Editorial: City Must Say ‘No’ to Ballpark Burden

Saturday, April 13, 2013, Vol. 6, No. 16

How many ways should there be to interpret the concept that it is a bad idea for the city of Memphis to buy AutoZone Park, no matter how layered the transaction might be?

The layers and the complexity involved are precisely the reason the city should put an end to this idea once and for all.

It was about a year ago that this possibility first arose and we editorialized against it then.

One year later, the equation is different. The St. Louis Cardinals ownership is reportedly ready to do what they were set to do before the recession hit – buy the major league baseball team’s Triple-A franchise in Memphis.

We think that is the best news yet for the future of professional baseball in Memphis, but not if it is tied to the city getting involved in the ownership of the ballpark the Redbirds call home.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration has weathered the recession by trying to position the city to be prepared to emerge with its new economic engine revved up and running on the other side of a historic national economic downturn.

And that has become, at times, borrowing from one pot of money to fill another pot of money, or finding some cash in one pocket to try to make things happen or at least give the illusion of movement in hard times.

We understand the concept, but the tendency has gone too far. The arrangements have become too complex and too tentative despite numerous assurances that Project X won’t be funded with money from the city’s general fund.

It is disingenuous to suggest that is the only way city government can be obligated to a project. More importantly, it is precisely this kind of 11th hour scheming that renders City Hall incapable of following through on any long-term plans in the areas where the city does have a legitimate and direct interest.

These complex arrangements that shift funds away from other long-awaited projects and push them even further back have become a substitute for an effective economic development strategy that builds enough momentum to allow for the possibility of new and separate ownership of the ballpark.

We cannot continue to see our local governments involved in stadiums and ballparks and other similar facilities where the local government commitment should be infrastructure at the outset.

After the ribbon is cut, it should be up to the owners to make it work or sell to someone who can make it work – someone in the private sector.

The city has too much to do to put its own house in order without taking on an annex in the form of AutoZone Park. It still hasn’t mastered the art of making budget cuts and truly shrinking the size of local government instead of making budget cuts in one area and finding other areas to spend that savings in.