City Hall

A New Rangers Stadium in Downtown Dallas Is a Fantastic Horrible Idea

I would love it if the Rangers moved into a new stadium in downtown Dallas. Absolutely love it. I might go to 60 games a year if it happened, and I would definitely buy season tickets. I am about as biased as you can be toward all things baseball, and all things Rangers specifically, and even I acknowledge that building the team a stadium, if it takes any appreciable amount of public money, is a horrible idea.

"It's just not the case that a stadium is going to generate economic growth or be better for the city of Dallas in any way," David Berri, a sports economist at Southern Utah University says. "If you think about the expense that you're going to put forward to build a stadium for a team, you're going to be so much better off if you invest it in schools and you invest it in roads. Ultimately what you want to do in building your economy, if you think about an inner-city and you think, 'This place needs to be developed,' well, if you want to develop it you want to create a labor force that someone wants to hire. You want to create roads. You want to be able to, to the extent that spending limits things like crime, you want to do that. Those are all things that are going to create an environment where businesses can thrive. Building a stadium doesn't do any of those things. It's just going to be a great big building that's empty most of the time."

The case for helping the Rangers move to Dallas is pretty simple, as explained by D Magazine's Peter Simek in the blog post that started an ongoing debate last week: It will be fun for baseball fans. It might add an activity hub to an otherwise underdeveloped section of central or southern Dallas, too, but even that would come with major drawbacks. Dallas' onerous parking requirements make building the type of urban ballpark that is viewed as successful impossible. In San Diego, Petco Park has brought life to what had been a dormant section of the city's downtown. The thing one notices, however, when hanging out in the neighborhood around the stadium, is the lack of surface parking. There are expensive garage spots to be had, as there are near Fenway Park in Boston or Yankees Stadium in the Bronx, but fans are clearly better off when they take something other than their own cars to get to a game.

That would not happen at a downtown Rangers stadium. As evidenced by the total non-madhouse at Victory Station after events at the American Airlines Center, if there is any way for DFW residents to drive to and park at an event — with all the traffic and DWI risk that entails — they are going to do it. With Dallas' extreme parking requirements for businesses, even downtown, there would be plenty of asphalt ocean for F-150s incoming from Euless to swim in. Then there's the issue of paying for the thing. The Rangers' current stadium was financed with a 1 cent sales tax approved by Arlington voters in 1991. The stadium was finally paid off 10 years later. Dallas doesn't have that option. Dallas' sales tax is maxed out at 8.5 percent, forcing the city to get creative, as it did with the hotel-tax financed AAC, if it wants to help the Rangers' billionaire owners out of the goodness of its heart.

Public financing for stadiums, however it occurs, always boils down to people who aren't sports fans subsidizing people who are, just like everyone who pays for ESPN as part of their cable package even though they don't want it pays a huge chunk of the cost of the sports network for those of us who do. Any benefits provided by a potential downtown Rangers park are soft benefits for baseball fans and direct benefits to the club.

Businesses surrounding the yet-to-exist park won't do better either, Berri says, for the same reason that big one-off events like the Super Bowl don't create any real benefits for host cities. Any additional spending that happens is just a substitute for spending that would've happened anyway.

"There's no economic growth argument here. There's no argument that this is going to make the city of Dallas necessarily better off. Sports is not a big enough industry to do anything like that. If you want to do this to make fans happier, that's fine," Berri says.

Most of Simek's argument is correct. If Dallas wants to lure the Rangers to the city, now is a terrific time. Attendance in Arlington isn't great — although drawing what will end up being about 2.5 million fans coming off a 90-loss season isn't the worst thing in the world — and the team is frustrated with the 20-year-old Globe Life Park. It was never a particularly great idea to build a new stadium for a summer sport, in Texas no less, without a retractable roof. Plus, Ray Davis and Bob Simpson would surely be keen on getting out of the shadow of Jerryworld. The city could probably pull it off. Done right, building a Dallas home for the Rangers would be fantastic for baseball fans. Unless Davis and Simpson are willing to put up all the money themselves, however, it just doesn't make any sense.