The falsehoods from the team and developer are off and running
The second-biggest story related to the White Sox this week was that PECOTA gives them zero — that’s a true, 0.0 zero, not some rounding down — to win the anemic AAAL Central or get a wild card, let alone win the World Series. Fortunately for whoever has to sell tickets for this season, that news has been drowned out by all the fancy drawings and lies about a proposed new stadium in the South Loop.
“There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Never question the wisdom of Mark Twain. Especially about totally made-up statistics.
The latest release from Related Midwest, the developer of The 78, where this new White Sox ballpark would theoretically go, got lots of coverage due to the pretty pictures of some idyllic scene more fitting for the Field of Dreams than reality. But it was the claims from Related Midwest that accompanied the pics that should have drawn more attention, namely:
Included in the renderings is the “Project Impact” the stadium is expected to benefit the city of Chicago. In it, it projects five million annual visitors, a $9 billion investment in Chicago, $4 billion stabilized annual economic impact, 32,000 jobs, 1,000 affordable units, $200 million annual tax revenue, 10+ acres of space for the community and 1,300 residential units.
Allow me to be the first to call “Bull***t!”
It’s not unusual for the economic impact of a project to be greatly exaggerated in order to grab public money. But, at least in the case of sports facilities, the claims are never, ever true. Never. Ever.
There are many academic studies which go into great detail about how and why putting public money into a ballpark or arena is a huge waste of tax dollars that could be better spent elsewhere, but if you want to avoid academic prose, an article in a publication of the Federal Reserve St Louis office (Economics Of Subsidizing Sports Stadiums | St. Louis Fed (stlouisfed.org) while old (2001), puts it all together in an easy form to understand and makes you realize that politicians who put your money into the pockets of billionaires should be drawn and quartered.
But let’s break down the Related Midwest claims:
- 5 million annual visitors Since the White Sox have never drawn close to half that many spectators in any year since 2008, and the theory is that it’s the ballpark that will lure people to restaurants and bars and whatever, apparently three million or so are coming to be amazed at how few cars are on Clark Street down there.
- $9 billion investment in Chicago It’s hard to even know where to start laughing at that one. The owners of the Cubs may not be nice people, but after they tried to get public funding and failed, they plunged ahead with a massive set of improvements and additions to Wrigley and the surrounding area on their own, including pretty much all the things proposed for The 78, basically creating a neighborhood. And they did it for about one billion, not nine.
- $4 billion stabilized annual economic impact Gee, owning a baseball team must be a lot more lucrative than Jerry Reinsdorf has ever admitted. This load of b.s. wouldn’t ever fool Penn and Teller. Or any sentient being. Unless you mean the impact going into Jerry’s pocket.
- 32,000 jobs Gosh, that’s a lot of jobs. Granted, there would be a lot of short-term construction jobs, about the same number there would be if you put the same money into new schools. As for permanent jobs, well, there would be many seasonal jobs at the ballpark, for sure — the same number as there are at the GuRF now, or maybe not quite as many since a new facility is bound to have more automation, and Reinsdorf is famed as the most anti-labor of any baseball owner. Surrounding restaurants and such, should they ever actually exist, will need employees, which should be available from the nearby fooderies and bars that lose business to the new joints. All it would be is jobs moving a few blocks ... though, to be fair, Related Midwest didn’t claim these would be “new” jobs.
- 1,000 affordable units Could be, I guess, though it won’t be a good look for the new place to have all those homeless folks pitching tents there.
- $200 million annual tax revenue Of which both Reinsdorf and the even (much) richer head of Related Midwest’s parent company will be sure to weasel out of every single possible dime, something they’re both very good at. When they get done with all their (perfectly legal) tax dodges, there may not be much left. Or maybe Reinsdorf plans to trade for Shohei Ohtani and he’ll be paying the taxes.
- 10+ acres of space for the community Could be. Of course, there are 62 acres of space for the community there now.
- 1,300 residential units Yes, roughly the population of two South Loop high rises that would be built anyway.
All that sure makes the concept look really lucrative, so lucrative it’s amazing the White Sox and Related Midwest don’t want to go ahead on their own and reap all those gazillions in profits for themselves while paying taxes like good citizens and not even asking for TIF-type breaks.
Reinsdorf and his buddies have an incredible deal going now, paying a small fraction in rent compared to what they’d owe in property taxes if they actually owned the GuRF and its parking lots and were good citizens. He’s certainly not going to plunge into a worse situation. The city and state shouldn’t either.
Perhaps an earlier suggestion I made on a referendum for the use of tax dollars (and/or breaks) for a new stadium was too complicated. Maybe a simple yes/no ballot question would be better.
How about: Instead of going to schools, police, parks, roads, and other usual government functions, Chicago and Illinois should take hundreds of millions of tax dollars to build a stadium for the benefit of billionaires who will get to keep the profits from its operation.
PECOTA would give that as much a chance of passage as it gives the White Sox to win the World Series.
AN ADDENDUM ABOUT A DECIMAL POINT
This was written before the Tribune’s front-page article on the claims came out on Friday. At first it looked like the Trib was buying the b.s., but then they corrected the picture by talking to Allen Sanderson of the University of Chicago, who studies sports economics, and who pointed out that whenever claims like these are made, you should move the decimal point a column to the left. Of course, the grifters now know that rule of thumb and adjust their claims accordingly, so you probably now need to move the decimal point two columns to the left.
The Trib also pointed out the current hotel tax levies to pay most of the public share of the GuRF have fallen short by tens of millions, and the city is having to cough up the difference every year.
But that’s a whole other story of Reinsdorf’s grifting.