The situation defies common sense: Cities owe money to pay off stadiums that no longer exist. The New York Times published a front-page story about the issue this morning, leading off with news that the now-demolished old Giants Stadium still has $110 million in debt.
Taxpayers around the country, the Times reports, are in the same boat:
Residents of Seattle’s King County owe more than $80 million for the Kingdome, which was razed in 2000. The story has been similar in Indianapolis and Philadelphia. In Houston, Kansas City, Mo., Memphis and Pittsburgh, residents are paying for stadiums and arenas that were abandoned by the teams they were built for.
The Times presented these debts as startling news. But in San Diego, the $76.6 million still owed at Qualcomm Stadium, home of the Chargers, has long been debated as part of the stadium’s future.
San Diego’s annual debt payments from renovating Qualcomm in 1996 are included in various estimates of the city’s losses each year at the facility. We put the loss at $12.2 million — before the city reduced what it owes through a bond refinancing this spring.
Should the Chargers leave for Los Angeles or anywhere else, the city could find itself paying for a stadium that no longer has a team. The Chargers’ fee to break their lease at Qualcomm is supposed to pay down the city’s debt. But that fee decreases each year. Next year’s $25.8 million fee is about half the principal the city owes. (Here’s a memo that breaks down what the city owes at Qualcomm.)
The Times also has an interesting graphic showing the percentage of public and private financing for all NFL stadiums. There’s one important caveat for understanding the graphic. The figures reported do not include public costs for land, road, water and sewer improvements and operating expenses.