Jackson State dreams of a $200 million dome

EXPENSIVE DOME: Jackson State University hopes to build a $200 million domed stadium, with $75 million coming from the state.

By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog

Jackson State University is planning a $200 million, 50,000-seat domed stadium, and, according to the school, state taxpayers will foot about $75 million of the cost.

The school says the state funding would come from general obligation bonds. It will also seek funding from the city of Jackson, Hinds County and from federal grants.

According to Neil deMause, editor of the Field of Schemes blog that explores the public financing of stadiums, Jackson State isn’t the only school seeking a domed stadium using taxpayer money.

“It’s no crazier than (the University of Nevada-Las Vegas) trying to build a domed 50,000-seat stadium,” said deMause, co-author of the book “Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit.”

“Which is to say, pretty crazy. I’m sure there are crazier ways to waste taxpayer funds, but I can’t think of any right now.”

JSU’s football attendance doesn’t justify it having the largest stadium in the state as it plays in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, which is smaller in terms of football scholarships, attendance and athletic department budgets. The University of Mississippi, Southern Miss and Mississippi State all play in the top tier of NCAA Division I, the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The good news is the JSU football program was ninth in football attendance in the FCS. The bad news? The Tigers drew 17,286 fans per game in Jackson Memorial Stadium, which seats more than 60,000 and was signed over to JSU in 2011.

Visiting fans probably won’t help boost that number. The Southwestern Athletic Conference, of which Jackson State belongs, led the FCS in attendance with 12,415 fans through the turnstiles per game.

While domed stadiums are nothing new in college football, a Jackson State dome would be unparalleled among its peer institutions.

Ten teams play football in the NCAA with an school-owned indoor stadium Idaho State, North Dakota, Northern Iowa, South Dakota, Northern Arizona, Texas-San Antonio, Idaho, North Dakota State and Syracuse. With the exception of Idaho, Texas-San Antonio and Syracuse, the rest play in the smaller FCS. Of the domed stadiums in college football, only the Alamodome home of Texas-San Antonio and Syracuse’s Carrier Dome have more than 20,000 seats.

The school says the university would use the stadium 45 nights out of the year; other events will account for 100 more nights. According to the school, those would include marching band competitions, concerts and even NBA and NFL preseason games. The last preseason NFL game in Jackson, which pitted the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts, drew more than 58,000 fans in 2006.

But how many big music tours that would make a stop in Jackson? According to PollStar, the top 10 highest-grossing concert tours in 2013 stopped in an average of 39 cities. Even when two tours with 12 or fewer dates — such as the Rolling Stones and Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake’s twinbill — are removed from the equation, the biggest-grossing tours only hit 46 markets. In the U.S. Census Bureau’s rankings of metropolitan statistical areas, the Jackson-Vicksburg-Brookhaven metro area had 576,382 in population, ranking it 93rd among U.S. metropolitan areas.

And the cost of tickets for those top 10 tours was $111 per ticket, a hard sell in a market with a median household income of $34,234.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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