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Someday soon, Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham said, Coca-Cola Park will be mentioned in the same breath as Dorney Park and the Crayola Factory as a "cultural, quality-of-life attraction" in the Lehigh Valley.
About the stadium's potential economic impact, his view is pragmatic.
"Quite honestly, if you measure economic impact in terms of jobs and tax base, it's minimal," Cunningham said. "Where the impact comes in is, every region needs amenities that draw people in and give them a sense of pride and identity.
"I never bothered with 'What's the spinoff economics of it?' Regions need art museums, sports arenas, recreational facilities. That's the way I look at it."
The Lehigh Valley IronPigs are ready to begin their inaugural season at Coca-Cola Park, where the cash registers are primed to ring up heavy sales. The $49.4-million park in east Allentown will host at least 72 games for the Philadelphia Phillies' relocated Triple-A affiliate, promising plenty of spending on tickets, hats, pork sandwiches and, of course, beer.
In 2005, the Lehigh County Department of Community and Economic Development said the stadium could have a "direct and indirect" impact of $12.3 million annually through employment, tourism spending and other factors.
Joseph Finley, co-owner of the IronPigs with Craig Stein, said he thinks the impact could be greater.
"I imagine we'll be well north of that [figure]," said Finley, who also co-owns, with Stein, a minor league team in Lakewood, N.J. "With payroll, the millions we'll be spending on contractors and local vendors -- printing companies, bread suppliers, you name it -- it will have a great impact."
However, two professors of economics point out that increased spending on, and by, a baseball team doesn't necessarily translate into a significant economic growth.
"The general literature from economics is that new stadiums have very little impact on economic growth in a region," said Thomas Bruggink, a sports economics professor at Lafayette College. "There can be a revenue effect of this new jewel in the Lehigh Valley. I'm a big baseball fan, but as an economist, I think the reason this is great for the Valley is civic pride, not economic growth. In terms of economic growth, it's all hype."
Redistribution of spending
Victor Matheson, a professor at the College of the Holy Cross who specializes in sports economics, said the most significant factor affecting the impact of the IronPigs is the theory of substitution.
Essentially, the theory says that spending on recreation activities, such as going to a baseball game, is redistributed from another activity, such as going to dinner or the movies.
"In the absence of minor league baseball, people don't sit at home and cry themselves to sleep with their wallets in their pockets," said Matheson, who has studied the effect of large-scale events like the Super Bowl or Olympics.
For that reason, both economists questioned whether public spending on stadiums brings, as Matheson said, "the most bang for your buck."
Hike in hotel tax
Coca-Cola Park's $49.4-million bill was paid for through three funding parts: $18.5 million in state grants, $18.1 million in rent from the team (used to pay a taxable bond) and $13.4 million in hotel tax funds (used to pay a nontaxable bond).
In 2005, the region's hotel tax increased by a half-percent from 3.5 percent to 4 percent, with funds from the increase used for stadium construction.
Cunningham said no city or county tax money was used to pay for the construction.
Selling the Valley
Cunningham said that facilities such as stadiums have positive effects on regions, thus making them attractive to potential employers -- and employees. Last year, Air Products and Chemicals became the IronPigs' first founding sponsor. The Morning Call also is a founding sponsor.
"We want to sell the Valley," Paul Huck, Air Products' chief financial officer, said at the sponsorship announcement last March. "We're located here, and it's very important for our success that the Lehigh Valley continues to be a success.
"To attract new employees, we need a good community. You have to have good schools, you have to have a safe environment, you need to have forms of entertainment, all those things are important to making a successful community. That's why this is such a big step."
Not a strong link
"There's a linkage, but not a strong linkage," Bruggink said, to the quality-of-life theory because a region's workforce is a driving force in local economy.
"Maybe more people would move to the Lehigh Valley because of its quality of life, of which the park is a small feature," he said. "The real drivers of economic growth are not baseball stadiums and museums, they're the workforce skill, quality of the infrastructure and transportation and the overall health of the national economy."
Matheson said Coca-Cola Park's impact can be gauged by assessing sales tax receipts after it opens.
He added that he wouldn't expect to see a significant increase.
"I would not argue against a baseball stadium making people happier," Matheson said. "I would suggest it's unlikely to make them richer."