Why build a football stadium? Intangible benefits: NFL team means more to city and state than dollars and cents.

February 04, 1996

SO FAR, the Great Stadium Debate in Annapolis has focused on the wrong issue. Instead of lawmakers bickering over fiscal analyses that come to different conclusions about the size of the tax benefit for Maryland, they should zero in on reasons why so many cities clamor for the right to become home to a National Football League team.

Numerous intangibles flow from being an NFL city. It marks the town as first class. Business executives want to locate their companies in such a place. It greatly enhances the quality of life in an era when pro sports are a major part of our leisure-time existence. It gives residents throughout the region and throughout the state pride, identity and public spirit.

Look at what the opening of Oriole Park -- also financed by the state in the same manner as the proposed football complex -- has meant to Baltimore and to Maryland. It triggered a revolution in stadium construction and quickly attained a national reputation that has made Baltimore a town to visit. All those camera shots from the Goodyear blimp on national television are worth millions of dollars in free advertising for Baltimore as a tourist destination and as a corporate relocation site. An adjoining football stadium would add to Baltimore's allure.

Charlotte, Jacksonville and Indianapolis residents must think Maryland legislators are headed for the psychiatric ward to consider rejecting a stadium for an NFL club. These towns know the value of gaining a franchise. Yes, there are direct rewards in terms of added tax revenue and a boost for the local economy. But it is the psychological impact that is all-important.

Just as the loss of the Colts devastated Baltimoreans and most Marylanders ten years ago, a new NFL team here would restore much of this region's self-esteem. It tells the world: We're first class once again; we've got the amenities CEOs seek in an area; we're a growing, progressive, forward-thinking community.

It would be wrong to judge the worth of this project strictly on dollars and cents projections of number-crunching economists (though even there this undertaking is a winner). You can't forget intangibles. For a modest amount of lottery seed money (about $9 million a year for three years), Maryland can build a $200 million football stadium for the NFL Browns that will be the envy of the nation. Yes, jobs and economic stimulation will flow from that stadium, but so will something far more important: enhanced confidence in our city, region and state.

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