• FLEECED: Taxpayers Now Subsidizing Minor League Baseball Stadiums

    If you say “play ball” in Mississippi, taxpayers pick up the tab.

    Both of the state’s minor league baseball stadiums — Trustmark Park in Pearl and the new MGM Park under construction in Biloxi — were or are being built with taxpayer money.

    It’s on par with a trend around the nation. Both Mississippi baseball teams — which play in the Double-A Southern League — were lured from Greenville, S.C. (Pearl-based Mississippi Braves) and Huntsville, Ala. (the Stars, who are moving to Biloxi) with new stadium deals.

    Don’t count Neil deMause — editor of the blog Field of Schemes and a book by the same name co-authored with Joanna Cagan — as one to wave a foam No. 1 finger at taxpayers picking up the tab on pro sports facilities. He lists several reasons the phenomena of local taxpayers, rather than team owners, paying the bill for new stadiums is a trend that shows no sign of slowing.

    “It’s a combination of the love of local elected officials for big shiny projects (the so-called “edifice complex”), the lobbying power of local business coalitions to arm-twist local pols into seeing things their way, and outright stupidity when faced with a team owner holding an economic impact study promising zillions of jobs in one hand and a move threat in the other,” said deMause.

    “It’s the same answer why politicians pursue all sorts of dumb development projects, really, They make the right people happy, and they can be used to pander to voters. Making actual economic sense doesn’t much enter into it.”

    One example is on the Mississippi Sound. When the $9.2 billion settlement from the 2010 Gulf oil spill was announced in 2012, the assumption was the money would go to individuals, companies and governments affected by the spill.

    Not for a baseball stadium in Biloxi.

    In 2013, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant announced plans to award $15 million in oil spill funds to the stadium, projected to cost $36 million. The city of Biloxi voted to borrow $21 million in bonds to pick up the rest of the tab for the park. Construction started only two weeks ago on the new stadium and, according to Ballpark Digest, it might not be complete in time for the start of the 2015 season.

    The city could be liable for penalties if home games are missed. Guess that didn’t make it into the city’s economic impact study justifying the stadium’s construction.

    Pearl’s Trustmark Park and the $100 million retail development surrounding the ballpark were opened in 2005 near the junction of Interstates 20 and 55. The city and Rankin County financed it with $78 million in bonds. Financing was also provided by a $7.5 million loan to Pearl for the $28 million ballpark’s construction. Site developer Bloomfield Equities, owned by Spectrum Capital, got $8.1 million in state tax subsidies for the Bass Pro Shop across from the ballpark. Spectrum received $24 million in state tax subsidies to build its $80 million Outlets of Pearl adjacent to the ballpark.

    Government officials seem to have adopted the Ray Kinsella — the protagonist  from the 1989 Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams” — approach when it comes to building a ballpark.

    If you build it, they will come, the voice tells Kinsella (Costner) in the corn field. Sorry Ray, the voice was wrong in the case of the Magnolia State.

    Attendance numbers from the Southern League’s website show the M-Braves haven’t lit the league on fire in terms of attendance.

                 Year     Total           Per Game   League rank

    • 2005 — 242,423         3,848                    4th
    • 2006 — 248,955         3,716                    5th
    • 2007 — 246,674         3,575                    6th
    • 2008 — 212,107         3,166                    8th
    • 2009 — 194,795         2,997                    8th
    • 2010 — 178,138         2,620                    8th
    • 2011 — 191,653         2,738                     8th
    • 2012 — 191,639         2,904                    7th
    • 2013 — 200,268         2,861                    7th
    • 2014 — 211,200         3,152                     7th

    Projections from the study by Johnson Consulting on Biloxi’s new stadium are extremely rosy in light of the M-Braves’ attendance numbers. The area surrounding Pearl’s ballpark — 553,617 population with a median income of $43,973 — is more populated and wealthier than the one that will surround Biloxi’s — 382,151 in the tri-county area of Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties with a median income of $40,908.

    Yet the firm forecasts attendance of 280,000 per year for Biloxi’s MGM Stadium.

    Article courtesy of Steve Wilson at Watchdog.org 

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