Arenas not a good investment?
Today’s LJS story on a prominent economist’s opinion that most arenas and stadiums are not the economic panaceas they’re advertised to be was interesting to me, having covered the planning of Lincoln’s $340 million arena project for a half dozen years.
Perhaps the toughest story to get in the Journal Star was one in which I interviewed a bunch of economists about this very sentiment that such publicly financed projects are not the shot in the arm supporters say they will be.
It was one of the most heavily edited, scrutinized stories I’ve written in my 20-year journalism career. The city election was coming, and we wouldn’t want to poison people’s mind with such sacrilege, would we? After the story was published, one of the leaders of the pro-arena movement told me they would be coming out with their own economist to refute my story’s findings. About a week later, a UNL economics professor wrote this guest column, sort of vaguely refuting my story, I guess.
Which was funny, given that UNL economists just were nowhere to be found whenever I tried to get them to comment on Lincoln’s proposed arena. It seemed they were ducking the issue.
And then last year I took a UNL economics/journalism class, and that very professor, David Rosenbaum, was frequently a guest speaker. I couldn’t wait to ask him about how his opinion of arenas seemed to go against the grain among economists. When I finally got my chance, he refused to answer my question. I think he knew who I was. I dropped the class soon thereafter. I figured if we couldn’t speak freely about the biggest economic question facing our own fair city at that moment, what could we talk about honestly?