn’t mean he is any more capable of spending SOMEONE ELSE’S MONEY than any other politician! In fact, the time honored tradition of governments is that they do a notoriously bad job at it.

        • blanger Reply

          December 8, 2011 at 9:57 am


          I agree with you, and the only way to find out if there is any interested parties/investors is to put the property up for sale and see what develops, any realtor that deals in commercial properties would be happy to list Roberts for the sales commission.


  4. Richard Reply

    December 7, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    Well, the comments so far pretty much prove the ultimate point of the article, which is that the citizens of Evansville by and large have lost all ability to learn from our mistakes in trusting government “solutions”… (See the Recent McCurdy Hotel debacle for a good lesson in how an Option C could have been implemented from the word go.)

  5. Justme Reply

    December 8, 2011 at 8:05 am

    I’m just curious. If you would have spent 20 million on the stadium, put down a permanent ice floor with a wood cover like the arena, allowed the sale of alcohol and decent food would it be able to run in the black? Probably would have, will the arena, probably not at that cost. Same seating capacity, more parking, it might have worked. We will never know.

  6. blanger Reply

    December 8, 2011 at 8:20 am

    The problem with option C is that the city doesn’t want competition for the new arena, if it could be sold for market value with no strings attached in the form of some incentives to buy or limitations on usage (which there would sure to be) then option C seems like a logical idea.

    It has been done this way in many other cities and has been successful, lets just hope kunkel doesn’t want to get into the arena/stadium business also…selling the stadium for $1 would be stupid, given scrap prices there is probably hundreds of thousands of dollars to be made scrapping the steel, copper, etc in the building, then you have the land value with a natural spring/aquifer.


    • Richard Reply

      December 8, 2011 at 8:43 am

      I agree that $1 would be a disappointing sale, but I used that figure to make the obvious point that for an investor, there does exist some sale price that would allow for profits, and any sale price achieved by the City would be preferable to further taxpayer investment in something that may or may not work. What that sale price would be is up to the competitors in the free market to look at and assess… But again, guess what…that assessment would be done on their time, not government time. No need for some “task force” to be paid overtime to determine the value of anything. That is exactly what the free market does when you put something up for auction and invite potential investors to take part.

      I say, if the Ford Center is truly as superior as the politicians told us it would be, then it should fear no competition, and if Roberts Stadium is truly the jewel that those in Camp B say it would be again if the floor was raised, then they too should welcome outside investors willing to pony up a little capital in pursuit of profits. After all, it would only allow them a way to do exactly what they’re trying to do – save the place.

      It’s easy for the people in Camp B to advocate spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on renovations because they are not talking about spending their own money. They’re talking about spending OTHER people’s money on something they are emotionally attached to. Emotions and business rarely mix well. Sound investments are rarely made with emotions playing the part of spending someone else’s money on something!

      Everyone in BOTH Camps should welcome an auction and a chance at a successful Roberts Stadium, because wouldn’t that just create more jobs anyway if both Stadiums became successful, one of the explicitly stated aims of building the Ford Center in the first place? And wouldn’t that give Camp B the chance to prove that they were right in wanting to save the place?

      I think the biggest fear for those in Camp A especially is that something useful could be done with Roberts Stadium by the private sector, for less money than all the government projections, and be successful. It would make them pretty much look like the fools that they are.

      The fear for Camp B is loss of control… But there is nothing to say that they cannot raise money amongst themselves to place a bid at auction if they feel that strongly about it. Again, at lest they wouldn’t be taking the gamble on the taxpayer dime!

  7. canyoubelieveit Reply

    December 8, 2011 at 9:11 am

    There is also a 4th option, which I will refer to as option D.

    Option D is to enhance a potential buyer to purchase Roberts Stadium, as was done by the Evansville Redevelopment Commission when they sold the Hotel McCurdy to Center City Development in Indianapolis.

    As i remember, this is how it works. The City of Evansville, gives the potential buyer, subject of course to them applying for a loan the following.

    1. Taxpayer money to buy the parking lot
    2. Taxpayer money to make the down payment
    3. The deed to the stadium

    There would of course be some conditions. These conditions would be the following:

    1. A promise to pay property taxes, even before the loan has been approved.
    2. A promise to return all the money advanced to the potential buyer, should the loan not be approved.
    3. A promise to deed back the property deed to the city of Evansville if financing was not approved.

    I am only suggesting Option D, because it worked so well with the McCurdy Deal. LOL

    • Richard Reply

      December 8, 2011 at 9:29 am

      Government officials will try anything that allows them a chance to look like clever and important people.

      Not a one of them would ever admit they don’t know jack. Being a good steward of the people’s money is very very easy. All you have to do is get out of the way! Let people keep the most of their own money as possible and be a good promoter of their businesses. They will spend their own money with far more care than a politician who just likes the way he looks in a hard hat and a suit!

      The comedy comes later when the clever deal falls flat on its face, but they use the cute pics of themselves in a hard hat anyway when they run for Governor.

  8. NDKnow Reply

    December 8, 2011 at 11:07 am

    The best idea so far was the ball park. That removed a huge expanse of concrete surface and greened up the acreage substantially. It also provided a buffer to the existing park while expanding the use in a manner more in concert with existing athletic field uses to the east and southeast of Roberts. Yes, the cost was a bit above acceptable, but the idea was solid in terms of zoning and use.

  9. NoMoDoh Reply

    December 8, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    What we need is another big building for sale in Evansville. Just try to drive into Evansville, and not see boarded up windows and for sale/lease signs on business buildings.

    The EVSC alone has three, well maintained buildings and some of the signs are looking ratty. They are talking about razing North HS, which had an expensive renovation about 10 years ago. It would make a good corporate headquarters or small business complex, with an auditorium that has a pretty good sound and lighting system, cafeteria with imported glass, sheltered parking, gyms and outdoor athletic field, and plenty of space for offices with updated technology.

    The administration bldg. could be sold to Pat Shoulders law firm, but for actual value since he is paid a minimum of a $250,000 retainer + by the EVSC. He could work off the payments in lieu of that retainer. The location is great, right next to the Court Bldg. if for no other reason.

    Let’s not forget the Swanson-Nunn white elephant sitting downtown, just blocks from the McCurdy and the River House.

    Maybe we should copy a declining city in northern Indiana. I read it rents/leases it’s abandoned and deteriorating buildings, including churches, to movie companies to film in. They find it less expensive than building sets and more authentic, too. Maybe they could be used by advertising firms to shoot commercials in, too.

    That is what I call making lemonade or thinking outside the box. Some people even get outside of the box, take a hard look at the possibilities and redesign it instead of throwing it in the trash. Do we have any really creative minds out there? Brainstorming session, anyone?

    If enough different kinds of usage in parts of Roberts that can be sized to need and less expensive than all of the arena, entertainment, conventions, conferences and public events could use all our facilities and we could be pulling double and triple the number of visitors and tourists to Evansville. Take a lesson from the Colts, who have been a “one trick pony”(excuse the pun) for years are in big trouble with the star “pony” out of commission. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. We need be able to offer a variety of locations and options that will entice organizations and groups to want to come to Evansville. We need to address THEIR NEEDS and make them ALL welcome.

    Think, think, think!

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