BOB's a Bust

If you build a stadium, people will come," says William Garrard, former owner of Coyote Springs Brewing Company. But he adds, "It's a quickie effect."

And when Bank One Ballpark opened its roof in downtown Phoenix, people did come -- more than 3.6 million fans in 1998 and 3 million last year.

Garrard, a banker and economist, saw a huge initial impact at his downtown location three blocks from the ballpark.

"We saw a 100 percent increase on event days," Garrard says. "It was two hours before and after the game."

But William Garrard's quickie is over. The economic ripple effect of the ballpark was far less than expected -- insufficient to sustain Coyote Springs, a brew pub and restaurant. The downtown location closed its doors last fall.

"It's easy to exaggerate how much business is going to be down there," Garrard says. "It's feast or famine downtown."

Don Allison, an investor in Coyote Springs' downtown location, says many things contributed to the restaurant's failure, and one was its location downtown.

"Everybody is pulling for the same dollars," Allison says.

Other downtown merchants agree that rosy economic projections promised with the construction of BOB have not materialized. The impact on downtown business appears to be limited to a handful of bars on Jackson Street that host large crowds before and after games.

One of those bars is Alice Cooper'stown. Brian Weymouth, managing partner, says BOB was the catalyst for the opening of the sports/rock 'n' roll-themed bar, which is across Jackson Street from America West Arena. "BOB combined with America West has a real big impact on business," Weymouth says.

The mixed experiences of downtown business owners are reflected in statistics that indicate that after an initial spike in economic activity, downtown's economic growth has leveled off just two years after completion of the $355 million ballpark -- $238 million of which was contributed by Maricopa County taxpayers.

The BOB-anchored downtown is not the economic engine it's been touted to be. Sales downtown are not even keeping pace with sales in the rest of Phoenix.

Today, only four more business licenses exist in the downtown area -- bounded by Third Avenue and Seventh Street, and Fillmore and Jackson streets -- than immediately prior to BOB's opening. And several of those new businesses are located on the ballpark property, including two restaurant/bar facilities.

In fact, BOB has captured more than 90 percent of the increased downtown restaurant and bar sales since the 49,500-seat stadium opened in March 1998.

Anecdotal evidence and sales tax data support conclusions of economists who say that sports-facility subsidies are not good civic investments. The data show that BOB has had a minuscule effect on the overall city and regional economy. Claims that publicly financed stadiums fuel economic revivals have worn thin.

"These things can only be viewed as a redistribution program," says University of South Florida economist Phil Porter, who specializes in professional sports economics. "This takes the money from people who don't care about professional sports and gives it to the people who do."

This is bad news for the Arizona Cardinals, who are seeking about $530 million in taxes over 30 years to help build and operate a new football stadium.

For Cardinals stadium proponents, however, the silver lining to this cloud is that a financing plan being pushed at the Legislature would take little of that tax money from the pockets of Arizonans.

Taxpayers already are dubious of claims that stadium projects generate a windfall for the local economy. In May, Mesa voters handily rejected a proposal by the Cardinals to build Rio Salado Crossing, a $1.8 billion stadium/convention center/hotel complex financed by a gaggle of sales taxes. The project was billed as an economic juggernaut for the East Valley.

Although Cardinals ownership denies it, many observers believe the Cardinals will leave Arizona if a new stadium isn't built. There are claims that a new stadium also is needed to keep the Fiesta Bowl intact. Stadium proponents cite the possibility of luring Super Bowls.

Weeks after the May election defeat, the Cardinals asked Governor Jane Dee Hull to spearhead a task force to develop a public financing plan to underwrite construction, operation and financing of a $342 million football stadium.

Hull assigned the project to her deputy chief of staff, Ted Ferris.

The former head of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, Ferris understands the complexities of state financing as well as anybody in Arizona. He knew there was widespread taxpayer resentment lingering from the quarter-cent sales tax -- imposed without voter approval -- to raise $238 million for BOB. There would be no general sales tax increase to build a stadium for the Cardinals.