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Thursday, May 9, 2013

The people must be entertained

Roman emperors Vespasian and Titus, the successors of Nero, built the Colosseum of Rome to entertain the masses. It was a public-private partnership in the sense that the government paid for the arena but wealthy citizens put on the shows, which were a kind of noblesse oblige.

This history is salient to current controversies about use of taxpayer funds to renovate the stadium in Charlotte that is used primarily by the NFL Carolina Panthers. After months of back-and-forth, state and local government agreed on a compromise that will divert tax money to the stadium. I am tight with taxpayer dollars, but I don't object to this deal. Sports are important to the local economy, and the NFL is the largest sport of all. Also, the aftermath of the bank bubble five years ago is no time to put Charlotte under more stress. Lastly there is a plausible argument that the Panthers franchise would leave Charlotte if the stadium is not improved. Personally I doubt such a move would happen as long as founder Jerry Richardson is alive -- he and his family own half of the club -- but at age 76 Richardson is not in good health. It's difficult to predict what his heirs will do with their stake in the franchise.

A second controversy erupted over renovation of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the city's baseball stadium. As in Charlotte, DBAP was built in the mid-1990s with private funds but is showing its age. (Let's qualify "private funds" because the cities of Charlotte and Durham spent a lot of their own money to improve transportation and utility infrastructure for the stadiums.) Eventually a compromise for taxpayer-funded renovations was worked out for Durham, too. Neither the Panthers nor the Bulls will get all the tax money they wanted, but they will get enough. I suspect that an over-ask was built into the process all along.

I spend a lot of time at the arena in Raleigh used mainly by the Carolina Hurricanes for hockey and the NCSU Wolfpack for basketball. It's another public-private partnership, and it has worked well. The people must be entertained, and governments have helped to do so for 2000 years, at least.