In Rebuttal: Nostalgia, like sports stadiums, won't save us
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Waxing poetic about the way things used to be seems to be Pittsburgh's favorite pastime. But the good ole days weren't always good and if we don't learn from past mistakes we are doomed to repeat them.Frank Gamrat is a senior research associate at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (www.allegheny
Richard Peterson warns Pittsburghers that unless a new arena is built, the hockey team will leave town and the city will be worse off. We would like to remind those who place such a high value on sports that there is no evidence that the loss of a professional sports team has a measurable economic impact.
The essay points to the similarity between the loss of the Pittsburgh Hornets minor league hockey franchise in 1956 when their home -- the Duquesne Gardens -- was torn down and a new facility was not available and what could happen if the Penguins leave town if a new facility is not built for them. The Hornets returned with the building of the Civic Arena in 1961 and were replaced when the Penguins were formed in 1966. However, he warns, without a new arena the city will not be as fortunate as it was in the 1960s.
But was the city really fortunate in the 1960s? Pittsburgh began losing population around 1950 when 676,800 called it home. By 1960 the city lost 10 percent of its population and then another 14 percent by 1970. A new arena and two hockey teams did not stem the outflow of residents in the 1960s. Nor did four Super Bowl victories, two World Series championships, and a new stadium in the 1970s prevent the economic collapse of the steel industry and along with it the Pittsburgh economy, in the latter half of that decade.
The two new stadiums built at the beginning of this century have neither reversed the decades' long loss of population in the city nor prevented it from entering financial distressed status. It is highly unlikely that a new hockey arena will reverse the city's fortunes. Nor will the loss of the Penguins cause significant economic hardship for the community as a whole.
Moreover, if investing in a hockey facility is such a great idea, why hasn't a group of private investors been willing to build it themselves? There are plenty of examples of arenas being built with private money such as in Columbus, Atlanta and Denver. Instead, the area's leaders are intent on using gambling money for an arena, instead of for truly worthy initiatives in the community. Since the city and county have no funds available for an arena, the odds are that taxpayers from across the state will pick up the tab to make up any difference.
What ails this city is not the lack of professional sports teams, but a bad business climate, high tax rates, expensive government, a poor school system and strong union mentality. Until and when city leaders begin to tackle these problems, the city will continue to hemorrhage jobs and people. How long will residents have to wait for these changes?
First Published March 29, 2006 12:00 am