Austin taxpayers shouldn’t foot bill for Erwin Center replacement

Eric Sundin

As a result of the much-anticipated construction of the new Dell Medical School, the Frank Erwin Center, home to Texas basketball games and various concerts and events throughout the years, will be torn down. In order to fund what will likely be an expensive construction project, Texas men’s athletic director Steve Patterson has stated that the new arena ought to be paid for using Austin taxpayer money.

“The reality is that Austin has had a free arena for three and a half decades at no investment whatsoever,” Patterson said at an event in September. “You look at the growth projections five years out, to be a top 25 market in this country and not to have invested a nickel in an arena is a heck of a position for the city of Austin to be in.” 

While Patterson’s statements may not have been factually inaccurate, his comments are still misguided. The creation of a new venue that would first and foremost be used as the basketball team’s home court — not to mention other University-affiliated events — ought to be paid for mostly by the University without need for significant public funding from the taxpayers of Austin, who, along with the rest of Texas taxpayers, already help pay for the publicly funded University.

This football season is Baylor University’s first at the new McLane Stadium. The construction of the stadium was estimated to cost $250 million, with an estimated $100-120 million of the funding coming from private donations. When we consider that the University of Texas has the highest revenue-producing athletics department in the nation, not to mention an array of private donors that likely surpasses Baylor’s, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the University, if it wanted to, could build a new arena without several hundred million dollars of additional Austin taxpayer money.

It would appear, though, that the University of Texas does not want to pay for a new arena on its own, presumably because Patterson believes it doesn’t have to. Yet that is not a good enough reason to force Austin taxpayers to bear the brunt of the construction of a new arena that, outside of Austin Independent School District graduates and graduation ceremony attendees, many Austin residents may never set foot inside.

Public funding of stadiums has become trendy for professional sports teams. Owners merely need to hint at the possibility of relocation in order to strong-arm city leaders and officials into paying for a new stadium or arena using taxpayer money. Examples of this include construction of a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, partially paid for with taxpayer money, and Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis’ flirtations with both San Antonio and Los Angeles as a bargaining maneuver.

Unfortunately, Austin residents may soon be subjected to the same injustice felt by the citizens of Minneapolis, who continue to fund a stadium they must pay, again, merely to enter. Because the University of Texas will never leave Austin, it is incumbent upon the citizens of Austin to demand that the University itself pay for a new Texas basketball arena. 

Sundin is an English and radio-television-film senior from San Antonio.