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Shreveport burns itself again with tax dollar giveaway

It's signing day for college football teams across America, the first day recruits formally can commit themselves to a school's scholarship offer. But around northwest Louisiana, it additionally serves as a reminder to take that imposing structure next to the Fairgrounds called Independence Stadium and chuck it. And maybe some Shreveport politicians with it?

Seems like the stadium serves as a dangerous object to Shreveport politicians who are preternaturally compelled to throw money at things having to do with it in a way that ends up costing the taxpayer every time. One merely has to review the venture capital episode with the Shreveport Pirates in the Canadian Football League, or the remodeling and expansion of the Stadium a few years later which devolved into disputes, litigation, and extra city expense, and now bailing out the Independence Bowl Foundation. Each involved presumed defaults of hundreds of thousands to million of dollars. Each now additionally has required expensive litigation with the prospects that not all that is owed will be recouped.

Some fault needs to be assigned to the Foundation. Heads were scratched when a couple of years past it was announced PetroSun, currently sued by the Foundation for breach on contract even as Shreveport made good on the money owed and is promised by the Foundation to get whatever recompense the suit produces, was accepted by the Foundation as the title sponsor of the game. PetroSun essentially was a “pink sheet” company whose equities traded over-the-counter. They weren’t even required to post financial statements publicly.

This outfit did not seem to be all that promising of a title sponsor, and surely Independence Bowl officials must have been wary as the stock, which traded at around $1.20 a share at the time of the agreement, has now slid down to less than a sixth of that amount. Yet it was taken on. Was the Bowl so desperate this was the best offer after having gone two years without a sponsor which dropped its reserves to a dangerous low point? (And this on top of a generous state subsidy received each year courtesy of state taxpayers.)

Perhaps the Foundation was in a position where it had to grasp at straws and made this shaky deal to allow the game to survive, but that is not the issue. More to the point, to rectify its mistake it goaded the city into pouncing on the taxpayer. The fact is, just as in the case of the Shreveport Symphony, some facts need to be faced here the most central being that the organization has been punching above its weight for years.

Like with the Symphony, for years there has been a steady contraction of locally-owned businesses of sufficient size to subsidize entertainment ventures of this magnitude. Until recently, the only real replacements have been national concerns with no special connections to the area and/or actual competitors for entertainment dollars such as casinos. Therefore, sponsorship money has become harder and harder to locate.

Add to this the special disadvantages of this type of activity. Among the bowl games, the Independence Bowl plays in one of the smallest stadiums, in one of the smallest metropolitan areas, subject to about the worst weather, and in an area without even a college football team to stoke local interest.

Yet the city got talked into subsidizing the activity (to have the bowl miss its payout to the 2007 competitors would have brought National Collegiate Athletic Association sanctions) – and kept it from the public for months. Mayor Cedric Glover claimed the quiet was intended to increase the chance of satisfactory resolution. Translation: he was trying to buy time to prevent the city from getting a black eye from a potential default that was almost certainly coming, in order to give it a pair when it was absolutely clear the next payment was not forthcoming. To their discredit, members of the City Council went along with the deception.

And why weren’t other options pursued by the Foundation? Is the situation so dire that its officers didn’t think any other institution would even seriously consider a loan? Although in hitting up the city, it can’t faulted for going after a soft touch to survive.

If PetroSun goes belly-up, taxpayers may never see this money. Meanwhile, the Foundation is spending to litigate even as its financial condition apparently remains precarious. Is the Independence Bowl so important to the area to go to these lengths? Or isn’t it just another one of many shiny baubles – just like arenas, parking garages, and dreamy research parks on the Bossier side of the Red River, and on the Caddo side like convention centers, hotels, and biomedical research centers – that cost the citizenry much more than they bring in benefits to taxpayers yet attract elected officials to funding them like monkeys wanting to see their faces in the reflection?

I’ve been to a few I-Bowl games over the past two decades and liked them. But it’s just not worth taxpayer subsidy when the city can’t even find money to give raises to police officers. It deserves no more public dollars from the city, and if that results in its demise, we thank those involved with it for the decades of entertainment. And any elected official that approves giving it more city money demonstrates unsuitability to serve in office by his contempt for his employers the people.

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