Notes on the state of things

Notes on the state of things

The second part of a Post-Gazette look at the finances of the Pittsburgh Pirates suggests that the venerable National League franchise might have been contractually incentivized not to perform.

Only once since PNC Park opened in 2001 did the Pirates’ attendance/income numbers surpass the threshold by which the franchise was required to make extra lease payments.

Some observers have pointed to this so-called “share-the-wealth” clause as an incentive for the Pirates to limit its player payroll and, at the same time, its ability to field winning teams but be a still-profitable operation for the team owner.

This said, and considering other vagaries of the lease for the predominantly taxpayer-subsidized PNC Park, we have a suggestion when negotiations bow for the Pirates’ follow-up lease that would go into effect in 2030:

Sell PNC Park to the Pirates for $1. Place the ballpark back onto the property tax rolls. And eliminate the kind of lease-language semantics that very well could have incentivized baseball mediocrity in Pittsburgh – not to forget redirecting scarce public dollars after the public had expressly rejected using public money for such corporate wealthfare.

Citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Tribune-Review reports that the Pittsburgh region has had the “slowest employment growth coming out of the pandemic among the nation’s 40 largest metropolitan areas.

“Pittsburgh’s labor force participation remains nearly 5 percent below what it was before the pandemic and is well below the U.S. average, where the labor force in March exceeded pre-pandemic levels,” the Trib says the data show.

As per usual, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development lays the blame at the feet of “progressives’” usual bogeymen for such deficiencies – an aging population and a lack of immigration to Greater Pittsburgh.

But as Jake Haulk, president-emeritus of the Allegheny Institute, counters:

“What a silly argument. Pittsburgh’s population is not that old,” he reminds. “Florida is the home of millions of retirees but it is growing like topsy.”

The real problem, the Ph.D. economist says, remains “the poor business climate, awful political leadership, high governmental costs and labor policies that are anathema to business-sector growth.”

“Terrible public education in the City of Pittsburgh and many county school districts is not a help,” Haulk adds.

And yet again, the Allegheny Conference proves it is consistent – consistently wrong in its public policy prescriptions. But that’s no real surprise, considering the conference long has practiced public policy malpractice.

Speaking of Pittsburgh’s continuing economic malaise, the P-G, citing data from the Newmark real estate firm, says the overall vacancy rate for office space in Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle rose to 20.9 percent in the first quarter of 2022. That’s up slightly from 2021’s fourth quarter.

Additionally, “there’s still a glut of subleased space in the Central Business District, with 747,850 square feet available, the highest of any submarket in the region,” the P-G says. “In all, 2.3 million square feet of subleased space is up for grabs in the Pittsburgh metro area, the report found.”

Indeed, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic have played a role. But it is critical to note (yet again) that Pittsburgh’s high office vacancy rates have been a chronic problem predating the pandemic’s onset.

And that again goes to the Haulk-described “poor business climate, awful political leadership, high governmental costs and labor policies that are anathema to business-sector growth.”

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).