Tax money spent on quality-of-life ventures is justifiable

Published 8:58 am Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The City of Elizabethton has reached an agreement with the Minnesota Twins to keep the Elizabethton Twins Minor League Baseball affiliate at Joe O’Brien Field for the foreseeable future. The agreement calls for the City to spend $1.5 million on upgrading the facilities at the ballpark — a new clubhouse and improvements behind home plates.
It’s a major investment for the City to keep minor league baseball in the city, preferably the Minnesota Twins. Is it worth it? It depends on whether you are a baseball fan. Minor League baseball contributes little in terms of being an economic generator, however, when it comes to civic enhancements, minor league baseball is a very alluring addition. Building a new police station or funding a new water project might make more sense, but baseball has its appeal. After all, who can object to improvements for a place where you can go on a summer evening, eat corn dogs, sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” and watch our national pastime.
And, again, the City of Elizabethton for a number of years subsidized the Elizabethton Golf Course for an elite few.
Perhaps the best way to describe the $1.5 million investment at the Twins ballpark is a quality-of-life tax. The key is to make sure we don’t lose a lot of money and that the parent organization makes some type of investment. After all, the big return on the City’s investment benefits them more than anyone.
Baseball has always been a popular sport in Elizabethton, dating back to the mid 1900s when there were semi-pro leagues in town. Many communities at that time had professional minor league teams. Baseball wasn’t just a spectator sport. Many adults played baseball for community teams well into their thirties. Some businesses sponsored baseball teams. Young men would play games after working all day.
Children did not have formal baseball organizations such as Little League or Pony Baseball. Instead, they organized games on vacant lots.
Among the players semi-pro baseball brought to Elizabethton were Ted Wingfield, who played some ball in school and some semi-pro ball in Elizabethton with the Betsy Red Sox.
His first pro ball was with the Chattanooga Lookouts from 1921 through 1924, where he played shortstop and pitched. That was Class A ball in the Southern Association. Others include Bill Wilkins, Newell “Hook” Benton, Hobe Brummitt, and Andy Seminick, just to name a few. Games were then played at the old Cherokee Park.
Now, we have Little League, high school and college baseball, and minor league baseball.
The question is: Is the tax money spent on minor league ball parks worth the cost? Building and improving local ball parks for minor league teams does not improve the local economy. It does not generate new jobs. Perhaps it does generate some new spending through ticket sales and food sales, and by visitors, who eat in local restaurants.
However, baseball is a quality of life thing. Riverside Park and Joe O’Brien Field were not built for economic development reasons. It is Park and Recreation. Baseball alone does not keep the fans in their seats. Special promotions and events such as fireworks, contests, and entertainment help draw spectators and fans to the Twins games. And, championships don’t hurt.
This year the Elizabethton Twins won the Appalachian League title for the second year in a row, and 12th overall in Elizabethton’s franchise history.
All tax money does not have to be spent on maintenance projects or building projects. Many cities hand out subsidies to large companies to entice them to their area or to keep them. A little tax money spent on entertainment and quality of life is justifiable if it pleases the people who pay the taxes.

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