Our outsize investments of time, energy, and money in athletes and arenas tempt us to regard sports as more than just games. Politicians are no exception, forever buying and selling the idea that stadiums aren't only a means of providing entertainment and reaping profits, but the linchpins of the economic revivals that have so far eluded any number of American cities.

In fact, study after study has failed to attribute any significant economic impact to sports facilities. Chester is one of many towns relearning that lesson, in this case at the feet of PPL Park, a professional soccer stadium surrounded by the same economic wasteland that greeted its arrival five years ago this month.

The heavily subsidized $122 million home of Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union still stands amid more than 20 acres of fallow waterfront land, as The Inquirer's Caitlin McCabe reported this week. The townhouses, apartments, offices, stores, and convention center that were supposed to join it - part of a development plan once valued at half a billion dollars - remain a field of pipe dreams.

Meanwhile, the team's payment to the city in lieu of property taxes has dropped to a paltry $150,000 a year, less than half of what Chester owes Delaware County for debt incurred to build the stadium. And life in the city, with a poverty rate substantially higher than Philadelphia's, seems as dire as ever. A single Chester block has suffered three fires since Friday; on Sunday, the city recorded its second murder in less than a week in the shadow of the stadium.

Executives point out that the team has provided Chester residents with 162 jobs (many of them part-time), donated $15,000 to the police, organized a coat drive, and started a local youth soccer program. It doesn't sound like much given that more than $80 million of the stadium's costs were covered by Pennsylvania, Delaware County, and the bistate Delaware River Port Authority, making PPL Park the house that taxpayers built (not to mention the hapless commuters who use DRPA bridges and rail, many of whom live in New Jersey). But chief executive Nick Sakiewicz told The Inquirer, "Revitalizing the city isn't what we ever promised."

So why did the public pay for two-thirds of the stadium? The answer, of course, is that revitalizing Chester is what they promised. The stadium would be "the centerpiece of something special that will benefit the entire community for years and years to come," Sakiewicz told the Daily News in 2007. It would generate "a boatload of jobs and real estate taxes," he told The Inquirer around the same time, and "change the face of Chester." The sentiment was echoed by a chorus of politicians, including State Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) and then-Gov. Ed Rendell, who in 2008 heralded the project as "the biggest redevelopment in history."

In a research review published the same year, economists Dennis Coates and Brad Humphreys concluded: "The large and growing peer-reviewed economics literature on the economic impacts of stadiums, arenas, sports franchises, and sport mega-events has consistently found no substantial evidence of increased jobs, incomes, or tax revenues for a community associated with any of these things." In other words, the grandiose promises that accompanied this and other publicly subsidized stadiums were just part of the game.