The University of Arizona and the city of Tucson want to spend $350 million to build a bridge. The so-called “rainbow bridge” would span Interstate 10 and the Santa Cruz River and house the Flandrau Science Center. Just last year, the President of UA slated the Center for elimination in his Focused Excellence plan.
Supporters justify the expense by claiming it would establish an “iconic monument” in Tucson, attracting tourists and generating millions in annual economic activity. That’s some bridge.
The “iconic monument” movement is based on the “Bilbao Effect” in reference to a Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain that supposedly rejuvenated the deteriorating shipping town. However, close to 30 percent of the museum’s operating costs are subsidized by tax revenue and attendance has fallen 44 percent since it opened in 1998.
Studies from the Federal Reserve Bank in Saint Louis to the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., widely find that similar publicly financed projects, including stadiums, hotels and convention centers, can actually hurt local economies. It seems overly optimistic to think this bridge might break the trend.
Policymakers should keep in mind that the market channels private investment to profitable ventures, meaning government is likely to end up funding the money-losing ones. For taxpayers, this seems like a bridge over troubled waters.
-Goldwater Institute: “Phoenix Rising: A City of Aspiration”
-Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City: “What Are the Benefits of Hosting a Major League Sports Franchise?”
-The Brookings Institution: “Space Available: The Realities of Convention Centers as Economic Development Strategy”
- Arizona Daily Star: “Rainbow Bridge may be a pot of gold”