Domed stadiums sprout across US as cities seek an image boost

This year's Super Bowl may be thrashed out on the field in Tampa, Fla. - but another kind of super bowl is being played on the cross-hatching of municipal budget ledgers.

Domed, mixed-use stadiums are blooming across the country and the competition to fill them with money-making enterprises is heating up.

Second-tier cities have shown a remarkable willingness to commit millions of dollars to these projects in the belief that the image boost will add up to a new economic draw for their areas. Entertainment and convention bookings are the financial meat and potatoes - but winning a major-league franchise is each city's goal.

A domed stadium is nearly complete in Indianapolis, while Sacramento, Phoenix , and Cleveland all have serious stadium drives under way. And in St. Petersburg , Fla., which is hardly a hopping market during the hottest half of the year, there are two different groups planning domed facilities less than 20 minutes apart.

Most of these cities are forging ahead without the promise of a professional sports tenant - an idea some planning experts consider folly.

But the new stadiums are seen as serious ''competition'' here. San Francisco has two major-league teams and a robust convention business. Still, city politicians and planners are looking warily over their shoulders.

''With so many others (domed stadiums) there's competition and we could lose the Giants and maybe the 49ers . . . if there's no movement toward a domed stadium here,'' says Jim Lazarus, deputy mayor of San Francisco.

Open-air Candlestick Park, which houses both the 49ers and the Giants, scoops up so much chill wind and fog off San Francisco Bay that professional sports reportedly count the weather in this most temperate of major US cities a negative factor in contract negotiations. Further, the whole outdoor stadium concept that the 25-year-old park represents has been rendered obsolete by the new bubble-topped stadiums that are located more conveniently near business and hotel centers.

Mr. Lazarus says the new $140 million, 70,000-seat facility would be able to have at least 200 bookings a year compared with Candlestick's 100. At that rate, he says, the new facility ''would be in the black immediately,'' while Candlestick's maintenance now costs taxpayers $2 million a year because it can't generate enough revenue to pay for itself. Further, he says, Candlestick now provides only 400 to 500 jobs a year, and the new stadium is projected to provide 2,500 permanent jobs.

So Mayor Dianne Feinstein has led a push here to have a site and financing for a new covered facility firmed up within two months, a plan that will ultimately go to voters for approval.

The key to any new facility here is to place it near business and hotels - a lure for conventioneers. But this project is likely to face some stiff opposition because the central city already has severe congestion and parking problems. Also, the city won't build the stadium unless both professional teams sign 30-year contracts to stay at the facility. Further, the mayor has said she won't support a plan without at least 50 percent private financing.

Though a few private groups have been trying to develop stadiums, they are usually financed by a local government bond issue and owned by a city, says Peter Bavasi, a sports management consultant contracted by St. Petersburg stadium planners as well as the Indianapolis Hoosier Dome. He says 25-year-old Dodger Stadium is the newest of the privately owned stadiums.

''On a straight return on investment, a privately funded stadium is not workable in a financial sense. But to a city there's a tangible economic benefit ,'' Mr. Bavasi says. ''The tax increment is important because of the benefit of the facility as part of downtown redevelopment. In a blighted area it (a stadium) provides an opportunity for new development and new tax revenues (on the new development). Projections show that the mere presence of a (pro) baseball team means an economic impact of between $50 million and $100 million per season.''

In San Francisco's case, $75 million in private funding is expected to be gathered through sales of loge suites and luxury boxes. In Minnesota, funding nor the new Minneapolis Metrodome was arranged through a statewide tax, because keeping the professional football and baseball teams from being wooed to other cities was considered an economic benefit to the whole state.

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