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Wednesday, Jul 9 1997
Sly Finance
An advertisement in the Wall Street Journal last month was cheesy enough, even by advertising standards, to be worthy of note. In it, the San Francisco Giants asked the business elite of America to "Cheer the Future" by purchasing charter seats at the new Major League Baseball stadium to be built on the China Basin channel.

The Giants' ad was cheesy in all the ordinary, hyperbolic, PR-people-on-Quaaludes ways. For example, its small type suggested that charter seats at Pacific Bell Park will offer "an environment of luxury and prestige you would equate to the arts [sic]." Let's see now ...

Bonds turns on an inside fastball ... it's a towering blast deep into the right field seats ... and now, please rise for the first movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, Eroica, in E flat.

But the advertisement was also insulting -- indeed, it took insult to the meta-level -- by incorporating, in a nationwide sales pitch, the disingenuous financial babble the Giants have force-fed to us for way too many months now. Now, the Giants are trying to convince the wide-flung readers of the Wall Street Journal that Pacific Bell Park will be "privately financed."

We guess you can't blame the Giants. By repeating this claim for more than a year to a daily press that, in turn, likes to repeat it to you, the San Francisco Giants have made themselves a Teflon team. Any criticism of the new baseball park, it seems, slides right off the public-spirited Giants, who have a "privately financed" stadium. The criticism then runs across town and adheres to the bad, greedy Eddie DeBartolo, who had the temerity to ask for $100 million in public funding for his new football stadium at Candlestick Point.

But at least Eddie asked. When Eddie wanted to take our money for his private benefit, he, at least, told us how much we were going to fork over. And he, at least, did us the courtesy of asking us before we voted on whether we wanted to pay.

The Giants, on the other hand, are corner-shaving weasels. They want to take our money, without taking any of the heat that should accompany it. They won an election last year by persuading voters that the new stadium wouldn't cost them any money. Of course, the team never exactly promised there would be no public costs. The Giants just kept saying that the ballpark would be "privately financed." And it is absolutely true -- if you ascribe to the Clinton administration's definition of the word "true" -- that the Giants, a private firm, will borrow the money necessary to construct the park from a syndicate of banks that also operate in the private sector.

But the total budget for a modern athletic stadium is composed of many different line items; construction of the park itself is only one of them. Before it opens in 2000, and for decades afterward, Pac Bell Park and the San Francisco Giants will suck in tens of millions of dollars in public subsidies.

What those subsidies will be is not at this point sharply defined. In fact, the financial situation surrounding the new stadium is a sticky, greasy mess. Whether it will adhere to San Francisco's Teflon Giants and their slick-Willie political allies probably depends on how high the stadium fire can be turned up at this late date, and how long the team can be left on the burner.

After two embarrassing defeats at the ballot box, supporters of the China Basin stadium made their stand in March 1996 with Proposition B, which proposed to lift -- for the stadium site alone -- special land-use restrictions freezing non-maritime construction on the waterfront.

The main selling point of a Major League Baseball stadium at China Basin was cost. "No new taxes. No increase in existing taxes. No public subsidies. No hidden costs." These were the pledges (some might say lies) made in the official -- though non-binding -- ballot argument signed by the three co-chairs of the stadium campaign, state Sen. Quentin Kopp, former county Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg, and the Rev. Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church.

Prop. B passed, winning two-thirds of the vote.
Now, the Giants and the mayor are close to a final deal on a lease of 13 or so acres of public land for the ballpark. The Port Commission and the Board of Supervisors are expected to bless the agreement later this month.

Earlier this year, the China Basin Ballpark Company LLC, a group apparently composed of the same people who own the Giants, announced the formation of a syndicate of private lenders who have pledged $140 million in capital toward construction of the stadium. The rest of the quarter-billion-dollar tab for the park would be covered via the sale of stadium naming rights, the leasing of luxury boxes, and the selling of those artistically inclined charter seats.

The owners of the Giants probably believe that this financing arrangement, and the lease with the port, represents an absolute fulfillment of the bargain they made with voters.

The owners of the Giants are that deluded and condescending.
Although they are seldom publicized and almost never added up in one place, the public costs of the stadium are significant. Let us count the ways the government has already admitted you will be paying to help the Giants to build a stadium:

* The city's Redevelopment Agency will sell $15 million in bonds to build sewers, sidewalks, and other infrastructure around the stadium. The borrowed money will be paid off with increases in taxes related to the stadium site.

The people who support the stadium contend that this arrangement, called tax increment financing, won't cost the taxpayers anything. In the narrowest sense, this assertion is correct.

But here's something for you to consider:
These improvements, which include a snazzy waterfront promenade, will make it easier for customers to enjoy attending the sporting and entertainment events envisioned for the park. Most entrepreneurs who are truly sincere about "privately financing" their projects usually build their own damn sidewalks. And if the Giants did have to pay for the infrastructure costs of the stadium, increased taxes from the stadium would flow into the city's General Fund and help pay for things like Muni buses that run on time.

About The Authors

George Cothran


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