Ogden has a web site promoting its newest idea for a Field House/waterpark/cycling track, whatever the heck it is. You can check it out here (click).
There’s not a lot there, but I found the link to the feasibility study (click!) interesting because I love reading feasibility studies as the exercise in cleverly disguised guessing and wishing they usually are.
This one is no exception.
It’s very thoroughly done. It looks at comparable markets, and comparable facilities, and has oodles of numbers, but search though you will there is one thing missing: Any certainty that the project will succeed.
Oh, the project might succeed, and it would be nice if it did, but there’s no certainty, or even an indication that it is a reasonably safe bet.
For example, is there anyone around here who will use it? Well, there’s a huge market, as indicated by some very pretty maps, and there are comparable markets where such things succeed or at least do business, but then again, what does that mean?
It means that people in Carson City, Calif., and Boulder Colorado support velodromes. Now: How many people think the good people of Boulder and Carson City are anything like Utahns? May I see a show of hands?
See — that is the problem.
This sort of projected use and profitability study is always a guessing game. I’m not saying this one is wrong, just that I’m leery of it, especially in light of the dicey national economic situation. I bet you anything UTA had similarly rosy projections for FrontRunner, and they may still come true, especially if the economy ever recovers and the price of gasoline goes up again.
Then again, maybe the economy won’t recover. Nothing else about Utah’s economy matches the rest of the nation’s, and I fail to see why our use of recreational facilities should. However, a Republican House of Representatives is about to start slicing and dicing the national economy — 15 percent cuts in federal employment will hurt Utah, and taking even $55 billion out of domestic spending is going to hit.
Top of Utah’s whole business model for the last 60-plus years has been to attract federal work, and this model has succeeded to the extent that Top of Utah is very vulnerable to massive cuts in federal employment that even our own representatives in Washington are promising very soon.
God forbid peace breaks out and the Air Force cuts back.
Then there’s the whole question of how this will be funded. As the report shows, and as my pal Dan Schroeder has enjoyed criticizing, a huge chunk of the funding for the building of the facility will come from taxes. The entities donating those revenues are hardly flush and will have to get the cash somewhere, either by cutting existing services or raising their own taxes.
Why must the taxpayers subsidize such a thing, when similar subsidies of local golf courses, museums and even recreational facilities are always criticized as wasteful?
The study does say one velodrome, the Home Depot Center in Carson City, CA., was built entirely with private money. Interestingly, that is the only one I can see that the feasability study says is breaking even. Most velodromes, it says, operate at a loss (subsidy), which I presume will be provided by the other venues? Or other governments?
The one in Colorado, for example, is operated by the U.S. Olympic Committee, which means it is not meant to make money and almost certainly doesn’t.
And grazing through the proposed budget of the whole facility, I don’t see where it pays back the millions that the taxpayers will be putting in to it. I presume that is considered a donation?
Of course, most recreational facilities built by local governments are meant to attract business for other local businesses, and the payoff is in increased sales taxes and business growth. That’s why a lot of cities build golf courses — businessmen play golf, or at least used to, to the point it was a given that you couldn’t attract business to town if you didn’t have 18 holes handy, preferably with a well-stocked 19th hole. Do bankers ride bicycles in velodromes?
Much about this field house/velodrome thing feels based on the “If we build it they will come” philosophy of sports development.
That may work in baseball movies, but in real life it’s left us with huge empty fields and blocks of run-down boarded up homes where an Ogden River Parkway Development is going to spring up any day now (Bingham Cyclery looks awful lonely over there) and huge empty blocks of condo units where The Junction is going to be full of businesses and residences and a huge new hotel any day now.
Then again, maybe there are a lot of businesses out there run by people who are saying “Gosh, I wish I could find a small city near mountains with a velodrome to locate my business that employes 10,000 people locally in jobs paying $40,000 a year.”
As the feasibility study shows, it could happen, but is it a safe bet?