At last night's Lehigh County budget hearing, the wisdom of this type of public financing, as it applies to Coca Cola Park, was debated as a result of concerns raised by a tea party member (I'm sorry, but I never got her name).
Coca Cola Park cost $50.25 million to build. The state kicked in a third, and the rest of the money came from Lehigh County, which floated a bond. The debt service on this bond is paid by an annual $1.29 million rent payment from the ballpark, as well as hotel taxes and apparently, casino money. During yesterday's budget hearing, General Services Director Glenn Solt told Commissioners that the County would be spending $100,000 for maintenance at the stadium next year, and those costs are only going to go up.
Tea Baguette: "So we actually get a profit?"
Tea Baguette: "Does anybody make any profit?"
Solt: "We hope that the operators receive a ..."
Tea Baguette: "Because we're responsible for capital maintenance."
Solt: "That's correct."
Tea Baguette: "Is there any way to change that?"
Solt: "No. It's a lease. It's the same as if you or I signed a lease to rent a property."
Tea Baguette: "How long is the lease?"
Solt: "29 years. 29 seasons."
Percy Dougherty: "I think also we should remind everyone that the money we're talking about for the ballfield is not property tax money. That is coming from the lease on the stadium and from other sources, so none of the money is property tax money."
Glenn Eckhart: "Yeah, we're using gambling money."
Dougherty: "The hotel tax is down significantly."
Correct me if I'm wrong, but the whole point of legalizing gambling was to provide property tax relief, not to finance sports stadiums. What happens when there isn't enough hotel tax and gambling revenue to pay the debt service on the ballpark bond as well as the rising maintenance costs? There is little doubt that Coca Cola Park is, at least in my mind, the Lehigh Valley's most beautiful attraction. But aren't we really just making rich people richer?