Friday, March 10, 2006

St. Pete Times Tries To Skate Around Conflict of Interest

Paper Says Naming Rights to Arena Shouldn't Prevent It From Pushing for Tax Break -- Oh, Yeah?
Give the St. Petersburg Times credit for not coasting on its accolades, including six Pulitzer Prizes. It's not by accident that it has become Florida's largest newspaper as well as its best.
So, for a paper that practically oozes integrity, it was more than a little bit curious when it ponied up $30 million so the arena formerly known as the Ice Palace would now be called the St. Pete Times Forum.
Which put the Times in an odd position Wednesday, when it editorialized for doubling to $4 million a state sales tax rebate for pro sports teams that build or renovate a sports facility. Self-interest? You bet.
But before you start slinging those darts, Gloria Cooper, the paper did note:
"This newspaper is sensitive to the appearance of a conflict .. But the public benefits outweigh the monetary gain to a team that has its finances headed in the right direction," in this case hockey's Tampa Bay Lightning.
The paper opined that using the money would allow the Forum to lure other events, provide an incentive for teams to stay and "deepen a community's fan base."
The latter is where the Times badly stumbles. In the end, the venue is only as good as the teams it houses. After the initial wow factor of a new or spiffed-up facility, fans want to see a competitive game, and not shell out big bucks to assess the quality of waiter service for the club seats
(At least the Forum has no such worries, for now. The Lightning are the defending Stanley Cup champions, although this season has been one filled with underachievement and a paucity of goals).
If you build it, they will come, but only for so long, if the team stinks. See the Colorado Rockies/Coors Field and Cleveland Indians/Jacobs Field exhibits on your way out.
Oh, and about that worn-out and discredited economic boon new sports venues supposedly bring:
"In Florida many cities could see publicly owned venues capitalize on the rebirth of downtowns, where taxpayers have millions invested in trolleys, parking garages and tourist facilities."
The Times need only look in its hometown to highlight the fallacy of that argument.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays play at dreary Tropicana Field, a mistake of a ballpark for a team that deserves nothing more. But if you've ever been to downtown St. Pete, the lack of a beehive of activity and meaningful commerce near the stadium is evident.
So, the Times is "senstive to the appearance of a conflict," then becomes conflicted anyway. And just what was to be gained by spending $30 million to plaster a name on a hockey arena? Perhaps that money could have been spent better on -- and here's a radical proposition --covering the news. It may not be as exciting as a hockey game, but we all come out winners in the end.

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