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Sports construction is always unfolding around the country

Dec 23, 2023, 7:00 PM | Updated: Dec 24, 2023, 11:59 am

Chase Field flyover...

Stadiums across America are getting built and renovated. (Arizona Sports/Jeremy Schnell)

(Arizona Sports/Jeremy Schnell)

A new round of stadium construction is underway for professional sports teams across the U.S., and taxpayers will be helping to pay the multi-billion-dollar tab.

The wave of construction has seen teams chasing both repairs and luxurious additions. Some teams have sought new public funding for the projects — with mixed support — even while debt from the last round of renovations a couple decades ago is still being paid off.

This year alone, The Associated Press tallied about a dozen stadium projects that were unveiled or already underway for Major League Baseball and National Football League franchises. That doesn’t include additional projects for professional basketball, hockey and soccer teams.

Here’s a look at the emerging cycle of stadium projects and some of the motivations behind them.

A NEW PROJECT PER MONTH

As 2023 began, work already was underway on multi-year stadium renovations for the New Orleans Saints football team and Toronto Blue Jays baseball team. Then more teams joined the trend, at a pace of nearly one per month.

— In January, the Cleveland Guardians announced plans for a roughly $200 million renovation of their baseball stadium over the next three years, aided significantly by public funding.

— In February, the Chicago Bears bought a former suburban horse racing track as a potential site for a new football stadium and surrounding development. That comes even though the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority still owes $589 million through 2032 on public bonds issued for a renovation of the Bears’ current stadium two decades ago.

— In April, the Nashville City Council approved $760 million in local bonds to go with $500 million in state bonds, all to help finance a new $2.1 billion football stadium for the Tennessee Titans. As part of the deal, the Titans agreed to pay off the remaining $30 million of public debt owed for their current stadium, which opened in 1999.

— In May, the Buffalo Bills began construction of a new football stadium. The AP reported in August that cost overruns had pushed the projected price from $1.4 billion to almost $1.7 billion. The portion paid by New York and Erie County remains unchanged at $850 million.

— In June, the Jacksonville Jaguars unveiled designs to renovate their football stadium at a cost of up to $1.4 billion, with as much as an additional $700 million going toward development of the surrounding area. The Jaguars are seeking a roughly 50-50 financial split with the city, similar to a model recently used to build an adjoining amphitheater and practice facility. The remaining $38 million of public debt from those projects isn’t scheduled to be paid off until 2047.

— In August, the Kansas City Royals unveiled two options for a new, $1 billion baseball stadium as part of an overall $2 billion development that could include hundreds of millions of public funds. Royals owner John Sherman hopes to have a new stadium open by 2028. That would be three years before Jackson County, Missouri, is to finish paying the remaining $265 million of public debt from the last renovations to the current side-by-side stadiums of the Royals and Kansas City Chiefs.

— In September, the Tampa Bay Rays unveiled plans for a $1.3 billion baseball stadium as the centerpiece of a $6.5 billion development in St. Petersburg, Florida, that also features housing, shopping, dining and a Black history museum. The team is counting on the city and county to cover $730 million of the costs.

— In November, Major League Baseball owners approved the relocation of the Oakland Athletics to Las Vegas. That came five months after Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo signed a law providing $380 million in public funding to go toward a $1.5 billion stadium. The remaining $13.5 million in public debt on the A’s current California stadium isn’t set to be paid off until February 2025.

— In December, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed a law providing about $500 million in public funds to help renovate the Milwaukee Brewers baseball stadium, which opened in 2001.

— Later in December, the Baltimore Ravens announced a publicly funded $430 million renovation to their football stadium to take place over three years.

Though lacking specific plans, several other teams also are exploring stadium renovations, including the Arizona Diamondbacks and Baltimore Orioles baseball teams and the Carolina Panthers and Cincinnati Bengals football teams.

MIXED RESULTS: A STADIUM CASE STUDY

Georgia’s professional baseball and football teams each moved into new stadiums in 2017.

The Atlanta Falcons moved into a $1.6 billion downtown stadium built — with the help of hundreds of millions of public dollars — next to their old one, which was imploded after a 25-year life.

The Atlanta Braves relocated from a downtown stadium originally built for the 1996 Olympics to a new suburban ballpark. Cobb County officials committed about $300 million in public funds, covering a little less than half of the new stadium’s costs.

Like elsewhere, the results were mixed.

J.C. Bradbury, a Kennesaw State University economist, studied the impact of the Braves’ move to a stadium surrounded by housing, retail, entertainment and commercial developments. He found an increase in local sales tax revenue consistent with greater economic activity, but not enough to cover the public subsidies for the stadium.

Some residents also were upset they didn’t get to vote on the subsidy that helped fund it. The chair of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners subsequently lost re-election in 2016.

TO MOVE OR NOT TO MOVE

Stadium projects often gain political support because of the implicit threat that sports teams could move elsewhere. Though relocations are uncommon, several have occurred in the past decade.

The St. Louis Rams football team left its publicly funded domed stadium for a palatial, privately financed facility in Los Angeles that opened in 2020. They share the stadium with the Chargers football team, which deserted its San Diego home.

That same year, the Las Vegas Raiders also began playing in a new stadium in a new hometown, leaving an Oakland, California, facility that had been renovated at taxpayer expense in the 1990s to lure the Raiders back from Los Angeles. It was the same stadium used by the A’s, who were recently approved to relocate.

As Wisconsin lawmakers considered public aid to renovate the Brewers’ ballpark, some feared they also could move. A Major League Baseball official testified the league wasn’t “trying to create free-agent markets” so that “owners can get top dollars.”

“Our preference is to keep the franchises where they are,” MLB Chief Financial Officer Bob Starkey said. “But ultimately, we’re not going to do anything that’s short-sighted.”

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