The following letter to the editor ran in Saturday’s Albuquerque Journal west side edition relating to the finances of the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
The fact is that arenas — even when they have full-time sports teams as tenants — are notorious for losing money. Fortunately (as an Albuquerque taxpayer) Albuquerque did not build an arena. Unfortunately, Rio Rancho cannot go back on its bad decision. The best that we can do is learn from our mistakes.
The articles that appeared recently discussing the Santa Ana Star Center’s ongoing struggles, highlights problems that are by no means unique to Rio Rancho. Around the country and locally, government officials have big dreams of using taxpayer dollars to spur development. These dreams are often shattered when they hit reality, but elected officials are at worst booted out by voters while taxpayers are left paying the bills.
The Star Center was a costly mistake that will never pay for itself, even if the so-called “multipler” of benefits to local businesses is taken into account. According to stadium expert Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College, “the independent economic research that’s been done on the question of whether such facilities have an economic impact on an area has uniformly found that there is no positive impact.”
And this is for cities that have major league sports franchises filling the venue dozens of times per year. The Star Center has struggled to find regular, full-time occupants.
This is not to beat up on the Star Center or even the Rio Rancho officials who brought us this mess, but to spur the public – both in Rio Rancho and in Albuquerque – to recognize that spending 6.5 percent of your annual budget on a sports arena or events center is a bad idea.
Government should take care of the basics while leaving costly amenities like arenas and events centers to the private sector.
Paul J. Gessing
Rio Grande Foundation