Today, it was reported that the Philadelphia Union, the local MLS team, will get $250,000 in county tax breaks for their new Stadium, WSFS Bank Sportsplex. Specifically, the Delaware County Council allowed the Philadelphia Union to not pay any county real estate taxes. This lasts for the next 10 years and will be done on a sliding scale that starts at the team being exempted 100% this year and down to 10% at the end.
According to the city and not a single economist alive, this should allow for the city to see direct spending increase by $9 million dollars. Why? Because this new stadium will be life-changing. Millions in economic impact. Tons of new jobs. As the Mayor of Chester told the local CBS news affiliate, this project will be “a huge investment in the name of Chester”. You know the usual.
David Debusschere, COO and CFO of the Philadelphia Union seemed to brag that before the team built a stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania, the locals “really didn’t have a lot going on”. Now? According to the COO/CFO, the MLS team will “continue to … draw additional investment from third parties in the area, continue to drive traffic, and continue to grow”.
Wait a second. Haven’t we heard this before? In 2008, local city and state leaders spent millions to bring the Union to Chester thanks to a publicly funded stadium. According to then-Gov. Ed Rendell, this project would not only “change the face of Chester forever” but would also “guarantee that Chester will become one of the first-class cities in Pennsylvania”.
“The Philadelphia Union were expected to bring more than soccer to Chester. 10 years (ago) … local lawmakers and private investors … handed Chester a sweet deal: a nearly $500 million development that would rise along the barren waterfront, transforming a Delaware County brownfield into a glitzy destination. A Major League Soccer stadium would be the project’s centerpiece — the region’s first professional team — surrounded within five years by housing, restaurants, a supermarket and stores, plus a convention center” – Philadelphia Inquirer, 07/22/22
The stadium was built thanks to almost $90 million in public subsidies and then….nothing. Except for the stadium itself, which was built quickly and on time. Everything else, however, was put on hold or just never built. Like the promised grocery store that would have been the first local grocery outlet for city residents. The state specifically gave the stadium project $4 million for the grocery store. Sits vacant. As PhillySportsNetwork.com wrote, “What we have now isn’t exactly what was projected over 10 years ago”.
What happened? Much like what always happens, few stayed around the area after the games were played. Therefore, virtually zero development was produced around the stadium. As the Inquirer put it, nobody was eating at local restaurants on game days, nobody was shopping by the water and nobody could buy groceries since that store was never built. Therefore, anyone who looked around outside the stadium saw a city that “looked largely the same as it always had — just as it does today”.
And my goodness did the Union make promises when they came to Chester:
“Those were the grand illusions promulgated by officials to entice an ownership group with supposedly deep pockets and a track record of revamping down-on-their-luck metropolises, and to cajole Major League Soccer into bestowing an expansion franchise that would become the Philadelphia Union. That’s what the pencil sketches and press-release background said about turning Chester – then in its second decade as financially distressed – into a destination for disposable income throughout the Delaware Valley” – DelcoTimes.com, 03/04/18
Whose fault was it? Well, a former mayor of Chester claims that the MLS team resisted paying any taxes and should have done more for the community. The Union’s former CEO, however, blamed the city by stating that the team was but one business who had no chance of fixing “decades of economic mismanagement”.
The lone City Council member who voted against the deal in 2008 has much stronger words:
“They (Philadelphia Union Owners) baited us with the soccer stadium and came in with nothing after that … at the end of the day, they got a new stadium … (we got) a terrible deal for taxpayers all around” – County Council member Andy Lewis, DelcoTimes.com, 2018
Considering the city of Chester is facing the possibility of going bankrupt, I am still so unclear as to why they think this will end any different. The US District Judge who oversaw the Chester Housing Authority when the initial stadium was being built, noted that when it came to non-sports things, getting projects done was “evidently infinitely complicated”.