'Economic Revitalization' Plan Pushed by Raiders, Oakland Officials Is Delusional -- And Should Not Be Reported on Uncritically

Categories: Business, Sports
Even if your room looks like this, you've got to admit the Raiders' stadium plan is bogus
If Oakland politicos and Raiders officials earnestly reported that the sun rotates around the earth or that the world is shaped like a yam, we would expect something other than a cursory retelling in the next day's papers. So why, when the city and team announce that they hope to bring about "economic revitalization" via partly city-funded development centered around a new mega-stadium for the Raiders, are they given a free pass?

You don't have to be an economist or a real-estate developer to know there's something screwy with the following rationale: "You know what would really get people flowing into my retail/residential development? A massive stadium that's empty 355 days a year!"

Neil Demause is the author of Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit. When told about the Raiders' plan, he actually laughed: Owners angling for government subsidies have been pushing the "economic revitalization" line since going to see the Lions at the Coliseum was part of the Bread & Circuses double bill.

"Football is a terrible anchor" for development, he confirms. "You get a football stadium in there, it brings in people 10 afternoons a year. Everyone floods in and floods back out. How many tailgating supplies can you sell? Other than that, it's a dead zone." 

When asked if there are any situations where a football stadium has successfully anchored large-scale development, Demause couldn't think of one. Petco Park in San Diego and Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. could be possible exceptions, he notes -- but those are both baseball stadiums -- which feature 81 home dates a year, not eight -- and extensive development was already under way before those stadiums popped along.

Nevertheless, here's what Raiders CEO Amy Trask told the Chronicle: "Stadium development has been used quite successfully to spur economic revitalization in other communities. ... We have suggested to the city ... that we collectively pursue the idea of using a stadium development project as part of a larger, economic redevelopment plan in and around the stadium."

Her example for the Chron: The rebirth of Baltimore's inner harbor neighborhood, which she attributed to the Ravens' new stadium. That made Demause laugh again. Harder. 

"Given that the entire inner harbor was developed five to 10 years before the Ravens stadium opened, that's a neat trick," he says. "They built the aquarium, then the baseball stadium, and then the football stadium. And the football stadium is around the bend of the harbor, down by the highway -- and nothing's going on around there. I suppose you could come up with a worse example, but I'm hard-pressed to think of one."

SF Weekly's call to the Raiders to query what other examples of stadiums "quite successfully" spurring economic revitalization they could come up with has not yet been returned. We're not holding our breath.

Why does this charade continue? You don't have to be the smartest kid in the room to see why the teams toe this line: There's hundreds of millions in free money coming their way in subsidies. As for the cities? The city official pushing this plan, Oakland Vice Mayor Ignacio De La Fuente, came second to Ron Dellums in the last mayoral election. Next time he wants to Just Win, Baby -- and folks running for mayor "like to build things, point at it, and say 'Look at that!'" Demause notes. Pointing at less crowded kindergarten classes? Not as easy.

Finally, why do newspapers report on this fable so uncritically? Well, calling out the Raiders and the city of Oakland on their bullshit stories isn't the best way to foster a working relationship. And journalists are busy -- "It's easier to just report what the team says. And if another politician comes out the next day and says it's bad, you write that," Demause says.  

Who knows? Maybe today someone will call the Raiders' bluff -- the world is not shaped like a yam.

Photo   |   SportsFanBedding.com

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