Stadium debt, in some cases, hangs around a lot longer than the teams that once played in them. From the Houston Chronicle comes this story that the vacant Astrodome “carries as much as $32 million in debt — nearly as much as the original cost of construction.” $32 million may seem like rounding error in an era of $500 million ballparks. Nevertheless, there’s a whiff here of the old political trick of shifting benefits towards the present and costs to the future. And not just in Houston:
Olympic Stadium in Montreal was not paid off until two years after the Expos left for Washington, D.C. Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh still was carrying $45 million in debt at the time of its demolition in 2001.
Seattle’s Kingdome was razed in 2000, and King County is scheduled to finish paying off its debt in five years.
22 years of payments
Public money will be required to cover Astrodome debt payments for 22 more years, according to county financial projections.
The story goes on to note that the current debt stems from renovations made to address relocation threats made by the Oilers and Astros in the 1980s.
The Astrodome’s debt stems from the $60 million cost in the late 1980s of adding 10,000 seats, removing the scoreboard and installing 72 luxury boxes. County commissioners approved the project in an effort to persuade Oilers’ owner Bud Adams to keep the team in Houston. The team left town after the 1996 season.
When asked if the expansion looked like a bad investment in retrospect, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole replied, “Hell, yeah!” But Eversole, who was not yet on the Court when the spending was approved, also said it has to be looked at in the context of the times, when two teams were threatening to leave town.
“We couldn’t not try to keep the Oilers and we couldn’t not try to keep the Astros,” Eversole said.