Last week's news that the EDA approved an $82 million incentive package to bring the 76ers' practice facility to Camden was actually the second time the state offered a package to bring the woefully poor basketball team to the Garden State.
That 1990 proposal was for a new arena that would have brought the Sixers and Flyers to Camden. The catch that time was that New Jersey would reportedly have been paying 80 percent of the $100 million cost.
We don't know what the catch is on the latest arrangement, but there's got to be one, or this deal makes even less sense than the original plan. At least under that arrangement, actual games would have been played in Camden, meaning a possible economic impact — which just happens to be the point of the kinds of grants the EDA hands out.
The EDA has gotten itself in hot water in the past by approving whopping incentives packages — such as the major one to help Panasonic relocate within the state, or to help Prudential build a new downtown building in a city with enough vacant commercial real estate to make Detroit blush. Those kinds of awards made us wonder if the EDA should be given the keys to the big money; this one makes you wonder if it should even be allowed in the car. Consider the Jets' practice facility in Florham Park. While the team has offices there, and therefore well-paying jobs, it's not exactly a catalyst for economic development. You don't see companies rushing to break ground in order to be in the same ZIP code as the place where the Jets practice. There's no game-day jump in business for restaurants, game-day crowds of tourists and fans to watch the team, or game-day parking or ticket sales to benefit from, because there are no games.
The other two awards we cited, both in Newark, make more sense than this one from the perspective of encouraging development in the city. Are there some invisible strings dangling from this deal that require an additional investment in Camden — or in Newark, where the team's owners are now located, thanks to their purchase of the Devils? We're told there are. There just have to be; otherwise, it's impossible to justify how, in a difficult fiscal climate, costly tax breaks like this one represent a sound investment in improving our urban centers.