Columbus

Columbus has no clue how Crew is spending $98m in city stadium money, can’t be bothered to check

I missed this news story from earlier this week about the Columbus Crew‘s new stadium spending until an eagle-eyed reader pointed it out to me, but unless you’re a regular reader of the Columbus Dispatch already, it’ll likely make your jaw drop as it did mine. I mean, the first line alone:

During the past year, tens of millions of public dollars have flowed toward construction of the Columbus Crew SC’s new Downtown stadium and its Mapfre training facility, but the local officials who approved the payments haven’t requested or received any details about how the team spends that money.

The Crew stadium project has never exactly been known for its transparency: Last year at this time, it was revealed that the city of Columbus had hidden $48 million in stadium costs in its “Other Projects” budget, effectively doubling the amount of city money being devoted to the stadium. (There’s at least another $65 million in county and state money as well, plus the value of public land being provided for the project.) Not even asking how taxpayer money is being spent, though, that’s pretty hardcore. And local officials are adamant that it’s not their job to pay attention to this stuff:

Asked how the public is to know what percentage of the total project cost it will pay, Ty Marsh, executive director of the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio and chairman of the Confluence Community Authority board, said: “I think the public would have to ask them,” referring to the team….

In fact, the Confluence Authority hasn’t met in more than 10 months, has reviewed no financials on the construction of the stadium it will lease back to the team, and has no immediate plans to meet in the future, Marsh said.

Okay, so the authority handing out the city’s money can’t be bothered to check on it, or even to meet. What about the city itself?

Asked if the city knows what had been spent to date by all parties involved, including the team, Robin Davis, spokeswoman for Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther, replied in an email: “You would have to reach out to the Haslams for that.”

This is great reporting by the Dispatch, and since we’re coming to it late, we have the opportunity to see all of the fallout that’s already coming from the paper’s bombshell. And the answer is … a Dispatch columnist wrote a long allegory about a crooked magician? Other than that, it doesn’t appear that the story has had any consequences: Pretty much all the reporting on the Crew this week was limited to reporting on how they had rescheduled last week’s game that was postponed after two staff members tested positive for the coronavirus.

So I guess it’s up to me to shout about this: Hey everybody, the city of Columbus is writing $98 million in checks to the owners of its pro soccer team without bothering to keep track of how they’re spending it! Did that do the trick? SHOULD IT TYPE IT IN ALL CAPS? This entire website, not to mention the book that inspired it, not to mention my entire life’s work as a journalist, is dependent on the idea that if you expose bad behavior, someone will notice it and call attention to it and maybe, eventually, things will start to change. If instead we’re just laughing and pointing to keep from crying, I guess that’s valuable too, but someone please tell me so that I can recalibrate my already-low expectations.

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