The first step is to rename Bossier City’s CenturyLink Center Drive and the city’s CenturyLink Center Arena Special Revenue Fund. The next is to sell the renamed Brookshire Grocery Arena.
Under whatever name, the two-decades-old arena near the foot of the Jimmie Davis Bridge consistently has lost money. Its siting in open space closer to residential areas than any commercial activity, much less the kind that could leverage off the facility such as entertainment establishments, with somewhat constricted road access came for political, not economic, reasons that might otherwise have caused its building around the Interstate 20/220 intersection by Louisiana Downs.
Emergence of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic illuminated even more brightly its white elephant status. With essentially no activity occurring in the arena for most of the year and perhaps several months into 2021, its deficit grew so large that the city last month the City Council swiped $500,000 – nearly the entire ending 2019 Disaster Relief Fund balance – to pay off 2020 property taxes on the structure and the first two months of 2021 (non)operating expenses. (Whether the legal restrictions that came with the grant of that money would permit such use is another matter.)
The rights agreement – $4.2 million from 2021-30, at a higher annual rate than the previous one – provides at least some relief for next year, but even under a normal year of operation still would leave a deficit, much less exposed to the pandemic-disrupted year ahead. In 2019, it lost nearly $300,000. Dipping into other city funds to subsidize it seems highly unlikely to change, especially with DiamondsJacks casino shuttered (as citizens wait with baited breath on what new appellation its namesake boulevard will acquire) and casino revenues from those in the city down $19 million annually from last October.
Bossier City decided to build the thing in its never-ending quest to count coup on Shreveport, at a time the state’s Hirsch Memorial Coliseum across the river was losing cachet, and echoing the standard line that this kind of government-backed venture capitalism would kickstart economic development – heard again and again when blowing over $100 million taxpayer dollars on a hospital the city refused to sell until competitors drove it into the ground, a parking garage for a retail landlord that went into receivership, and on a high-tech office building which provided a fraction of the thousands of jobs promised to the public, in addition to the arena. In fact, the arena hasn’t created a single job outside the bounds of its property lines.
The city shouldn’t make the same mistake as it did with the Bossier Medical Center, sold at a distressed price way past its shelf life. It won’t get nearly the money sunk into the facility over the years, but it will get enough back to pour into completing the last two phases of the Walter O. Bigby carriageway and have some left over to ensure hooking the southern end of the Arthur Ray Teague Parkway to the extension planned by the parish, all without having to hit up the citizenry for more taxes. Sell the arena now.