Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, OH just before detonation in 2002. The 32 year-old stadium was demolished to make way for a new stadium paid for by a sales tax. (Photo by Eric Andrews)
Detonation almost complete. (Photo by Eric Andrews)
The home of the "Big Red Machine" is no more. (Photo by Eric Andrews)
In cities across the nation, taxpayers are finding themselves facing the same dilemma: cough up big bucks for a new sports stadium… or else. Right now it’s happening in Washington, D.C. as the capital city tries to lure a baseball team. It’s happening in New York where the city’s deciding whether to spend 600 million dollars on a new home for the Jets in Manhattan. The debate is over what the taxpayers get. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Richard Paul takes a look at whether sports stadiums really can hit a homerun for taxpayers:
In cities across the nation, taxpayers are finding themselves facing the same dilemma:
cough up big bucks for a new sports stadium… or else. Right now it’s happening in
Washington, D.C. as the capital city tries to lure a baseball team. It’s happening in New
York where the city’s deciding whether to spend 600 million dollars on a new home for
the Jets in Manhattan. The debate is over what the taxpayers get. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Richard Paul takes a look at whether sports stadiums really can hit a
homerun for taxpayers:
It’s sort of funny when you think about it. The most hackneyed rationale you can think of
for building a ballpark is… it turns out… actually the primary motivation when cities sit
down to figure out whether to shell out for a stadium. You know what I’m talking
(MOVIE CLIP – “FIELD OF DREAMS”: “If you build it they will come…”)
Just like in “Field of Dreams.” Put in a stadium. People will show up, see the game, eat
in the neighborhood, shop there, stay overnight in hotels, pay taxes on everything and
we’ll clean up!
(MOVIE CLIP – “FIELD OF DREAMS”: “They’ll pass over the money without even
thinking about it…”)
Here’s the thing though… it doesn’t work.
“In the vast majority of cases there was very little or no effect whatsoever on the local
That’s economist Ron Utt. He’s talking about a study that looked at 48 different cities
that built stadiums from 1958 to 1989. Not only didn’t they improve things, he says in
some cases it even got worse.
“If you’re spending 250 million or 750 million or a billion dollars on something, that
means a whole bunch of other things that you’re not doing. Look at Veterans Stadium
and the Spectrum in South Philadelphia or the new state-of-the art Gateway Center in
Cleveland. The sponsors admitted that that created only half of the jobs that were
But what about those numbers showing that stadiums bring the state money – all that
sales tax on tickets and hot dogs? Economists will tell you to look at it this way: If I
spend $100 taking my wife to a nice dinner in Napa Valley…
(sound of wine glasses clinking)
Or we spend $100 watching the Giants at Pac Bell Park…
(sound of ballpark and organ music)
…I’ve still only spent $100. The hundred dollars spent at the ballpark is not new money.
I just spent it one place instead of another.
In Washington right now, fans have been told they can keep the Washington Nationals, if
Major League Baseball gets a new stadium that the fans pay for. Washington is a place
was more professional activists, more advanced degrees and more lawyers than it has
restaurants, traffic lights or gas stations. And as a result, it’s practically impossible to get
anything big built. But the mayor’s trying. He wants the city to build a new stadium in
really awful part of town and use baseball as the lever to bring in economic activity. The
reaction so far? Turn on the local TV news…
NEWS REPORT – NEWS – CHANNEL 8
ANCHOR: “Baseball’s return to the District still isn’t sitting well with some folks. One
major issue is the proposal for a new stadium.”
ANGRY MAN GIVING A SPEECH: “Tell this mayor that his priorities are out of
Turns out that guy’s in the majority. A survey by The Washington Post shows
69% of the people in Washington don’t want city funds spent on a new baseball stadium.
We Americans weren’t always like this.
MOVIE CLIP – SAN FRANCISCO WORLD’S FAIR
ANNOUNCER: “You will want to see the Golden Gate international exposition again
and again in the time you have left to you…”
Today politicians need to couch this kind of spending in terms of economic development
because no one will support tax dollars for entertainment. But there was a time in
America when people were willing to squander multiple millions in public money for the
sake of a good time.
MOVIE CLIP – SAN FRANCISCO WORLD’S FAIR
ANNOUNCER: “Remember: Treasure Island – the world fair of the West closes forever
on September 29th.”
In 1939, in New York and San Francisco, and then again in New York in 1964. they
spent MILLIONS. And the purpose was never really clear. Here’s Robert Moses… the
man who made New York City what it is today… on the 1964 Fair.
REPORTER: “What is the overall purpose of the new Fair?”
MOSES: “Well, the overall stated purpose is education for brotherhood and brotherhood
MOVIE CLIP – NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR
ANNOUNCER: “Everyone is coming to the New York World’s Fair. Coming from the
four corners of the earth. And Five Corners, Idaho.”
Maybe those were simpler times. When people were a lot more willing to let rich men in
charge tell them what was right and wrong. Today, a politician looking to build himself a
monument is going to have to convince people it’s for their own good – and economic
development is the most popular selling point. Looking around these days – more often
than not – it seems voters are willing to rely on a quick fix. Taken together, that’s a
recipe for this kind of thing continuing. After all, when you’re a politician building a
legacy for yourself, a sports stadium is a lot sexier than filling pot holes or fixing school
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Richard Paul.
It’s the time of year when many gardens reach their peak – and even grow a little bit wild. That has made one essayist’s loss all the more painful. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly remembers a special garden:
It’s the time of year when many gardens reach their peak –
and even grow a little bit wild. That has made one essayist’s loss all the more painful.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly remembers a special garden:
It looked like a crime scene.
Everything in the garden was gone.
The morning glories no longer crowded the sidewalk. Sunflowers were cut down in their
prime. There was a hole instead of the lilac. And one stubby trunk – where someone had
hacked off the sand cherry tree.
We started the garden just over a year ago. I found out I was pregnant and next thing I
know, my husband is incubating black-eyed susans on top of the refrigerator.
He seemed to have that nesting instinct. Suddenly, he was spending every weekend at
the nursery. He came home with tools and soil and plants and even trees.
The scraggly yard in front of our apartment building was being transformed.
For me, it was just what I needed – a patch of nature in the middle of the city.
This summer, the flowers came back. And we shared the garden with our 6 month old.
We were pointing out the buds on the trees, and the bees buzzing around.
We didn’t tend it much as we got ready to move. And it grew pretty wild.
There were flowers, but also grass and weeds.
Two weeks after we moved, all that life was torn up. Eleven different kinds of plants – all
carefully chosen and tended. We visited them every time we walked in or out of the
I can’t imagine the person who could just rip flowers out of the ground. It was a tiny,
imperfect oasis. Now, it’s just dirt.
Ironically, the only thing that survived was a plum tree we planted on the city property –
between the sidewalk and the road. We thought city workers might pull it up – since it
wasn’t official. Instead, they plunked an iron gate around it and now, every week, a city
truck comes to water it.
We always laugh about how it survived its brush with the city officials.
Now, that tree has proved it really is a survivor – but all that perennial color that was
once a backdrop to it is gone. It was not just a bit of our past, but an investment in the
future as well.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.
The art deco style Mott Building is the tallest building in Flint, Michigan. Local chapters of the American Institute of Architects are trying to raise awareness about buildings like these in order to preserve them. (Photo by Ronald Campbell)
As people move to homes and businesses in the suburbs they often abandon beautiful buildings. Some inner cities are now filled with boarded up store fronts and dilapidated high-rises. A group of architects hopes that people will be less likely to do this if they value good architecture and design. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney has this story:
As people move to homes and businesses in the suburbs they often abandon beautiful buildings. Some inner cities are now filled with boarded up store fronts and dilapidated high-rises. A group of architects hopes that people will be less likely to do this if they value good architecture and design. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney reports:
Flint, Michigan could be the poster child for a city left behind. Parts of the city have crumbled since Flint’s
auto industry moved away. But like
many older cities, there are dozens
of architectural gems here… (sound up)
like the Mott Building. It’s the city’s
tallest building and the exterior, the
interior, and every detail right down
to the doors on the elevators (sound
of elevator) are designed and
decorated in the Art Deco style.
Albert Ashley is a security contractor
at the Mott Building. He says a week
doesn’t go by without someone
asking about it.
(elevator bings and boings)
“It’s quite regular, quite regular we
get comments about it and the
architectural design and so forth…
well they can tell that it was pretty
old building and well kept, you know,
and the design is pretty much the
same throughout the building, so they
notice that and they like it.”
(Sounds of traffic)
One person who has always liked this
building is Ron Campbell. As a child,
he’d stand here on the corner of
Saginaw Street waiting for the bus.
“I can remember asking my mother,
‘how many stories is that?’ And I
probably pestered her with questions
to the point where she was ‘just be
quiet and wait for the bus.’ But…
‘How high is that compared with the
Empire State Building? How many
buildings do we have like that?'”
With that kind of early interest in
buildings, it’s no surprise Ron
Campbell grew up to become an
architect. And he’s now written a
guide to the architecture in Flint.
It’s a pamphlet with pictures and
blurbs about 34 places in the city.
It’s available at highway rest stops
and at businesses and museums.
Campbell says he’s trying to
teach people about the various styles
of architecture found in the city, but
he’s also hoping the guide can in
some small way combat urban sprawl
by celebrating places that are
beautiful, well thought out, and
designed to last. He thinks that if
more people paid attention to good
architecture in many older cities
they’d be less likely to abandoned
them in favor of new buildings and
“The Guide is to show, you know,
can come from good design. It
doesn’t matter if it was built in
1800’s or today. If it’s good design
and it interfaces well, it functions well,
it’s going to be with us, and therefore
we should use it and not think of it
The Guide to Flint Architecture is one
of many projects local chapters of the
American Institute of Architects are
doing to raise awareness about
architecture and the environments
that we build. Similar guides have
been created for cities ranging from
Duluth, Minnesota to Manhattan.
Celeste Novak is the president of
AIA Michigan. She says the buildings
in a city can tell stories about the
“They are a museum that we are all
participants in, and so it’s important
that people understand that
about the buildings and the communities,
and so that they begin to treasure their
communities and that’s one way we
can all have more livable
communities and really prevent things
like sprawl and the unpleasant places
we all find ourselves at when we’re grocery shopping.”
Those strip malls and big box stores
near the highway look very different
from the places shown in Ron
(sound of footsteps on bridge)
Campbell and I walk across a small
wooden footbridge in the heart of
downtown Flint. We’ve just left a
peaceful riverfront park designed by
a well known architect. On the other
side of the river where we’re going
sits Carriagetown. It’s where the
vehicle industry began in Flint.
“Oh, Carriage Town is rich in history –
this is the birthplace of General Motors
Company with the Durant Dort
After years of neglect, this factory
from the late 1800’s has been
restored as have many homes in this
historic district. Ron Campbell says
he’s glad Carriage Town was never
torn down. It’s part of the city’s
industrial history. And Carriage Town,
like the Art Deco Mott Building and
many other places in the Guide to
Flint Architecture are nostalgic places
for Ron Campbell. They’re reminders
of his past and things he’s done over
“Those buildings, it re-kindles
childhood memories for me, but then
I look at the future, and what are we
leaving for our children and our
children’s children and hopefully it’s
something just as memorable.”
He says design decisions can
change a community for better or for
worse. He and other architects like
him want to encourage people to
think about the buildings they have
and to pay more attention to
aesthetics. The hope is society can
do a better job protecting historical
structures, preserving natural
resources, and by doing so
For the Great Lakes Radio
Consortium, I’m Tamar Charney.