Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Keep Public Money Out of Owners’ Hands

In their final game of the season Wednesday, the Seattle Supersonics fell to the NBA-best Dallas Mavericks in Seattle, 106-75. There was nothing particularly exciting about the loss – as one of 51 this season for the Sonics, it was hardly significant. Yet as the curtain fell on the Sonics’ 40th season in the Emerald City, Seattle fans must face the reality that they will only have, at best, three more seasons with their beloved team.

In some ways, it is a shame that Seattle will lose its oldest franchise. Since coming to the city in 1967, the Sonics have become as much a part of the Emerald City as overpriced coffee, the dot-com industry and rain. Without the 1979 Sonics, the city would still be searching for its first championship. In short, the Sonics’ inevitable move – likely to Oklahoma City – is no small loss.

But a closer look at the situation reveals that perhaps Seattle will benefit from the loss. With the Sonics’ lease at the old Key Arena set to expire after the 2009-2010 season, team owner Clay Bennett was hoping to get a new arena built in nearby Renton, Wash. A reasonable plan – except that Bennett asked the taxpayers to supply $400 million to build his team’s arena. It’s not exactly like Bennett, who was once a part-owner of the San Antonio Spurs, is in need of cash. The measure was put on the ballot in November, and Seattle voters rejected the ridiculous plan with almost 75 percent in opposition. So while the loss of the Sonics may be a bitter pill for the city to swallow, perhaps the people of Seattle can find some consolation in taking a stand against one of the most shameful practices in sports – the publicly funded, privately operated sports arena.

The 2005 Supreme Court decision regarding eminent domain, Kelo v New London, made people ask how the government could take private land and give it to private developers. But every one of the thousands of fans who pack stadiums built with tax dollars have asked the same question before people started suing each other in Connecticut.

For years, municipal and state governments have been fooled into shelling out millions – often in the form of tax subsidies – to wealthy owners for the purpose of building stadiums. Strikingly, the logic used to justify these projects was the same logic under which the Supreme Court expanded the right of eminent domain – economic development. These stadiums, we are led to believe, will revitalize struggling neighborhoods and create jobs for locals, yet these promises rarely materialize. Thankfully, at least the citizens of Seattle recognized this.

But sadly, too few cities are willing to stand up to their sports franchises. Hoyas should know this firsthand. While the Verizon Center was built with private money, the City Council introduced this past February a bill to raise $50 million to repair the arena. As part of the deal, according to a report in the Washington Post on Feb. 21, the stadium would “spur more economic development near the Chinatown area.” The city would also get exclusive use of a luxury box and, eventually, ownership of the arena.

As you may know, the District also has one of the highest murder rates of any city in the country with only Baltimore, Detroit and St. Louis having more per capita. Public schools in Washington, D.C., are also abysmally poor. Yet the City Council would seem more inclined to shell out money to repair a privately-owned facility than to address the pressing issues of law enforcement and public education. With the Nationals’ $611 million ballpark set to open in a few seasons, it looks as though the District hasn’t learned its lesson.

This isn’t to pick on Washington, D.C., though the City Council really should not be spending money building sparkling arenas for wealthy owners when there are far more serious problems. y hometown of Philadelphia isn’t any better. Just in the past four years, the city has opened up two beautiful new facilities – the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park and the Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field – at costs soaring above $100 million. Yet at the same time, Philadelphia’s public schools are struggling to meet national standards, and the city has witnessed more than 100 homicides in just the past four months. Yes, the stadiums are nice – but shouldn’t the city be more concerned with failing schools and an undermanned police department?

In a perfect world, more owners would follow the example of Abe Pollin, the owner of the Washington Wizards and the Verizon Center, and finance their stadiums with their own money. It’s not like, say, Mark Cuban – the billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner – can’t afford to build a stadium out of his own pocket. Yet we don’t live in a perfect world, and the choice seems to be this – cities can spend their money on stadiums, and keep their teams, or spend their money on more pressing needs and say good-bye to their franchises. It’s a foolish choice and a shameful situation, but that’s just the way things are.

So while Emerald City fans will miss their Sonics, they can at least find solace in being a more responsible city than the District or the City of Brotherly Love.

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