Bad bets take a big toll on the Super Bowl's host city

Thu Oct 30, 2014 11:27am EDT
 
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By Robin Respaut

GLENDALE Ariz. (Reuters) - Welcome to the sports-crazy home of February's Super Bowl.

Over the last decade or so, this city of 230,000 on Phoenix's northwest border, has reinvented itself from farm town to sports Mecca. It has built the dome stadium where the National Football League's Arizona Cardinals play, the National Hockey League's Arizona Coyotes arena, and the new baseball facility where the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox appear every spring for their pre-season training.

But Glendale's love of sports has come at a cost: red ink and jobs lost. All told, said Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers, the town's sports fetish has produced "a house of cards."

And even the Super Bowl, the NFL's annual championship extravaganza, will add to the pain. The game, and the partying that comes with it, will rake in hundreds of millions of dollars for Arizona. For Glendale? Another bill. This time because of the security costs.

A visitor to Glendale doesn't have to look far to find evidence of its shattered dreams. At the edges of the sports district are vacant lots where there were supposed to be stores and other commercial developments that would generate taxes to pay off the debt taken on to build the sports facilities.

Glendale now spends over $40 million annually on sports-related expenses, including $15 million to manage the hockey arena, and about $25.5 million on debt service. The city's general fund, the pool of tax money used to support city services like police and fire, has suffered big deficits.

It's scorecard: Standard & Poor's Ratings Services downgraded the city's bonds three times since 2012. The Tax Foundation ranks the city's sales tax, at 9 percent, as seventh highest in the nation, and Moody's Investor Service says the direct debt burden is the largest among rated cities in Arizona.

Of course, Glendale's problems aren't uncommon. In 2010, professional sports facilities cost taxpayers roughly $10 billion more than what was typically reported - thanks, in part, to subsidies related to land and infrastructure, said Harvard professor Judith Grant Long.   Continued...

 
An overview of the University of Phoenix Stadium Stadium and the Renaissance Hotel is shown in this photo courtesy of City of Glendale. REUTERS/City of Glendale/Handout