From her porch in a middle-class Miami suburb, Frankie Bradley can look out and see the massive Joe Robbie Stadium rising out of a field beyond her neighbor's yard. On some game days, there are fistfights on her street when fans park their cars without permission in people's yards.
But it is the traffic that really sets Bradley off, and that has persuaded her to leave the neighborhood.
"I hope and pray I'm out of here by the time the next season starts," Bradley said.
Five years after the Dolphins left the deteriorating downtown Orange Bowl for their gleaming high-tech suburban stadium, controversy continues to swirl around whether the move was good for Miami. Neighbors are pursuing a lawsuit charging that Dade County had no right to rezone residential land near their community for the stadium; a vast complex of offices, hotels and retail shops planned for nearby land has yet to appear; and delays in traffic projects have left many residents bitter.
This isn't Washington, but it almost could be, given the common themes that have played out around Joe Robbie Stadium and the ones that surround Jack Kent Cooke's search for a new home for the Redskins.
Like many of his fellow National Football League owners, Cooke has promised that an economic bonanza will accompany a new stadium. He plans to build a 78,600-seat, $160 million stadium, named after himself, at Potomac Yard in Alexandria.
But the plan faces strong opposition from Alexandria's City Hall and the State Capitol in Virginia to the District Building and the U.S. Capitol. A host of economic, environmental and transportation questions remain unanswered and the District has launched a last-ditch campaign to keep the cherished team.
From Miami to Washington to Los Angeles to New York, several cities have found themselves embroiled in high-stakes dealmaking to keep their professional sports teams from moving to new stadiums in the suburbs.
Convinced of their allure and enticed by promises that new sports palaces will spur development and generate millions in new tax dollars, officials have helped make stadiums not only symbols of a city's vitality, but of its ability to compete for one of the public's most cherished prizes.
"Sports are such an essential element of our culture that cities are convinced they need a professional team to establish themselves as world-class," said Robert Baade, an economics professor at Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Ill. "To have a team and lose it, they think, is to be a city in decline."
But are stadiums worth the millions that governments spend to get them? Do they produce jobs and make enough of an economic ripple to be felt by area hotels, restaurants and stores? Are they the best use of taxpayer dollars or are they monuments to politicians who would rather have a gleaming stadium as their legacy than an asphalt highway?
So far, the reality of what took place in Miami vs. the promise of what would occur has left many residents feeling an uneven blend of pride and disappointment, pride that they lay claim to a premier sports complex and disappointment that its creation has been so fraught with difficulties.
The $125 million Joe Robbie Stadium was the site of the 1989 Super Bowl and made it possible for the Miami area to attract an expansion Major League baseball team, the Florida Marlins, set to play their first season at the stadium next year.
The Super Bowl, according to a local study, brought $130 million to the area economy and the presence of baseball is purportedly going to bring in some $60 million a year.
"A sports facility of this size has a tremendous economic impact on the community," said stadium general manager Glenn Mon. "It provides jobs for residents, it brings in people who stay at area hotels, and it encourages other business to move their operations here because the quality of life for their employees is better when you have a team like the Dolphins."
Last year, Mon said, the stadium paid more than $2 million in property taxes and "several million" more in sales tax. It employs more than 1,000 people on game days and has about 40 to 60 people on the payroll year-round, a force that should increase with baseball's arrival.
But not all has worked according to plan. Since the stadium was approved in 1985, its owners have fought a bruising legal battle with a predominantly black group of residents who insist that Robbie's organization and Dade County violated their civil rights by locating the stadium in what was supposed to be a residential neighborhood.
"It's horrendous," said Betty Ferguson, a neighbor who was been a leader of the homeowner group. "We feel like they steamrolled over our legal rights because we were perceived as a powerless black community."
Nor are these residents pleased about the 500,000 square feet of office space or the 750 hotel rooms that were supposed to have sprung up by now on the acres of empty fields surrounding the stadium. Though some say it is the residents' lawsuits that have choked development, others lay the blame on merely the dynamics of the marketplace.
"Nothing has been built in that area as a result of the stadium because there is no market for it," said Thomas Powers, a Fort Lauderdale real estate consultant. "If you were coming into town to watch a game, why would someone stay at a hotel by the stadium, where they could look out over nothing, when there are plenty of hotels along the Atlantic Ocean or in North Miami?"
Though the stadium clearly has brought some economic gain, no one has tried to measure it, and everyone agrees it is nowhere near what had been anticipated.
"It's fallen far short of the original promises simply because the surrounding development hasn't occurred," said Lee Rawlinson, director of Dade County's developmental impact committee.
The county spent about $15 million on roads and other improvements, which it has easily made back in taxes the stadium has paid. But unanticipated was the hundreds of thousands of dollars the county has been forced to spend defending itself in court, Rawlinson said.
There have been other shortcomings, Rawlinson said, including a failure to allow enough time for roads to be constructed, and a lack of forethought about where ticketholders live and consequently how best to route their cars.
"At this point, I'd say it's probably been questionable whether anything really positive has resulted from the stadium," Rawlinson said, sounding a bit exasperated, but then he added, "I still think over the long haul it's going to be substantially positive."
In many respects Miami is fortunate: Cooke's plan notwithstanding, it remains the only place with a professional football stadium built by the franchise owner rather than with public funds.
With competition for professional teams so cutthroat, most localities not only end up building the stadium, but strike deals that make it difficult for them to turn a profit.
Of 14 places studied by Pepperdine University economics professor Dean Baim, only one -- Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles -- was profitable.
The all-time boondoggle, according to Baim, remains the New Orleans Superdome, which has lost tens of millions of dollars since it opened in 1975. The Pontiac Silverdome outside Detroit also has been a big money loser.
Unable to make money by operating the stadium itself, most localities are forced to look toward tax revenue that might be generated from new commercial development springing up around the sports facility.
Whether a stadium serves as the anchor for more development seems to depend on where in a city the facility is located and on how many times a year it is used.
From that perspective New Orleans starts to look much better, having generated more than a half-dozen new office buildings, a new hotel and a shopping center within a quarter-mile of the stadium. It was able to do that, stadium watchers said, partly because New Orleans lacked adequate hotel space, and partly because the facility, with its convention center and other activities, has more going on than a few New Orleans Saints football games.
Since the 750-acre Meadowlands Sports Complex was built in East Rutherford, N.J., 15 years ago, some $1.5 billion in office, theater and other commercial projects have sprouted up around the swampland.
But even its proponents acknowledge that the boom is attributable at least as much to the area's proximity to New York City, five miles away.
"To a great degree, the development that has taken place in the Meadowlands is a byproduct of that symbiotic relationship with New York," said Rich Fritzky, president of the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce.
And even with four professional sports franchises, including the Giants and Jets football teams, it is the racetrack that provides most of the revenue for the complex and is the factor that contributes most to its vitality.
In fact, despite the promises of franchise owners and the projections of their consultants, it is the rare experience when a stadium sparks a firestorm of economic activity.
It has been nearly two decades since the Buffalo Bills moved 14 miles away from the city center to the small town of Orchard Park, and the benefits the stadium was supposed to bring have yet to materialize.
"There's a net loss to the community," said town Supervisor Dennis J. Mill, who cited the strain on town services and the lack of taxes paid by the stadium. "We were told that all sorts of motels and hotels and restaurants and development would come in around it. That has not happened. In fact, it's probably depreciated the value of the property around it."
If there is a lesson involved in the promises and realities of stadiums, it is that, when it all comes down, these are generally not about economics. They are about sports, about fun.
"It's politically expedient to treat these like they're investments," said economist Baade. "But usually we build a stadium because it is something around which the community gathers, and it is a critical element of our culture."