Am I supposed to feel sympathy for Harford County, Maryland because it financed a baseball stadium and is now losing money?
Ripken Stadium was meant to give the city a boost. Instead, the city with an annual budget of $16 million loses hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
Mayor S. Fred Simmons has talked to several potential buyers but he said the most promising involve hometown hero Cal Ripken Jr. He owns the Aberdeen Iron Birds, the team that plays in the stadium, and a youth baseball operation nearby.
The original solution was flawed. The city should not have financed the stadium. Minor league baseball stadiums are not a public good. This is not a difficult concept. Yet, here we are:
The team pays $1 a year to use the stadium and keeps almost all the money generated from games.
One dollar. The owes on almost $5 million in bonds for the stadium, with the tax shortfall costing the city up to $485,000 a year in losses. The basic proposition should be easy to see. When built, would the stadium generate the revenue necessary to pay the debt? If yes, Mr. Ripken should been forced to build the stadium if he wanted it. If not, he wouldn’t have built it because it wouldn’t be a productive use of his capital. Notice that the city is involved in no part of that. Instead, the city played central planner and sticks its citizens, both baseball attending and non-baseball attending alike, with the bill.
“The deal they made with the Ripken thing is one of the worst deals they ever made, and now they expect the taxpayers of Aberdeen to pay for their ineptness,” said state Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Harford County Republican. “That was a terrible deal, for very little return. It could’ve been a gold mine.”
Actually, the city is suggesting a tax on hotel rooms, so it expects visitors to the city to pay for its ineptness. But the more annoying problem is Sen. Jacobs’ contention that the deal could’ve been a gold mine. Government is not in the business of earning a “gold mine”. It has essential duties, and that’s it. Instead, city officials wanted in with professional baseball (and probably a bit of interaction with Cal Riplen, Jr.). It played with taxpayer money, and in an unsurprising twist, it lost.
This would be a valuable lesson if I thought the government, any government, would learn.