Jim Puckett is a member of the conservative minority on the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners. He’s often a dissenting voice on county issues, particularly fiscal ones.
This week, he posted a public message on Facebook that perfectly encapsulates the argument against spending nearly $88 million in public money to build a Major League Soccer stadium in Charlotte’s Elizabeth neighborhood.
To recap, both the city council and county commission are considering a deal that would tear down Memorial Stadium and the Grady Cole Center and build a $150 million stadium in its place. That would be used to bid on an expansion Major League Soccer franchise.
The city and the county would put up $43.75 million each. Further, the county would loan $75 million to Marcus and Bruton Smith, best known as NASCAR moguls but also the driving force behind the soccer deal. That would be paid back over 25 years.
Regardless on where you stand on the issue, it’s worth taking a look at Puckett’s well-reasoned argument.
Here’s the first part of the statement.
“For the sake of debate let us overlook that time constraints have limited this proposal to less than two hours of diligent consideration by our board with incomplete data and significant details missing. Ignore that the entire process from introduction to final vote will cover a mere 23 days with pubic input relegated to an inconvenient afternoon policy meeting rather than a well-publicized dedicated and televised evening time slot. Disregard the arrogance of MLS demanding to their advantage, a site location within the most valuable geography in the county. Putting this aside let us ponder the proposal as presented.
For a bargain price of $43.75 million, the county can acquire a purpose built stadium worth $200 million and a pro soccer team that returns no revenue from naming rights (we must waive our current naming guidelines), no revenue from ticket sales, concessions, parking, or advertising. We will loan $75 million to one of the wealthiest families in America at rates lower than any small business can acquire and be forced to escrow hundreds of thousands to maintain an asset to the level required by the team. Unfortunately our bargain requires we bulldoze yet another historic structure because doing so is easier than creatively re-purposing the one we have and regrettably history has shown what will take its place will most likely be obsolete before it is paid for.
Does this project increase economic development? Little if any. Does it enhance a fragile neighborhood? Hardly. Does it offer magnificent financial returns? No, we break even at best. Does it conform to a long-term master plan, fill a gap in adult or youth recreation needs, provide long-term jobs, build community, enhance our green-space, no, no, no, no and no.
Is a $75 million dollar loan to a billionaire more prudent than a fund to encourage small business growth? Is $50 million for a private use stadium better than completing long delayed parks and promised regional recreation centers? Is fast tracking yet another “special interest” project fair to those patiently waiting their turn?
In the end, this project offers incentives to those who do not need them and does so without real and meaningful public involvement. It doesn’t offer opportunity for competing ideas, alternatives or participants and does so at a head-spinning pace. Only speculators or fools invest this much this fast.
It is my job to protect the taxpayer from each, not transform them into either.”
Pretty strong stuff.
The counterarguments generally are these.
- The MLS has set a January 31 deadline for this round of bidding, so Charlotte needs to move quickly.
- We’ve been talking about renovating Memorial Stadium for a long time
- Young people like soccer, and we want to continue attracting them to Charlotte.
Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners, also said in an interview with the Observer that bringing in Major League Soccer would help heal racial divisions in Charlotte made evident in the protests after the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott.
“We think landing an MLS franchise is nothing short of the the defining accomplishment of our generation.” -Michael Smith
Update: Charlotte Center City Partners sent Agenda a statement Thursday morning outlining their case for the MLS deal. Smith says his statement about soccer helping healing racial divisions was mischaracterized.