Kalamazoo's Taxpayer Arena

Don't forget, tomorrow at 4 p.m. is the deadline for turning in your bid to purchase the Pontiac Silverdome. As noted in this space about a month ago, there is no minimum bid price. But if you're in the market for a government-owned sports arena that has no teams playing under its roof and thus nobody helping to pay its bills, then do be advised that the annual upkeep on the building is estimated to cost you $1.5 million, and that the $800,000 in annual operating subsidies from state taxpayers stopped flowing some time ago. This hefty maintenance cost is a main reason why budget-strapped Pontiac is trying to unload the building, regardless of price.

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If a 34-years young facility with 80,000 empty seats is more than you really need, then perhaps just wait a little while longer for the empty taxpayer-financed sports arena of the future to come on the market. It could be a 6,500-seat facility that is now being planned for downtown Kalamazoo. On the eve of the Silverdome's auction at fire-sale prices, the Lansing State Journal reports that the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners is ready to discuss building a brand new home for a local minor league hockey team and also Western Michigan University's basketball and hockey teams.

To help pay for it, "a countywide restaurant and hotel tax" is being considered. As noted in the first post last month about the Silverdome auction, the authority to levy these taxes on Kalamazoo businesses now exists because of a new state law that was rushed through the Legislature at the end of last year.

The possibility of a quick demise for taxpayer-funded sports facilities is hardly far-fetched. To give just two examples:

The Seattle Kingdome, which opened one year after the Silverdome, never lived to see its 24th birthday. It was imploded in 2000.

At 27 years of age, the Metrodome in Minneapolis is already the 9th-oldest NFL facility and in recent years has seen the University of Minnesota football team and the Minnesota Twins baseball team move out. Plans are already underway for the Minnesota Vikings NFL franchise to move out as well.

In its brief glory years of the early 1980s, the Silverdome was home to the Detroit Pistons basketball team and two professional football teams (if "professional" isn't too generous a description for what happens when the Detroit Lions take the field.) Like the taxpayers of Pontiac today, if the taxpayers in Kalamazoo county one day wake up to find that they have no paying customers at all in their building, and just a mounting pile of bills, they might do well to jot down the names of the politicians they have to thank. In addition to Gov. Jennifer Granholm signing the bill into law, the state House approved this taxing authority on a vote of 68-39, with 38 Republicans joining one Democrat in opposition; and the state Senate voted 37-1 in favor.