The True Public Cost of Pac Bell Park 

Or Mays Field, if you wish. Neil DeMause of Baseball Prospectus wrote yesterday about a researcher, urban planner Judith Grant Long, who has calculated the hidden public costs of sports stadiums.

With Pac Bell Park, the Giants were (and still are, by people like me) widely hailed for only asking $15 million from the public -- the cost of relocating city facilities from the bayfront property before stadium construction began. The rest of the costs were borne by the Giants; $306 million was the published figure.

But with tax breaks, the value of the land (donated at no cost by the city), and other subsidies, Long concludes that, adjusted to 2001 dollars, the public has shelled out $142 million, or 41% of the adjusted construction cost.

Projects in other cities are far worse, with eight stadiums actually costing the public more than the final construction cost.

Thanks to DeMause for highlighting this research. Yes, the Giants have their annual debt service to pay off, but with all these tax breaks the pain is somewhat tempered. I'd love to see reporters, when discussing payroll and other financial matters with the brass, make them acknowledge they've gotten more public help than they like to admit.

And let's also hope Long's research gets into the hands of civic leaders who are still considering the appeals of sports teams who claim they need new stadiums. I'm not saying categorically that the public shouldn't pay a cent to help build new facilities; how instrumental has Pac Bell Park been in the revitalization of that corner of South of Market? The King St. corridor and surrounding projects still would have come to fruition, but would it have happened as quickly without the ballpark? Would the California Stem Cell Institute have placed its headquarters there even though the nearby biotech campus is still only half-finished?

These are not rhetorical questions -- I really don't know, although I suspect there is at least some correlation. But there's a lot of rhetoric on both sides of the stadium construction debate: I remember in the late 1990s, when S.F. voters were asked yet again to decide on a new ballpark site, opponents argued it would foul traffic in that part of town, an apocalyptic vision that never came true.

Is there a definitive study of a ballpark's economic impact post-construction? Denver's LoDo; San Diego's Gaslamp district; Baltimore's inner Harbor: how many of these locales were boosted by ballparks? Have the cities regained in tax revenues what they gave away to ballpark owners?

Innate distrust of rich developers aside, A frequent topic of debate on this and other Giants' blogs is how much benefit of the doubt should we give Peter Magowan and his corporate partners? The new numbers from Judith Long should prompt a new evaluation.

As a season ticket holder, I'm going to write Pee-Mags (who to his credit twice has responded personally to my letters) and ask about this. I encourage others to do so, too, and let's compare notes if we get answers. If the Giants have gotten a 40% break on construction costs, why not boost the payroll by a similar margin? If not, why not? Time to come clean.


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