Teams Tag Cities with Taxes for New Stadiums Seattle Votes Today to Build, or Bid Adieu to Mariners

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IT has become a refrain - even threat - familiar in cities across the country: Build a new stadium or we will leave. In Seattle, the exit notice is being delivered by owners of the Mariners baseball team. They argue they can't afford to stay without a new stadium. Yet even if voters approve the new ballpark in a primary election today, they probably won't have heard the last of such cleat-hard bargaining: The Seattle Seahawks football team could be the next to argue it can't survive in the aging Kingdome. The plight of people here - torn between their love of sports and weariness of taxes - reflects a pattern in cities across America. Teams are pushing for new digs from the Big Apple to Anaheim, Calif., reflecting a growing tension between profits, civic pride, and the fickle economics of athletics. For instance: *George Steinbrenner is talking about moving his Yankees to New Jersey unless parking and traffic problems are solved at the New York City baseball park. *In Cincinnati, both baseball's Reds and football's Bengals want new stadiums. So do the Milwaukee Brewers (baseball) and Detroit Lions (football). Even Boston's historic Fenway Park, and its renowned Green Monster wall in left field, may be replaced. *Meanwhile, some teams are moving when they don't get what they want. Especially in football, where two teams recently abandoned Los Angeles. The Raiders went to Oakland, their former home, while the Rams are now in St. Louis, filling a void left by the Cardinals, who moved to Phoenix. Got all this on your scorecard? "It's musical chairs in favor of the teams," says Ken Shropshire, author of a new book, "The Sports Franchise Game" (University of Pennsylvania Press). New ballparks, big bucks These days, a new stadium means big bucks from expanded luxury seating and concessions. The city gets to keep the team, but pays for it by subsidizing the new park. And in the current market, there are cities willing to woo all teams that want new stadiums. "A sports franchise is a wonderful thing to have," adding to a city's prestige and cultural vibrancy, says Mr. Shropshire, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "It's absolutely unbelievable the number of cities that are in the throws of stadium debates," adds Robert Baade, an economist at Lake Forest College near Chicago. The current wave of activity has gathered momentum as teams point to peers that have gotten new stadiums. "It appears to be the middle of the {stadium-building} cycle," says Sean Brenner, associate editor of the Team Marketing Report, a sports business monthly published in Chicago. In the last few years, new ballparks have bolstered revenues for the Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles, making them the envy of team owners in other cities. Those stadiums also have helped revitalize surrounding neighborhoods, Mr. Brenner says. In general, however, experts say sports franchises have only minimal economic benefit to a region. "It's ... more properly debated as a psychological issue than in the economic arena," says Mr. Baade, who has researched economic impacts of sports franchises. Here in King County, Wash. …