This week, members of the Saint Louis City Board of Alderman announced that they support a public vote on the proposal to spend over $100 million on a new football stadium downtown. An ordinance requiring such a vote already existed, but was ruled invalid earlier this year. The mayor’s office criticized the effort, saying there is not enough time for such a vote, and that the delay could cost the city the Rams and “3,000 new construction jobs,” among other benefits.
This post will not discuss the timing of the proposed ordinance. We can only note that the city could have scheduled a vote on public funding for a new stadium months ago. If the city had actually sought public approval, instead of trying to make an end run around democracy, timing would not be an issue.
However, in its effort to justify opposition to a public vote, the mayor’s representatives have again made claims about the stadium’s impact that fly in the face of economic evidence. According to city representatives, the stadium project will create an amazing 3,000 new construction jobs. But academic economists have studied the impact of stadium projects on the construction industry, and found that they have little or no positive effect.
In fact, a paper from an economist at the University of Missouri studied the impact of the Edwards Jones Dome and the Kiel Center (now the Scottrade Center) in Saint Louis specifically. The author found:
“By econometrically modeling construction employment during the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s, it was found that there was no more nor no less construction employment within the St. Louis MSA during the time the Kiel Center and the Trans World Dome [Edward Jones Dome] were being constructed…”
This perhaps counter-intuitive result happened because:
“…instead of creating new construction jobs, jobs were shifted from projects that would otherwise have been undertaken, resulting in no net new job creation in the construction industry.”
The author concluded:
“These results, coupled with the more extensive analysis given in the article on construction employment, suggest that the net impact of stadium construction on construction employment and worker incomes is zero.”
This finding is in line with the bulk of the economic literature: stadiums do not boost economic growth, greatly increase tax revenue, or spur revitalization. A new football stadium is an expensive want, not a need, in Saint Louis City. With its lack of economic merits, civic leaders should reject the public funding for the stadium. If they cannot bring themselves to do so, they should at least allow residents to accept or reject a plan to use public funds for football.