Editor’s note: As this issue of the Mississippi Business Journal went to press last week, a measure to fund a new stadium at Jackson State University was pending in the Legislature.
A boondoggle is an unnecessary public project designed to benefit a few at the cost of many (taxpayers). Usually the boondogglers perpetuate a myth in order to gain support of the populace. Here in Jackson, we have been witnessing the development of proposals to destroy Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium and the building of another stadium just a few miles away.
In a state that is very constrained in the area of financial resources, one would have to classify such as a boondoggle idea. In attempting to gain support a myth has been perpetuated that the current stadium in someway impedes the progress of University Medical Center and that UMC above all places in the world of realty needs the particular plot of land known as Lambert Field to build something in order to become a research center. I have debunked that idea in previous articles published in The Northside Sun, pointing out that UMC is already a very important research center.
As a matter of fact, Chancellor Robert Khayat recently announced that UMC has received $35 million in grants in 2006 for research. So the two, the stadium and UMC, have existed very well over the years side by side. The two are not mutually exclusive; thus, one does not hinder or impede the other.
The State of Mississippi, the largest landowner within the City of Jackson, is in perfect position to provide additional land to UMC if and when needed so there is no need for UMC officials to covet the Lambert Field space. If UMC officials are so tempted to covet other areas, in spite of space that could be utilized or reconfigured on their current campus, then they should covet space that is more practical — space unoccupied by our only civic stadium, which also serves as a veterans memorial, e.g., unoccupied space between UMC and Interstate 55, the Riverside Drive area, R&D area between Eastover Drive — Ridgewood Road and Lakeland Drive, old buildings on Woodrow Wilson Drive, the Farmer’s Market area, the Lefleur’s Bluff Golf Course or the space soon to be available at the Deaf and Blind Institute or the proposed development at Bailey High. Of course, the state through the power of eminent domain could obtain land as may be required (such as the vacant land located on the corner of Woodrow Wilson and West Street, which is diagonally across from the stadium property).
Ordinarily one would not even give such a ludicrous boondoggle idea a chance in a “bean field” of springing forth to reality. But to my shock the state’s largest daily newspaper has endorsed the idea and recently published several articles and letters to the editor supporting this concept, along with Rep. John Reeves who wants to build another stadium closer to his own voting district.
Reportedly some JSU officials and supporters have joined in to this clamor claiming that JSU needs a stadium somewhat closer to its prime campus. One must ask, “Why?” JSU is an outstanding urban university. There are advantages and disadvantages to being an urban university. One such advantage is the availability of urban facilities such as civic stadiums.
One may look to other cities to find similar examples: Southern Cal. Uses the L.A. Coliseum, UCLA uses the Pasadena Rose Bowl, Miami uses the Orange Bowl, Memphis uses the Liberty Bowl, Tulane uses the Sugar Bowl, UAB uses Legion Field in Birmingham, Minnesota uses the Metro Dome, Pittsburgh uses Heinz Field, Central Florida plays in the Citrus Bowl, the University of Hawaii plays in the Aloha Bowl, Texas El Paso plays in the Sun Bowl, and South Florida plays in Raymond James Stadium. San Diego State plays in Qualcomm Stadium which is owned by the City of San Diego, and University of Las Vegas uses a civic stadium some seven or eight miles away from its campus.
JSU has a sweetheart deal paying only $15,000 or 7% of the gate, whichever is greater. In addition, JSU receives a percentage of the concessions. JSU could not upkeep a stadium so large for so little. Also one should note, that as an urban university JSU has expanded its operations to include the Allstate Building on U.S. 80 and has a large operation in the R&D Center off of Eastover Drive (just a short distance to Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.).
Does JSU wish to close these successful operations and move them to campus? I doubt it, because it is perfectly normal for urban colleges and universities to spread out in this manner. For a couple of local examples, note that Mississippi College operates a law school in downtown Jackson and Belhaven operates a telecommunication operations downtown as well.
Much to my chagrin some other political officials besides Rep. Reeves have joined in to this absurd boondoggle chime. Now for the life of me, I do not understand how elected, appointed or employed public servants can back a boondoggle idea without violating the intent of their respective oaths and contracts to safeguard the public’s assets. In other words, these officials are charged with being good stewards of these assets. The Veterans Memorial stadium is a very valuable asset, which has been recently improved to the tune of $14 million-plus. Every major Southern city needs a stadium. We have a very nice one and do not have any need whatsoever to build another one in a different part of Hinds County. If we destroy the one we have now, we will never again have one as large, as functional or as well located. The costs for such a boondoggle would be huge and in a post Katrina scenario unimaginable. Multi-millions of dollars would be involved.
In every myth-perpetuated boondoggle idea lurks an unseen undercurrent consisting of those who want to jump on the bandwagon. They want to buy in to the myth because they can see a “fistful of dollars.” Some are not anxious to have the myth exposed, because the truth is always harmful to the boondoggle idea. The happy dollar crowd may include the waterfront. Of course, when lots of dollars start flying around it may include real estate speculators and haulers of dismembered stadium concrete. Perhaps these parties will adopt as their theme song the ditty “Cement Mixer,” the words of which state: “Cement Mixer-putty-putty-Cement Mixer putty-putt-putt- $$$$!” So, such a force energized by greed for money or power can grow and must be taken seriously and opposed by good citizens who must stand and refuse to let a boondoggle come to fruition.
For the sake of economic development, let’s promote the stadium, not destroy it. Mississippi ranks near the bottom in a lot of categories. Do we have to strive for a first-place ranking in “bad ideas” which tend to keep us on the bottom ? Remember, “Stupid is as stupid does.”(Forrest Gump) So if we don’t do it — we are not stupidrs..