Stadia Watch

While Metro considers raising the basic bus fare for the second time in two years, the transit agency's one-cent sales tax is being eyed as a possible source of funding for stadium construction/renovation. Peter Coneway, the Goldman, Sachs managing partner who heads the Sports Facility Public Advisory Committee created by Mayor Bob Lanier and County Judge Robert Eckels, says use of a portion of the Metro penny is only one of the public financing options (others being hotel occupancy and car-rental taxes) being considered to keep the Rockets and Astros happy and land an Oilers replacement franchise. Coneway notes that San Antonio employed sales tax revenue to help build the Alamodome, home (for now) of the NBA Spurs. However, that money didn't come directly from VIA Metropolitan Transit, San Antonio's transit authority. Though VIA, like Metro, is authorized by the Legislature to levy a full one percent, the agency was only collecting half a cent. A rewrite of the law allowed the city to collect the other half-cent for the Alamodome for five years ....

Vinson & Elkins lawyer Bob Randolph, who is advising Coneway's committee, notes that other Texas cities have used part of their local sales tax option to fund economic development projects, including The Ballpark in Arlington. But the city of Houston and METRO already impose the maximum allowable sales tax, and using funds from the transit agency's one cent would have to be put to a public vote ... Of course, Metro is already giving over more than 55 percent of its sales tax for non-transit mobility projects, even though voters authorized a mere 25 percent back in 1988 ... Maybe there will be something left over from the tax to help ferry members of the transit-dependent public to the new sporting venues, assuming they can afford a ticket (or even a bus ride) ....

Coneway, meanwhile, expects that whatever plan his committee recommends on May 20 will rely on a "public-private partnership," a combination of public funding, user fees and possibly a token payout from the owners themselves. The cheapest alternative would be renovating The Summit for the Rockets and the Astrodome for the Astros, leaving the Rodeo and some future NFL franchise in need of a new venue ... Other, more costly alternatives, such as a new baseball park and a downtown basketball arena, are also on the table. Figure on a total cost of $500 million at rock bottom ....

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