How a stadium can benefit the community


Professional teams are increasingly willing to pay for community improvements, diversity initiatives and paid employment in exchange for grants for new stadiums and arenas.

This is the first in a three-day series in our ongoing, in-depth coverage of the issues surrounding a stadium project for the Buffalo Bills.

Before the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers opened a new arena last summer, team owners, elected officials and civic groups made sure the $1.8 billion project would benefit everyone. community.

In September 2020, the parties signed a community benefits agreementor CBA, which described who would get jobs and contracts during and after construction, how much those jobs would pay, what the project would look like, and how the city and its residents would share in the profits generated by the new arena.

The Clippers also committed $100 million to fund housing, education and other social and infrastructure improvement programs identified by community groups and elected officials.

Other cities negotiating the construction of new sports arenas have also used CBAs.

The Atlanta Falcons have booked $40 million for parks and a vocational training centeramong other programs.

A coalition of community groups brought the Pittsburgh Penguins to pay for new groceries in a predominantly African-American community that lacked it.

The Milwaukee Bucks accepted hire at least half of the workers for their new arena from the city’s poorest neighborhoods and pay them a living wage.

According to Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, executive director of Partnership for the public gooda Buffalo-based think tank.

“Really at the heart is this principle that for public investment or public subsidy, the surrounding communities should see the benefits of the community accrue to them,” Ó Súilleabháin said.

More than 350 such deals have been won by community groups and lawmakers across the country in the past 20 years, according to John Goldsteinwho has advised many ABC campaigns, including two here in Buffalo.

Jim Heaney discusses stadium on Capitol Pressroom

The CBA movement originated in Los Angeles in the late 1990s, Goldstein told the Investigative Post, and then quickly spread to major cities like New York, Chicago and Atlanta, as well as mid-sized cities such as Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Nashville, to name a few. some.

Many, but not all, CBAs have been attached to professional sports arenas and the entertainment districts built around them. There is almost always “significant public investment” in such projects, Goldstein said, in the form of tax breaks, subsidies from public funds or land, or infrastructure works.

“It means that we, the public, are investors in the project,” he said. “And so we have the right to be part of the team that negotiates the deal.”

Our series on Community Benefit Agreements

  • Today: how CBAs work in other cities.
  • Thursday: Lawmakers propose a CBA for Bills Stadium.
  • Friday: WNY has never had a CBA for a major project.

So far, negotiations for the construction of a new Buffalo Bills stadium have proceeded behind closed doors, between state and county officials and team owners, with virtually no insight or input from the public. Nor can the CBA movement claim clear victories in Western New York.

Ó Súilleabháin hopes that will change when a proposal comes out of the negotiating room and is sent to lawmakers in Erie County and New York State for approval. She said a coalition had formed to promote a CBA proposal, championed by State Sen. Sean Ryan and Erie County Legislative Speaker April Baskin.

In an interview with local podcast The Square Last month, Ryan called government subsidies for professional sports arenas a “small tragedy”, given that stadiums “provide virtually no economic benefit to a community once they are built”.

“Why the hell do taxpayers pay for stadiums? Ryan said, adding that a CBA was the best way to ensure audiences received a return on their investment.

CBAs across the country

Early CBAs were run by labor unions, according to Goldstein, who became involved in the movement as a labor organizer in Milwaukee. In recent years, he said, CBAs have expanded to address broader community needs, such as affordable housing, education and health equity.

“It’s not just, you know, unions thinking about how they’re going to get [more jobs],” he said. “It also involves the community in a very concrete way to meet important community needs.”

The Clippers ACA included benchmarks for local hiring and contracts, engaging minority and women-owned businesses, and paying workers a living wage during and after construction — the considerations basics typical of most ACAs.

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On top of that, the Clippers – who started playing as the Buffalo Braves between 1970 and 1978 – have committed $100 million to meet some of Inglewood’s most pressing needs, including:

  • $75 million to start a revolving loan fund to support affordable housing projects.
  • $12.25 million for college scholarships, tutoring, counseling and other educational programs.
  • $6 million to upgrade the city’s public library and build a new community center.
  • $3 million in rentals and legal assistance for people struggling to avoid eviction.
  • $2.5 million to help first-time home buyers. Three-quarters of this money will be used to create a revolving loan fund for affordable housing projects. The rest will fund educational programs and college scholarships, build a new library and community center, provide assistance to tenants facing eviction and help first-time home buyers, among other initiatives.

Among the first CBAs was a 2001 agreement reached between a coalition of community groups and developers of an entertainment district surrounding the Staples Center in Los Angeles. This arena continues to host the Clippers and Lakers of the NBA and the Kings of the National Hockey League.

In exchange for $150 million in government grants, the developers agreed that at least 70% of the jobs created by the project would pay a living wage. They pledged to put in place a “first-source hiring program”, ensuring that employment opportunities would be provided to low-income local communities, including those displaced by the project.

The deal also included an affordable housing component, as well as commitments to use local contractors and lease commercial space to local businesses.

Additionally, the developers agreed to fund a study of parks and recreation facilities in the surrounding community and commit $1 million to improve them.

Agreements in medium-sized cities

Ó Súilleabháin described some benefits that other municipalities have achieved as examples of what western New York ratepayers might seek in negotiations with the bills:

  • In 2005, an alliance of San Diego community groups negotiated a CBA with the developers of Ballpark Village, a 7-acre development around the city’s Major League Baseball stadium. it is the home of the Padres. The developers have committed to environmental design standards and construction practices, in addition to basic requirements for local hiring and gainful employment.
  • In 2008, when the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins wanted to build a new arena, a coalition of more than 100 community groups won $8.3 million in funding for neighborhood projects, including a grocery store — an amenity that lacked in the predominantly African-American Hill District.
  • In 2016, the Milwaukee Bucks signed a CBA for a new arena that included living wage and local hire guarantees that extended beyond the construction period to cover service and retail jobs that the project would create in the long run.
  • In 2017, the Atlanta Falcons opened a new $1.5 billion stadium. The team owner avoided a legally binding CBA, but agreed to invest more than $40 million in parks, a job center, housing and social programs.
  • In 2018, Nashville officials agreed to pay for a $275 million stadium for the city’s new Major League Soccer team with a CBA providing affordable housing and daycare at the development site, as well as facilities. retail spaces for local artisans and small businesses at a reduced rental rate.

All of these projects involved public subsidies.

And then there’s the ABCs of the Clippers. The Clippers were looking for little public money. The project is privately owned and, for the most part, privately funded.

Ó Súilleabháin noted that the ABC was finalized as the first wave of the COVID pandemic highlighted the fragility of at-risk populations who disproportionately face poor access to healthcare, quality housing and to educational opportunities. She said he should provide a model for a CBA with the bills, which expect major grants for a new stadium at Orchard Park.

“If we are going to invest public money in what is essentially a leisure activity that requires discretionary income to enjoy it, we must also make commitments to help people in difficulty,” Ó Súilleabháin said.

Thursday: What local CBA fans want from a deal to build a news stadium for the Buffalo Bills.


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