GORDON WHITE: Field of Dreams?: Let Owners Build Their Own Arenas
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An overwhelming majority of voters were sensible in Seattle, Nov. 7, when they turned down attempts to publicly fund a new arena for the National Basketball Association's Supersonics.
At the same time, about 800 miles south along Interstate 5, the good folks of Sacramento were doing the same thing by rejecting public funding of a new arena for the NBA's Sacramento Kings.
In each case more than 75 percent of the voters said "no" to any new NBA arenas in those Far West cities. This voter revolt against millionaire team owners getting welfare assistance in the form of publicly funded buildings came just a few months after San Francisco turned on the Giants baseball team and refused to pay for a new baseball stadium.
That would have been the Giants' fourth home ballpark since they turned their back on New York and moved west in 1958.
This trend against publicly subsidized sports arenas has been growing in recent years. No longer is each city with a pro team frightened by the team owner's threat, "Build me a new stadium or I'll take my team to another town."
The voters' answer, more and more, is "So, goodbye."
When the Charlotte Hornets wanted a new arena but were turned down in 2001 it was Charlotte's way of telling an unpopular, wealthy owner, "Sayonara." Thus the New Orleans Hornets were born in 2002.
Starting around 2000 in the oldest of American cities with famous and well loved sports teams, the public and the city governments began vetoing the use of tax dollars for team playgrounds.
The New York Giants and the Jets are going to share in paying for a new football stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands to replace Giants Stadium that is located there. No tax dollars for this stadium that is planned to be ready for the 2009 season.
The Meadowlands stadium came about after New York City's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, never got to first base with his wild idea of building a 50,000-seat football stadium on Manhattan's West Side in the Forties.
He was trying to attract the 2012 summer Olympic Games to New York and get the Jets to return to New York City. But this stadium was soundly squashed by the New York State legislature in Albany -- proof that politicians get something right once in a while. The 2012 Olympics are set for London and the Jets for the Meadowlands.
Meanwhile, the New York Yankees and New York Mets are paying the lion's share of the cost for new baseball stadiums in the Bronx and Flushing Queens to replace Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium.
The new Yankee Stadium may cost more than $900 million and the new Citi Field for the Mets will be slightly less. The city and state will pay hundreds of millions of dollars for road accesses and other infrastructures while tax payers do not foot the stadium bills.
Moving up the northeast corridor to Boston, citizens rejected the idea of publicly financing a new Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox a couple of years ago. That was truly a strong "no" by Bostonians since that was the year their beloved Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years.
The Yankees and Mets are also truly loved by their New York faithful fans. But when it comes to the pocket book for a stadium, let the rich guys who own the teams foot the tab.
Going back down the northeast corridor, Jack Kent Cooke showed his fellow multi-millionaire owners what real value is there when you do not get public funds for a stadium.
Then the owner of the Washington Redskins, Cooke decided to pay for a new football arena for his team. He built his stadium in Landover, Md.
He died in 1997, and eventually the team was sold to Daniel Snyder in 1999.
The Washington Redskins, largely because they own their own arena, are estimated to be the second most valuable sports franchise in the United States if not the world.
The New York Yankees are top of that list at a possible value of well over $1 billion.
The Yankees will probably be worth a lot more when they complete their new Yankee Stadium that they will own outright. The city owns the current Yankee Stadium and rents it to the Yankees.
Some communities have voted to pay all or part of new arenas in the last decade or more. The San Diego Padres are in such a new ballpark. Philadelphia chose to pay some of the cost of a new First Union Center to replace the Spectrum, home for the NBA Sixers and the National Hockey League Flyers.
But the majority of voters across the nation seem to be tired of multi-millionaire team owners paying athletes millions of dollars to perform in less than winning fashion while saying, "The public owes me a new arena or stadium so I can make more money so I can pay those mediocre athletes more money."
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His e-mail is email@example.com
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