The site selected for Louisville City FC’s new stadium would add to the collection of attractions by the river — the skate park, Slugger Field and KFC Yum! Center. It would also add to a growing collection of misguided city priorities — should we, the city, be persuaded to contribute money to the project.
To be clear: The Butchertown parcel is a great site, one that should excite FC fans. But the city shouldn’t be expected to pay for the stadium.
Why? Because Louisville cannot afford to, once again, elevate East Louisville over West Louisville.
A stadium is a luxury item — jewelry that comes from discretionary spending cash. It is not a vital government service. So when civic leaders talk about investing in The West End, but constantly fail to produce resources to deliver change to an entire hemisphere of the city, it is clear that they don’t have the extra spending for say… the new soccer-specific Xbox.
One recent, promised investment that went south was the West Louisville FoodPort, a $35 million project that would have helped bring fresh-food production, markets, amenities and other investments to a food desert. If the city couldn’t afford to step up and figure out a way to make that project happen, then it shouldn’t be able to afford a soccer stadium.
It was just announced last week that finally enough money — $25 million — had been raised to build a West End YMCA. It took nearly a decade to do that!
But a soccer stadium… we’ll make it happen by next season.
We know we will soon be asked for a handout because the special interests jumped in line to boost the project. The hotels, restaurants and, primarily, city officials should be excited. It’s more economic activity in the neighborhood… But let’s not kid ourselves — the stadium is not an economically transformative project for anyone, but the owners of the soccer team. For the city, it only means 16 regular-season home games, one preseason game and the potential for postseason games. At most, that is about 20 nights per year of events.
It’s a mythology of Biblical proportions: For 20 nights of soccer shall bring thy soccer fans from across the Bluegrass and deliver onto Louisville great treasures of hotel accommodations and dinner reservations and all will celebrate together in sharing the eternal fruits of ye finest beers.
More likely, you’ll have the same 7,200 soccer fans tailgating before games, spending their money at the stadium and celebrating (or commiserating) after each game at the bars — the same bars they frequent now.
If Louisville City FC wants to build a stadium with private financing, we fully support it. We think pro soccer in Louisville is great for the city: People like to go to games, and it is the kind of lifestyle amenity that draws talent to live here. And this proposed stadium would clear and revitalize a rather large plot of dilapidated land and bring people to Butchertown.
But, again, it is a luxury item. It would misdirect resources from solving our gang, drug and crime problems and fixing our public schools, and it does nothing to raise a single person out of poverty.
These stadium-financing deals ultimately end up being complex and based on theoretical variables. It is possible that the city could broker one that ends up limiting the public’s involvement and risk. This alone should determine the city’s participation.
So far, the only feasibility study done (and paid for by the city) outlines scenarios in which the city would be on the hook for 45 to 55 percent of the cost — totaling anywhere from $15 million to $27 million.
Well, last week’s announcement was a quintessential public-relations maneuver, designed to excite the public: The project is unveiled — with beautiful renderings and promotional videos — and then showered with hyperbole and promises of grandeur, all aimed at galvanizing lawmakers, or backing them into a corner.
Before the city decides whether to contribute $15 million or so, it’s important for the politicians to have an enthusiastic constituency — a fan base — to justify their excess.
If the city ends up paying anything close to what was established as “feasible,” it’s misguided and the city should baulk.