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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Banner: Comparatively, Linc Aid Was 'Very, Very Small' 

Note: This piece was revised after the Eagles and some fans raised some questions and objections. Funding for the Phillies stadium, for example, was removed to make the numbers clearer.

Did the Eagles president just call taxpayers cheap? That's how I reacted yesterday afternoon while listening to a wide-ranging Q&A between Joe Banner and host Howard Eskin. Here's the quote, from a conversation about the funding of Lincoln Financial Field: "As compared to other cities in the NFL, we got a very, very small public contribution." Hey, Joe, can you spare "a very, very small" amount of change, say, oh, $181 million, or even double that? The city and state would like to have it back. It's insignificant, nothing really, you'll hardly miss it, a mere pittance, if you compare it, say, to the amount spent on the war in Iraq, let alone the gross domestic product of the Milky Way. On Aug. 3, 2003, an Inquirer article broke down the funding: "As part of the public-private partnership that built the $512 million stadium -- the state contributed $85 million up front and the city $96 million -- Philadelphia provides the Eagles with about $7 million per year to assist with operations and maintenance expenses." So every decade that cost means another $67 million. You could also argue that public coffers also took a big hit in another way: The Eagles got to keep almost all stadium revenue (while paying only token rent). So even though taxpayers put up about a third of the funding, the team retains all $139 million from naming rights, plus the estimated $50 million to $60 million from seat licenses," and many scores of millions more from luxury boxes, club seats, signage, parking and concessions.

Clearly, there's a huge range of ways to add up that "public contribution." Count just upfront money, "only" $181 million, and, yes, other cities seem far more generous. Cincy and Chicago made the highest such contributions to existing stadiums, about $440 million each, according to a N.Y. congressman's report. Compared to that, OK, you could argue semantics and contend the help with the Eagles' down payment was indeed "very, very small." (Especially if one ignores that the Patriots got only $75 million, while New Jersey has earmarked next to nothing for the $1 billion future home of the Giants and the Jets.) . But factor in two or three decades of maintenance costs and lost revenues (which other NFL cities retained for giving more upfront), and a lot of the differences dissipate, making the Philly deal seem quite generous.

Not saying, Joe, the Eagles are cheap. No, as you pointed out, owner Jeff Lurie invested $350 million in private money to create a great stadium, generously declining to seek more by moving the team to South Jersey or the suburbs. (Not to mention L.A.) So you're right, fans should be more appreciative. After all, as you said yesterday, "Jeff walked away from a very, very large amount of money." (Here, also referring to many millions, "very, very" seems properly used.)

In fairness, Joe, you did say about the stadium deal: "I don't want to come off as complaining, because we're satisfied. We made the deal, and I think it's worked out great for everybody."

It did. No complaints here either. Business is business, and the team, in a way, repays the city through taxes and civic excitement. But please understand, citizens aren't likely to like it when corporate welfare giveaways are called "very, very small." Even relatively speaking.

Note: To listen to a podcast of the interview, in which Banner addresses all sorts of sorts of Eagles issues in a frank and informative way, go to the "audio archives" at 610wip.com.


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