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Superbowl report featuring sports arenas on the ballot: fans v. foes

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February 1, 2014

By Josh Altic

As the Seahawks and the Broncos face off tomorrow in the biggest game of the year, two factions of political thought face off in several cities around the nation about the public funding of the construction and renovation of sports arenas. One side consists of those who believe public funds have no place being spent on sports stadiums and those who simply want public approval of any such projects before they are authorized. The other side generally believes it is in the city's best interest to encourage large sporting events and attract professional sports teams and that it belongs to the city government to make decisions about subsidizing such efforts.

In Sacramento, CA, and Columbus, OH, two separate, local groups are seeking to put similar initiative ballot measures on the ballot. Both measures would require voter approval in a city wide referendum before the city could fund or subsidize in anyway the construction of the proposed sports arenas. In Minneapolis, the Vikings will be getting a new $1 billion stadium, nearly half of which will be paid for by the city after a legal struggle involving a potential ballot referendum and a failed lawsuit. The Vikings hope to host Superbowl 52 in 2018. And, with a look back on 2013, plans to renovate the Sun Life Stadium of the Miami Dolphins fell through even as voters were casting early ballots for a referendum to authorize city contributions.

Sacramento Kings

Drawing of the proposed arena

The group Sacramento Taxpayer's Opposed to Pork (STOP) turned in more than enough valid signatures to put their initiative on the ballot. This initiative measure, if it reaches the ballot and is approved, would alter the city charter to prohibit the city from contributing funds or subsidizing in anyway the construction of a sports arena without voter approval. The measure specifically targets the use of $258 million from the city's general fund to subsidize the construction of a $450 million Sacramento Kings sports arena in Downtown Sacramento. A vote on this measure, however, would not explicitly approve or reject the proposed Kings arena funding. A "yes" vote would effectively put a stop to the city funding the arena until a public vote authorized it, adding the same requirement for future construction projects. A "no" vote would allow the city to continue with its planned funding of the arena. If the initiative is approved, it will trigger a November referendum specifically concerning the Kings stadium construction.[1]

As of January 24, 2014, the STOP initiative has been put on hold by the City Clerk Shirley Concolino, who said that the petitions circulated for the initiative had major legal flaws and violations of city election code that made it impossible for it to be put on the ballot.[2] But on January 29, 2014, STOP, combined with Voters for a Fair Arena Deal, sued the city, arguing that their initiative had "substantial compliance" with the election laws and that the courts should overturn the city clerk's ruling against the initiative. Jim Cathcart, STOP co-founder, said, “The city should not stand in the way of democracy." Stay tuned to Ballotpedia's article on this initiative for the outcome of the lawsuit.[3]

Columbus Blue Jackets

Image of Blue Jackets goalie

The Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government is the organization behind the initiative in Columbus targeting the city's payments on its purchase contract for the Columbus Blue Jackets' Nationwide Arena.[4] It was in 2011 that the city and the county of Franklin agreed to pay about $250 million to purchase, operate and maintain the sports arena through 2039, ensuring the Blue Jackets team would remain in the city at least through the end of the contract.[5] The measure proposed and petitioned by the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government would amend the ordinance authorizing the contract to suspend all payments until a public election was held on the issue.[6][7]

According to the statement of estimated fiscal impact accompanying the question on the ballot, the ballot measure "will result in savings for the City of Columbus in amounts ranging from $3.9 to $7.9 million per year, and totaling approximately $131,165,157 over the then-remaining period of the lease."[5] Proponents of the initiative argue that using millions of dollars in public funding to subsidize the arena to ensure its survival amounts to a public bailout and should be approved by the voters. Jonathan Beard, president of the coalition behind the initiative, said, “This is not about the Blue Jackets — we say, ‘Go Jackets.' This is about what we believe to have been an abuse of the public’s trust in Columbus City Council.”[8]

OSU law professor Stephanie Hoffer believes that if the measure is approved and stands up in court, it could cut off funding required by the Convention Facilities Authority to pay its bills and could even force the CFA to sell the arena and surrounding properties. She went on to say, “And that’s a really disastrous situation for the city. Not because of the legal consequences under this contract or under the law, but just because it really throws that particular area of the city into turmoil."[9]

Minneapolis Vikings

The new $1 billion, city subsidized Minneapolis Vikings stadium, the planned construction of which has prompted the city to announced its bid for the 2018 Superbowl, will go forward, despite a ballot referendum and lawsuit seeking to stop it. The city of Minneapolis is expected to sell $468 million in city bonds on February 3, 2014, to go towards the new arena. Opponents of the city's funding of the arena pointed out that, according to the city charter, any expenditure for a sports venue exceeding $10 million requires voter approval in a public referendum. The city, instead of complying with this mandate and holding a referendum, took a legal detour around this road block by using city revenue that is controlled by state law and, therefore, does not require a city referendum.[10] A lawsuit was filed on January 10, 2014, by arena opponents, but the courts dismissed it, allowing the stadium plans to go forward. The stadium is supposed to debut in 2016 and football fans may be watching the biggest game of the year in Minneapolis four years from tomorrow. Backers are hopeful of hosting the Superbowl in either 2018, 2019 or 2020.[11]

Miami Dolphins Stadium

image of Sun Life stadium

In Miami-Dade County, Florida, Stephen Ross, the owner of the Dolphins team, agreed to pay $4,784,337 to provide the costs of having a special referendum election concerning the public subsidy of a project to improve and modernize the Sun Life Stadium. This referendum required approval of a bill in the state legislature. State lawmakers, however, failed to vote on this bill, making the May 14, 2013, election irrelevant, even though many voters had already cast early ballots.[12]

If the election had happened and the measure had been approved, it would have authorized the Miami-Dade County to increase the local hotel tax from 6% to 7%, allowing for $7.5 million a year to be put into improving and modernizing the Sun Life Stadium under the following conditions:

• Dolphins remaining long-term in County;
• Private funding for majority of costs;
• Stadium owners paying County at least 112,000,000 dollars in 30 years;
• Stadium owners paying penalties up to 120,000,000 dollars for not bringing premier football and soccer events to stadium; and
• Award, in May 2013, of Super Bowl.[13][14]

According to the Dolphins CEO, Mike Dee, the Dolphins have canceled all stadium renovations since they are unwilling to go forward without public funding and support. See Ballotpedia's article on this failed referendum for the reactions of both Mike Dee and the legislature.[15]

See also

References