Randy Brown, Director of the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, was cited in Friday's edition of USA Today. The article "Lights Out for Aging Arenas" was written by Chris Joyner and Kareem Copeland. Mr. Brown got a bit over-enthusiastic in asserting the economic impact of the Coliseum.
The article was about the large number of cities who are undertaking taxpayer funded replacement or upgrades of athletic arenas:
Arenas and stadiums built 30 or 40 years ago as publicly funded antidotes for urban decay are now rundown eyesores. As the economy struggles, cities are hard-pressed to find tens of millions of dollars to upgrade or hundreds of millions to build anew.
"It's happening all over," said Randy Brown, director at large for arenas for the trade group the International Association of Assembly Managers (IAAM). "You have a lot of buildings that were built in the '50s and '60s and '70s that are at the point in their life cycle where something has to be done."
Brown manages the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum outside Fort Wayne, Ind. The venue received a $34.5 million renovation in 2002. The county is paying for it by adding a penny tax on food and beverages sold there. Brown said the coliseum, built in 1952, had not kept up with the times.
There was heated public debate over whether to remodel the building — which Brown said had hosted "everybody from Elvis to Frank Sinatra and everyone in between" — or abandon it in favor of a more centrally located new facility in downtown Fort Wayne. Cost efficiency and historical significance won the day, he said.
A variety of arena projects are underway or under consideration:
•In Wichita, [ ... ] INTRUST Bank Arena, a $184 million, 15,000-seat facility funded by a special 1-cent sales tax in Sedgwick County. County spokeswoman Amanda Matthews says the entire cost of the project is being paid in advance by the tax, which was collected from July 2005 until December 2007. [ ... ]
•In Bangor, Maine, [ ... ] Bangor Auditorium, which is more than 50 years old. The city estimates the arena will cost between $90 million and $100 million, according to City Manager Ed Barrett. It plans to finance the project with revenue from slot machine gaming that was approved by voters in 2003. [ ... ]
•In Richmond, Va., [O]fficials are planning to replace its 22-year-old stadium, known as "The Diamond," city spokesman Linwood Norman said, [to be] financed by the city and two surrounding counties at a cost of about $45 million. [ ... ]
•In Hartford, Conn., officials are seeking support to replace the civic center at a estimated price of $300 million to $400 million, which [ ... ] would largely be financed with public funds and some corporate sponsorships. [ ... ]
Marion Orr, professor of political science and urban studies at Brown University, says spending local tax dollars on such projects is not good for cities.
In the 1960s and 1970s, cities could look to the federal government to underwrite big venues as urban renewal projects, but those funding sources largely have dried up, Orr said.
Cities can no longer afford to spent precious tax dollars on glitzy buildings when urban areas are desperate for affordable housing and better schools, Orr said.
"They just have to stand up (when a team leaves) and say, "We did this for our working-class citizens,' " he said.
Brown of the IAAM counters that arenas are big contributors to local economies.
He cited an economic impact study by Tradeshow Week Custom Research, that found the coliseum complex contributes $100 million to the Fort Wayne metro economy. The real impact, he added, is on the hotels and restaurants that surround the facility.
"We probably have an indirect effect of four to five times that number," he said.