Rosemont to build taxpayer-funded baseball stadium

Rosemont to build taxpayer-funded baseball stadium

The village of Rosemont is moving forward on a $60 million taxpayer-funded baseball stadium.

Taxpayers in the village of Rosemont have a new entertainment expense coming, and it’s not an unfamiliar one for much of Chicagoland.

A TIF-funded, $60 million, 6,300-seat independent league baseball stadium is coming to Rosemont. The stadium will include six skyboxes, a 200-person club level for private events, a party deck area, an 883-parking space garage and a two-sided video board with one side facing I-294.

The stadium, which will have more seats than Rosemont has residents, will be home to a team in the 12-team American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. The addition of baseball might make sense for the local government in Rosemont, which already owns and operates All State Arena and The Stadium at the Ballpark, and is always looking to add entertainment value to its tiny village. But it doesn’t make sense for taxpayers. And there are plenty of other examples of taxpayer-funded minor league baseball gambits not too far away.

A Rosemont-based team would be the fourth independent league baseball team with a publicly funded stadium in the Chicagoland area, with the villages of Crestwood and Schaumburg, and the city of Joliet all owning stadiums. Joliet’s stadium, Silver Cross Field, opened in 2002 after $27 million in taxpayer-funded construction. This is also in addition to the Kane County Cougars, the Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, whose stadium in Geneva is owned by the Kane County Forest Preserve.

Taxpayers haven’t necessarily received big returns on their investment, either. The Joliet JackHammers, which played at Silver Cross Field from 2002-2010, had a sharp decline in attendance during their tenure. The field’s current tenant, the Joliet Slammers, has seen even lower numbers. Likewise, the now-defunct Schaumburg Flyers experienced a decline in attendance throughout their tenure, and the new Schaumburg team, the Boomers, hasn’t yet regained attendance losses. Crestwood’s Windy City ThunderBolts’ yearly attendance has dropped by nearly 30,000 since 2009.

This is an expensive gamble for local officials to make with taxpayer funds – especially for Rosemont, where residents have been saddled with burdensome debt, and the village has run budgets far out of balance. In 2015, the village spent $34 million more than it took in.

Creating a slush fund to finance this project isn’t a responsible choice, either.

The village of Rosemont is making use of Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, to bring a major project to its small area. TIF districts, of which Rosemont has eight, are intended by law to promote economic development. Property taxes are frozen within the TIF district at the level in existence when the TIF is first created and held constant for up to 23 years. Any revenue above that amount is placed in a special fund the municipality controls.

Rosemont’s new TIF district, approved in February 2016 to provide for the creation of the baseball stadium as well as other development such as a hotel, office building and restaurants, covers 16 acres of vacant land in Rosemont. Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens once offered this same land to the Chicago Cubs in an effort to lure the team away from its 101-year home at Wrigley Field. The dream of attracting the Cubs also played a role in Schaumburg’s building its taxpayer-funded stadium in the late 1990s. Now home to Schaumburg Boomers Stadium, Schaumburg was originally considered as a potential home for the Cubs in the mid-1980s. Schaumburg’s original goal didn’t materialize, but the village and park district were able to use the field for several tenants, presently the Frontier League’s Schaumburg Boomers.

In a time of precarious finances at both the state and local levels, governments shouldn’t be using taxpayer money to fund pet projects. Particularly in Cook County and the collar counties – where residents pay some of the nation’s highest property taxes – local governments should look for ways to lighten the load on overburdened taxpayers.

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