The number of questions citizens are raising about relocating the Lookouts stadium keeps growing. Few are being answered. Based on the information available to the public on land use and economic impacts, a stadium is by no means the ideal anchor for South Broad redevelopment. Citizens, however, appear to be most concerned about the public sector economics. From that perspective, the economic impact analysis the City Council will consider Tuesday is missing very critical information, namely the opportunity costs.
The stadium proposal only relocates an existing public good. Whatever economic impacts the stadium spins off now move with it. Let that sink in. Most, if not all, of the economic impact is negated by that singular opportunity cost, and that does not even include whatever public costs will ultimately be needed to then redevelop the old stadium site. After accounting for that, the only new direct community benefit from the stadium proposal is the removal of blight in the path of development.
It is incumbent on local government to answer the most basic policy questions: Is the stadium proposal the most efficient use of taxpayer resources to accomplish the cleanup of US Pipe/Wheland Foundry brownfield sites? Is it more cost-effective than just investing in the cleanup and letting the market determine the use? Would an RFP offering comparable public incentives attract a better use with greater public benefits? What are the relative risks and means, such as claw back provisions, to minimize the risks?
Hamilton County economic development resources have largely focused on the same regional market areas for four decades while neglecting declining smaller-scale community market areas and other regional market areas. Public investments and incentives for redevelopment have changed little in that time. PILOT and TIF have remained the dominant incentive programs guided by the same metrics - the amount of private investment and the number of jobs created for PILOT with loosely defined blight removal criteria for TIF.
Local governments have realized diminishing returns from this model over time as public investments increasingly incur opportunity costs inherent in redeveloping already productive land or relocating productive uses like the stadium to at best expand a current focus area. Other opportunity costs have accumulated, including residential displacement in current focus areas, the perpetuation of poverty in neighborhoods served by neglected community market areas, the loss of community economies and cultures, related increases in demand for social services, and the cumulative effect on tax equity. Increasingly, allocations using this redevelopment policy model have made fewer better off while making more worse off.
Local governments and their economic development partners clearly need a broader framework for cost-benefit analyses of public investments and incentives for redevelopment. What are the public policy alternatives for the type of development incentivized, why it is incentivized, where it is incentivized, and how it is incentivized?
There is no reason to hurry the stadium proposal. Most of the Phase I environmental assessment have only just begun, and it will take another year or two at least to complete the Phase II assessments needed to estimate the cleanup costs accurately. It is only prudent for the city council and county commission to slow down and give the new county mayor time to conduct a more thorough analysis of the stadium relocation proposal. It is only fair to let him steer county government as he sees best.