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Parsing the impact of a new A’s ballpark

As Oakland pushes forward with a ballpark plan to keep the Athletics in the East Bay, some are wondering whether a new facility is worth the financial outlay.

As Oakland pushes forward with a ballpark plan to keep the Athletics in the East Bay, some are wondering whether a new facility is worth the financial outlay.

Pushing a ballpark as a financial investment for a municipality is always a risky deal because, quite honestly, the economic impact can be nebulous. We all see how the building of new ballparks in Denver and San Diego have stimulated the economies of the core cities, and when all is said and done the same will be said of Minneapolis.

Interestingly, a new ballpark was never sold as a economic-impact device in Minnesota; it was sold as a quality-of-life issue. And while that's the way it should be sold in Oakland, the city decided to play the economic-development card and issued a report saying a new ballpark would create 1,561 construction jobs and generate $2.6 billion in economic activity.

Those numbers aren't unreasonable, and it's found money if Lou Wolff pays for the ballpark while the city contributed land and infrastructure. Still, it gave anti-sports folks like Roger Noll a chance to crawl out from the woodwork, repeating their assertions that ballparks are not good public investments. It would be easier to take these folks seriously if they actually took the time to research the issue; Noll, for example, seems unaware that both home and visiting players pay taxes no matter where they come from.

There's a lot of silliness when it comes to discussions of the economic impact of ballparks. The more proper measure is to compare a new ballpark to the alternatives, and it's not as though someone is talking about coming in and spending $500 on new development at Jack London Square in downtown Oakland. That alone may be the most compelling economic argument for a new Oakland ballpark.

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