The WSJ reports that Governor Phil Bryant is allocating $15 million from Mississippi’s share of BP oil spill damages to be invested in a minor league ballpark in Biloxi. The city itself has voted to issue $21 million in bonds backed by stadium revenues, but the deal apparently hinged on the state’s investment of BP funds.
Biloxi’s population has declined 10% (to 45,000) since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the 2010 oil spill must have added to the economic destruction. But BP’s oil spill didn’t ruin baseball in Biloxi — it damaged the beaches, the livelihoods of fishermen, and so on. It’s a stretch to take BP’s settlement money and pour it into new stadium construction.
A counter-argument might be that building a baseball stadium is the most effective way to stimulate economic development in Biloxi, and generates a higher return on public investment than alternative projects. But it is well known that stadium building is an effect, not a cause, of economic development — see Coates and Humphreys (2000) for example. Nevertheless, the city council’s 5-2 vote approving the stadium project was cheered by “most of the 150 residents and business owners” attending a recent meeting.
No doubt there are real benefits to be realized from this project, although the fact that outside funding is required suggests they may total less than the costs. I’d wager that the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino, on whose land the stadium will be built, is the primary beneficiary, and an active political player in the deal to approve it.