Sacramento City Council must hold the line on public money for MLS stadium

One big draw about the proposed Sacramento soccer stadium is that it doesn’t call for a large, direct taxpayer subsidy.

That is a line that shouldn’t be crossed as city officials and Republic FC owners try to beef up their bid for a Major League Soccer franchise.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg is on the money: It could make sense for City Hall to reduce or defer some building fees, to donate land for a training facility, to give the team the revenue from new digital billboards, or to help with roads, sewers and other infrastructure near the stadium.

But residents rightly expect city officials to stick to their pledge three years ago that the stadium, itself, would be privately funded. “I’m confident we can get Major League Soccer without a major public construction or operating subsidy,” Steinberg told The Bee’s Ryan Lillis.

We hope the mayor is correct. Any public money should be strictly limited, and there should be a clear return on taxpayer investment.

One huge hurdle to a big public contribution is that there’s no obvious source of cash that wouldn’t divert money from basic city services.

City officials have already pledged parking revenue to help pay for the $255 million public contribution to build Golden 1 Center. They have set aside hotel taxes to upgrade both the Community Center Theater and Sacramento Convention Center. And the city’s general fund – which pays for public safety, parks and other core services – is straining under rising pension and other costs.

Also, officials have to recognize that a soccer stadium wouldn’t be as big an economic engine as the new downtown arena. A soccer stadium would only be used about 30 times a year, while Golden 1 Center is busy more than 200 days a year and brought 1.6 million visitors to downtown its first year.

Republic FC is seeking more financial backing – both public and private – as it makes its case to MLS owners. Sacramento looked like a favorite, but in December, Nashville was given an expansion team instead and Sacramento is now competing with Cincinnati and Detroit for a second franchise.

A second major league team would be a big deal for Sacramento. So is the planned 20,000-seat stadium, which would jump-start development in the long-vacant downtown railyard, where the public has already spent some $48 million on roads, utilities and other infrastructure.

But the stadium can’t come at any cost to the public. The council has to hold the line.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee