Sports Facilities

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Land Grab as Lawful Acquisition

26 Jan, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic
Eminent Domain Increasingly Being Used for Sports Venues

It has become increasingly apparent that the selection of a city for a Summer Olympic Games event has become a winning (i.e., moneymaking) proposition for a few people, and a source of misery for nearly everyone else.

Objections to the siting of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London by local residents who were taxpayers were strenuous and protracted, and the upcoming Rio de Janiero Olympic Games scheduled for summer of 2016 are still mired in legal battles. With Boston now the official U.S. bid city for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, the objections from residents and taxpayers in that city have already begun.

Putting on a Summer Olympic Games event has a huge price tag: the average expenditure is $19.2 billion, according to a recent Boston Globe article. (Even an ultimately failed bid can cost a city $100 million, as Chicago discovered in its failed bid for the 2016 games.) Boston does not have a large downtown area compared to many other cities that bid for the games, and the city’s parking shortages are a punchline in the region. Arguments have already ensued about unelected officials splashing out millions – and possibly billions – in taxpayer money to host the games. In reality, Boston2024 – the city’s Olympic bid organization – prepared the bid without a single public meeting. But the most epic battle may arise from the issue of eminent domain to build Olympic venues, according to the Globe. Eminent domain refers to the practice of government seizure of privately owned land at fair market value with or without the owners’ permission.

“Rather than use existing facilities, the bid relies on building the four most expensive Olympic facilities from scratch,” wrote the Globe’s Chris Dempsey and Liam Kerr.  “Boosters would use eminent domain powers to seize land for a ‘temporary’ 60,000-person stadium which would be bulldozed after just six weeks of Olympic use.”

If Boston ultimately wins the bid, there is no evidence which land it would seize to build the temporary stadium. Eminent domain, which is usually employed to build facilities such as parks or roads, is now increasingly being used for sporting venues, and judges have upheld the practice. The legal move was used in Arlington, Texas, to build AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. It was also used in New York City to build the Brooklyn Nets’ arena. Buffalo, New Yor,k is currently considering using eminent domain to determine a site for a possible new stadium for the Buffalo Bills, according to the Buffalo News.

Adam S. Walters, a Phillips Lytle partner and land attorney specializing in development, told the Buffalo News that if a new Bills stadium is publicly owned, whatever governmental entity that owns it would have the power to use eminent domain to acquire properties.

“It is well established in New York that eminent domain is available for the acquisition of land by the state or county for a stadium to be leased to a private entity,” he said, noting that the city will likely try to persuade land owners to sell willingly at prices above market value to avoid the negative publicity that government grabs of private land generates.

Eminent domain makes a lot of people wary, particularly for a sporting venue. If Boston resorts to the practice to build an Olympic stadium, public opposition is likely to be stiff, particularly among citizens with long memories of the city’s famously over-budget and over-schedule “Big Dig” road building project of the 1990s, which still remains the most expensive and trouble-plagued highway building project in U.S. history.

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