In light of emerging details about funding the new Arena District soccer stadium, citizens must ask themselves who is being served and why their taxes are footing so many bills.
For the last year or so the impending new Columbus Crew soccer stadium has been a convenient bit of political shorthand. Whenever one wanted to criticize the city in the main, they could just point to the $50 million that was pledged toward said stadium, and then point at almost any other under- or non-addressed problem elsewhere and say, “This city is broken if this is their priority.”
An interesting charge, broken. A charge like that implies that the city is acting outside of its design or values, or that it has a clear direction and has somehow strayed from the path. In light of the recent Dispatch article that’s making the rounds — in which it was revealed that financial support for stadium development will far exceed the initially promised $50 million, and the many jaw-dropping ways in which city officials have tried to make it look like that isn’t the case — I must admit to struggling with the notion of a broken system. While some of the actions and communications between affected parties in the article expose gross negligence, political chicanery and a Jacob’s Ladder of deals that further burden taxpayers, none of this is against grain. All of this is wholly within the brand of Columbus politics.
None of this is illegal. It is merely unethical.
The machinations of all of this are bad enough, but one must then contend with the incessant self-congratulations of the people who made these backroom deals possible: the Save the Crew campaign.
When adulation is continually heaped on STC efforts, such as crowning the movement with a Spirit of Columbus Award, or City Council declaring Oct. 12 an annual “Saved the Crew Day” in Columbus, the temptation is to charge them with myopic narcissism. The speed and efficiency with which the Crew was saved was whiplash-inducing, but the most mindboggling aspect of the campaign is the packaging of the work as a movement at all.
Taking on the vestiges of oppressed people to bolster its agendas and couching efforts to raise $50 million for a soccer stadium in the raiment of great struggle would be hilarious if it weren’t going to cost citizens $100 million dollars. The notion that a group of millionaires, billion-dollar companies and fans from largely privileged communities are in any way shape or form a “grassroots movement” is patently ridiculous. Such a conglomeration of resources is why none of this ever had to come before the community at large. When you have the money, you don't need public approval or votes.
I cannot overstate how much this isn't about soccer. I don’t care if you love it or hate it. That’s like arguing with someone over how the steak you just ate was cooked when the problem is that no one ordered the steak. Ultimately, this is a question of good governance. There is a reason why some things make it to ballots and some things don't. There is an election coming up next month. There are a lot of people in this city who would love it if most of you would stay home so that things like this can keep happening for those privileged enough to access such resources on behalf of their hobbies.
If STC used money it raised independent of taxpayer pools and projects for all of these awesome investment opportunities, there wouldn't be a debate. Rich people buy things for themselves to play with all of the time — whole buildings, in fact. But that's not what’s happening here. This was an argument of priorities when it was “only” $50 million. But now that the allocated resources have likely doubled, the issue has graduated to a full-blown misuse of funds. And they know it. If everything they were doing was a solid use of taxpayer dollars while (and this is important) being in line with the priorities of an informed majority of citizens, you wouldn’t be seeing the scramble to get in front of the story now.
Contrary to STC adherents’ rhetoric, the criticism isn't about people harshing anyone’s good times. It's about living under a non-representative government. It is, in part, being sold a civic and community movement that only serves itself. It's about being told by the powers that be that spending your money on stuff like this and brokering bad deals that vacuum taxes into things we can’t approve of is better for you than good schools or fair housing.