Monday, March 21, 2016

A "KINGS" RANSOM: Should Taxpayers Be Subsidizing Corporate Sports?

Sacramento's historic origins lie along the lovely American River.
Like so many American cities, Sacramento, California was long ago ravaged by the construction of an elevated interstate freeway that severed the downtown from its historic riverfront roots. In some places, U.S. Interstate 5 passes within a few hundred feet of the lovely American River, shattering a once placid riverside stroll with the sound of big rigs barreling overhead.

In later years, Sacramento’s city planners did their best to mitigate the disastrous effects of this mid-century freeway incursion valiantly attempting to reconnect the city to its riverside origins via a pedestrian mall. Alas, this route necessarily dips beneath the vast breadth of Interstate 5, plunging hapless strollers into a dark tunnel while hundreds of motor vehicles roar past in the sunshine overhead.
The construction of Interstate 5 literally severed Sacramento
from it riverside origins.

Now another civic catastrophe is being visited on Sacramento, and once again it will seem familiar to cities across the United States. Despite the looming presence of Interstate 5, Sacramento’s pedestrian mall at least gave the city a semblance of a grand processional befitting a state capital. Not so any more: The vast Golden 1 Center now sprawls across this axis like a beached whale. 

Golden 1 Center is billed as a multi-purpose indoor arena, but its main brief is to house the Sacramento Kings basketball team which, in a familiar ploy, was threatening  to move elsewhere. The project was never subject to a public vote, even though taxpayers will foot nearly half the estimated $507 million bill, and even though this quarter-billion dollar investment of public money will serve mainly to keep yet another corporate sports franchise flush with cash. 

Golden 1 Center, a mammoth arena that serves mainly
to ensconce the Sacramento Kings basketball team,
now sprawls directly across the axis of
Sacramento's pedestrian connection to the river.
To this end, the arena will be fitted with an 84-foot-wide ultra HD videoboard (“the largest screens in the NBA”), a plethora of luxury suites, and all the other accouterments expected of high-rolling corporate sports. The fawning city council even agreed to rezone several parcels to allow the Kings to erect six digital billboards beside nearby freeways. One presumes that mucking up Sacramento’s downtown with this elephantine lump of a structure was just seen as a minor downside.

However, the root issue here and in other American cities is not just one of intelligent city planning. The real question is why any city should allow itself to be blackmailed into accommodating multimillion-dollar sports franchises at taxpayer expense.  
But the real question for big-deal arenas like this one is:
Should taxpayers be footing half the bill?

Following the Sacramento city council’s 7-2 approval of the Golden 1 project in May 2014, a local attorney and vocal opponent of the arena, Patrick Soluri, was interviewed by the Sacramento Bee newspaper. He framed a complaint that could be made against corporate sports arena deals across America:

“This action does not represent the will of the taxpayers and residents of the city of Sacramento. These officials have completely abandoned their duties to represent the interests of ordinary citizens.”

Sacramento’s mayor, Kevin Johnson—who happens to be a former NBA All-Star— has dismissed taxpayer challenges such as Soluri’s, saying: “We’re not going to let any sideshows or distractions steal our moment.”

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