Not to be party poopers, but a little splash of cold reality is in order with all the fevered enthusiasm about Major League Soccer possibly coming to Sacramento.
Sacramento Kings President Chris Granger, Sacramento Republic FC President Warren Smith and Mayor Kevin Johnson were in Portland on Wednesday to pitch MLS executives about why California’s capital would be such a wonderful spot for an expansion club. They talked about potential sites for a new soccer stadium, which MLS officials plan to visit as soon as next month.
But no one is talking much about how the new $100 million stadium would be paid for, exactly. While it’s very early in the process, this is a conversation that should happen before we get too carried away.
A city spokeswoman said that while the city will support FC Republic and the Kings in “pursuing further cultural and economic development,” there has been no discussion with city officials about funding sources or public financing. In fact, it’s extremely difficult to see where any public contribution would come from.
Yes, it’s thrilling to think about another professional sport in the region. Soccer has been a big hit in Sacramento. In its first season, the minor-league Republic FC drew 20,000-plus at Hughes Stadium and is selling out 8,000-seat Bonney Field at Cal Expo. The idea of a stadium to boost the downtown railyard is indeed enticing.
It’s also true that the unfolding partnership between the Kings and Republic FC has elevated the city’s bid. As The Bee’s Ryan Lillis and Dale Kasler report, Sacramento appears to be in a competition with Minneapolis and Las Vegas for one of two franchises MLS plans to add by 2020. If Sacramento misses out in this round – with the winner decided as soon as December – it could be several years before the next chance.
But Sacramento can’t rush into an ill-advised financing scheme.
Just in June, Republic FC was part of a coalition of arts and cultural groups that shelved a proposed county sales tax increase to fund civic amenities. The plan would have provided $3 million to help build a soccer stadium, but the groups wisely decided that there wasn’t enough time to build the necessary political support to pass a ballot measure this November.
Lest anyone forget, taxpayers are putting up at least $255 million toward the new downtown arena for the Kings. Most of that public subsidy is coming from borrowing against the city’s downtown parking – one of the few assets that hadn’t already been tapped.
In addition, there are other civic projects that are, if not on the drawing board, at least under discussion – such as a new performing arts center and an expansion of the Convention Center. Again, funding sources are unclear.
It’s all too easy to get caught up in the boosterism about soccer. If public money might be involved, we need to have a full understanding of the costs, the risks and what is being given up.