Depending on whom you talk to, the $41 million renovation to the Alamodome approved by City Council last week either creates an economic boon or is an example of San Antonio's misguided priorities.
The upgrade was part of the pitch that secured the men's college basketball 2018 Final Four, including the national championship game. Construction begins toward summer's end with completion planned for 2016, just in time to host the Notre Dame-Army football game scheduled for Veterans Day, according to Mike Sawaya, director of the City's Convention & Sports Facilities.
So far, the NCAA Final Four is the only big-ticket event planned, but Sawaya said San Antonio will place a bid for the College Football Playoff National Championship.
"That's the big one. It's a good prize," Sawaya told the Current.
Both high-profile sporting events require certain building specifications, which the Alamodome doesn't currently meet.
But as police and fire unions haggle with San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley over contract negotiations and whether the City can continue current contributions to first responder health care costs, one has to wonder where the City was able to suddenly find $41 million.
Sawaya said the $3 facility-improvement fees added onto ticket prices and parking revenue will be used to pay the renovation debt back over 20 years. But the city will still be responsible for covering the debt if the parking fees and ticket sales don't cut it, noted Heywood Sanders, UTSA public policy professor and Current columnist.
While Sanders thinks it's great that San Antonio will host the NCAA Final Four in 2018, he wonders how City officials will quantify the return on this enormous investment to an aging facility.
According to Sawaya, the 2013 Final Four in Atlanta created a $75 million economic windfall, noting the college football championship is forecasted to create $200 million in revenue. Additionally, Sawaya said, the facility hosts 130 to 140 events each year that generate more than $230 million in revenue.
"You know, think about what we would not have been able to host without the Alamodome: 21 Alamo Bowls, six Final Four events, the Big 12 Championship, soccer, we just booked the men's soccer game," Sawaya said, referring to the April Mexico-U.S. game.
But there's a larger issue lurking behind the renovations, Sanders warned.
"If you just talk about these things one at a time, every one has some seemingly reasonable justification, but you don't ask the bigger questions," he said, referencing other controversial projects such as the maligned streetcar plan.
District 2 Councilman Allan Warrick II, who represents the East Side, said Sanders has a valid point. But Warrick maintained that cash generated from larger events and tourism will benefit his constituents who live near the Alamodome.
"Those are going to impact the community in a positive way by offering more services that are lacking and also offering opportunities for additional investments," Warrick said.