Memphis Announces Plans for $684 Million Stadium Investments | Citizens Against Government Waste

Memphis Announces Plans for $684 Million Stadium Investments

The WasteWatcher

Nashville is no longer alone among Tennessee cities dolling out hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money for several professional sports teams.   One day after the Music City announced on October 17, 2022, its plan for a new $2.1 billion Tennessee Titans stadium, for which Tennessee taxpayers would fork over $500 million, Memphis revealed its proposal for major renovations to three existing stadiums and construction of a new stadium.  The four Memphis projects are projected to cost $684 million, of which taxpayers would pay $350 million.  Tennesseans would be paying 42 percent of the Titans project and 51 percent of the Memphis projects.

The Memphis funds would be used for renovations to the FedEx Forum, home of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Memphis Grizzlies; Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium, home of the University of Memphis football team; and AutoZone Park, home of Minor League Baseball’s Memphis Redbirds; and the construction of a new stadium for the United Soccer League’s (USL) Memphis 901 FC.  The aim of the renovations and new construction, Memphis’s Action News 5 reported, is to “keep the professional teams in Memphis, and to give the University of Memphis a better position when it comes to conference realignment.”  Mayor Jim Strickland also claimed that the projects would increase jobs, economic activity, and sales tax revenue.

As Citizens Against Government Waste has noted time and again, publicly funded stadium projects never deliver the economic benefits promised by politicians.  This is especially true of three of the four projects Memphis is pursuing.  The Redbirds and Memphis 901 FC compete in the lower tiers of their respective sports.  As a result, they are unlikely to defy the economic reality that professional sports teams will bring in added economic benefits.  Likewise, losing the NBA’s Grizzlies, the city’s only professional team competing at its sport’s highest level, would surely disappoint the franchise’s fans.  Leaving town would not, however, have a significant enough economic impact to justify a multi-million-dollar taxpayer subsidy.  That same principle applies to the Titans stadium.

Taxpayer subsidized stadium projects do more for rich sports team owners than local residents.  And the handouts to wealthy team owners will extend far beyond Memphis and the borders of Tennessee.  The use of tax-exempt bonds allow state and local governments to receive an exception from federal taxes, leaving taxpayers across the country who will never attend a game in Memphis (or Nashville) on the hook for the city’s efforts to revamp its stadiums.

Despite the flashy stadium renderings, vague promises that the University of Memphis might not be overlooked in conference realignment once again, and efforts to bribe a professional sports team into promising not to leave for at least a few more years, these projects would cause economic blues in the Home of the Blues and across the Volunteer State.  Instead, Memphis should focus on adopting policies that help taxpayers instead of forcing them to subsidize professional sports facilities.

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