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Tuesday, Oct 08 2013 10:19 PM

Ballpark needs a savior, but a private savior

By The Bakersfield Californian

The apparent failure of efforts to finance and build a new baseball park for Bakersfield's minor league professional team is truly a shame. The ballpark, a cozy, family-friendly, diversion-rich stadium as envisioned by the team's owners, Gene Voiland and Chad Hathaway, would be a tremendous addition to the mixed-use development in the works at Bakersfield Commons.

But oilmen Voiland and Hathaway have been able to raise just $18 million of the $30 million it'll cost for a 3,500-seat ballpark for the Bakersfield Blaze. Here's hoping someone, or a group of someones, sees enough value in the project, monetary or otherwise, to step forward and pitch the team out of this jam. But $12 million angels don't come along every day.

Some might wonder if this is the sort of situation that might lend itself to investment by the local municipality. However, other than the possibility of tax breaks and other regulatory considerations (based on the fact that a ballpark would enhance the local quality of life), it would be a bad idea for the city of Bakersfield to come to the rescue with public dollars.

One of the great strengths of this project, as proposed, was that it was to be entirely financed by the private sector. As David Schultz, of the Hamline University School of Business in St. Paul, Minn., has noted, the weight of the evidence suggests stadiums are bad public investments.

Rarely do "new sports stadiums lead to any significant new private investment or provide for any significant economic benefits to the local economy besides the jobs generated by the initial capital construction of the stadiums," he wrote. "More important, the new stadiums generally were not even profitable or self-financing."

That doesn't mean a minor league stadium can't be profitable. And since the Blaze's new stadium would be the chief component of a major commercial development that is likely to go forward in any case, additional private investment is already part of the deal. But making a stadium profitable should be the responsibility of the private owners, and they alone should reap the benefits if they succeed.

We still hope they can, and will.

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