In defense of publicly funded sports facilities

Jason Rose

A baseball stadium erupting in the bottom of the ninth inning during game seven of the World Series.

An undefeated team losing in the Super Bowl.

Opening days with my family.

A hockey player with a broken jaw taking the ice during the playoffs, inspiring his team with great courage.

College football championships and Final Fours.

I have seen them all. In Arizona. In publicly-funded arenas and stadiums.

I don’t share my attendance addiction to cause envy, but to indicate that some of the greatest moments in our community’s history would not have happened without taxpayer largess. Maximum economic impact wouldn’t have resulted without first-class facilities.

Does anyone think Sun Devil Stadium or Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum at the state fairgrounds would have yielded such benefits?

At a time when the public is revolting against new requests by the owners of three Valley sports team an opinion such as mine will surely be pilloried, but it’s a relevant reality.

Short of Bob Parsons, Rob Walton or another local billionaire buying one of the teams and operating illogically the economics simply don’t exist in Phoenix, Arizona for a private party to pay full freight for what are not so much castles to them but urban parks.  They are places where teams occupy but a fraction of the calendar and also offer high school championships, ice skating shows, Monster Trucks, concerts and so many other events that enrich our enthusiasm for living here.

Do there need to be guardrails on policies governing the public’s contribution? And, public votes about any contributions? Perhaps so.

The former might require the team to always put in more than the public. Concerns with the latter should be reminded that University of Phoenix Stadium, the spring training homes of the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs specifically, and other Cactus League stadiums generally, all prevailed in public votes, as twice did a proposal to put a Phoenix Coyotes arena in southern Scottsdale which in full disclosure, I served as a campaign consultant on.

There may be other worthwhile constructs too, such as what conservative Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker did to enable a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Shortly after witnessing the greatest moment in Arizona sports history, that dramatic game seven winner over the New York Yankees I wrote an ode to an underappreciated person responsible for the magical moment: former Maricopa County Supervisor Jim Bruner.

Prior to his critical vote in support of a county-wide sales tax to help fund a stadium for the state’s new Major League Baseball team, Mr. Bruner was the overwhelming favorite to win a safe, Republican-heavy congressional seat. But when public opinion turned against the tax Mr. Bruner didn’t flip-flop. He stood his ground. Months later he went from a sure-fire winner to third place.

Something I wrote shortly after the Diamondbacks World Series win 16 years ago bears repeating now: Mr. Bruner did more for the community with that one vote than he ever would have done in the United States Congress.

As we enjoy the afterglow of a Final Four superbly hosted, and with competitive, proximate facilities soon coming online in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Mr. Bruner’s political example and courage bears renewed witness, and gratitude, for several tasks ahead.

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