BOB's a Bust

Bank One Ballpark was touted as a powerful economic engine for downtown. Data show, however, that BOB has fueled sales mostly for BOB. The meager spillover doesn't bode well for the Arizona Cardinals' stadium aspirations.

While the plan would keep the tax burden low on locals, it would place an additional burden on Maricopa County's stagnant tourism industry, via a 1 percent sales tax hike on hotels and a 3 percent surcharge on car rentals.

To offset the expected negative impact on tourism, the financing tax plan would generate at least $300 million over 30 years to promote Arizona tourism. In addition, about $180 million would be earmarked to upgrade Cactus League facilities for Major League Baseball. In fact, 60 percent of the projected $1.3 billion raised over 30 years would go to promote tourism and spring training -- with the balance earmarked for construction, financing and operation of the stadium, which would have a retractable roof and grass playing field that slides in and out like a cookie sheet. Ferris says Arizona residents would contribute less than $1 million a year, under the plan presented to the Legislature.

If Ferris' tax scheme holds water, Arizona could build a new football stadium, quadruple the state's tourism promotion budget, underwrite spring training for 30 years, host a Super Bowl every five years and keep the Fiesta Bowl as a top-tier game -- all at a cost to Maricopa County residents of less than one-tenth of the $238 million Bank One Ballpark tax.

Coyote Springs Brewing Company calls it quits, 
despite more than 3 million fans pouring into the 
downtown area for Arizona Diamondbacks games.
Paolo Vescia
Coyote Springs Brewing Company calls it quits, despite more than 3 million fans pouring into the downtown area for Arizona Diamondbacks games.
Alice Cooper'stown manager Brian Weymouth says 
business booms on game days.
Paolo Vescia
Alice Cooper'stown manager Brian Weymouth says business booms on game days.

"You have to ask yourself, does $900,000 per year pay for itself when we are helping to secure and maintain events which collectively kick in over a half a billion [dollars] a year?" Ferris says. "I think the answer is a clear yes."

Ultimately, Maricopa County voters will have to agree.

Promises of an economic bonanza erupting in the shadow of Bank One Ballpark in downtown have not materialized, outside of the handful of bars and restaurants at the ballpark and to the west along Jackson Street.

The dearth of economic spillover has stunned some business owners.

Mike J. Anagnopoulos, owner of the Matador Restaurant at First Street and Monroe, says he's only seen a small increase in revenue since BOB's opening.

"We thought it would be crazy, the way they were talking," he says. "It's been a help, but not the way we thought."

Mike Ratner, co-owner of Tom's Tavern at Central Avenue and Washington Street, jokes that he had retirement plans based on the revenue he thought BOB would bring. BOB isn't bringing early retirement to Ratner, and he says it has had a limited effect.

"We thought it was going to generate great revenue, and although it hasn't been a detriment to business, it has been a disappointment," Ratner says.

Eliseo Antunez, manager of Hooters in the Arizona Center, says his establishment has not seen much effect at all from BOB.

A few blocks to the east of the ballpark, the impact is all but invisible.

Brenda Ehlers, owner of Century Pub, says the stadium affects her business "not at all."

She says the previous owner sold the place a year and a half ago because the anticipated increased revenue just wasn't there. Ehlers says the pub is probably just too far away from BOB. At 11th Street and Washington, Century Pub is a five-block walk from the ballpark.

"Business is good, with a steady flow of traffic, but the stadium doesn't affect us at all," Ehlers says.

Statistics gathered by the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, a publicly funded but privately managed development group, show downtown remains a small player in Phoenix's overall economy, despite massive public investment in cultural, science and sports projects over the past decade.

Annual sales taxes generated in the downtown area were equal to about 1.7 percent of Phoenix's overall tax collections from 1991 through 1997. With the opening of the ballpark, the downtown share of the city's sales tax collections jumped to 2 percent in 1998 and remained at that level last year.

Data indicate that the opening of BOB coincided with a significant increase in overall downtown sales tax collections in 1998, up 41 percent to $3.34 million over the previous year. However, the spike was short-lived. Downtown sales tax collections in 1999 rose only 4.4 percent over 1998, totaling $3.56 million.

The number of business licenses downtown jumped the first year the stadium was open -- from 248 in 1997 to 277 in 1998 -- an increase of about 10 percent. But the number plummeted last year as stadium attendance fell 17 percent during the Diamondbacks' second season -- a campaign in which the team clinched the National League West pennant and won 100 games. Total business licenses at the end of 1999 in the downtown area were 252 -- only four more than the year before the stadium opened.

The ballpark's impact on the regional economy -- at least as far as bar and restaurant sales goes -- is also small. The downtown area accounted for 2.2 percent of Maricopa County bar and restaurant sales before BOB opened. Last year, the downtown area accounted for 2.9 percent of total bar and restaurant sales in Maricopa County.

Arizona State University economist Tom Rex says the impact of the ballpark on the economy is essentially a wash.

"When you open a big facility like that, it results mostly in a redistribution of money over a geographical area," Rex says.

Individuals have a limited amount of money to spend on entertainment, Rex explains. If they elect to spend money on baseball games and on food and drinks at businesses near the stadium, they won't spend that money on entertainment elsewhere.

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