St. Louis judge tosses out ballot requirement for Rams stadium, says voters didn’t say “Simon says”

Both my laptop and I are sick today (pretty sure neither of us caught it from the other), but I do need to note the big development in St. Louis, where Circuit Court Judge Thomas Frawley ruled that the 2002 city ordinance requiring a public vote before taxpayer money is spent on a new sports facility is “too vague to be enforced,” and struck it down, meaning it wouldn’t apply to any new Rams stadium.

The backstory, as I described it back in April when the state filed suit against the city ordinance and when I didn’t have a headache:

To help understand what’s going on here, let’s travel back in time to 2002, when the Cardinals were in the midst of arranging public funding for a new stadium of their own, and local activists were trying to head off the city and county governments from approving it without letting actual residents have a say. The city referendum requirement passed 55-45% in 2002, and a similar county requirement by an even larger margin two years later, but courts subsequently ruled that since the money had already been allocated, it couldn’t be rescinded by the public vote requirement. All future stadium projects, though, would have to go before the voters.

That’s the clause that the Jones Dome authority is now objecting to, and it’s making a rather strange stand, arguing that because the referendums’ backers drew them up so stringently — they require a public vote on any “financial assistance” including tax breaks, tax-increment financing, free land, loans, or city or county bonds — that this is unacceptably broad. If they’d only been reasonable enough to leave some loopholes that the Rams could drive a stadium-sized truck through, then this lawsuit wouldn’t be necessary.

Frawley has now essentially agreed with the state dome authority, saying that because the 2002 referendum was silent on such matters as whether police and fire services can be supplied to a new stadium without a vote, the whole ordinance needs to be scuttled. There’s still the question of how strongly the city defended the ordinance in court, given that Mayor Francis Slay supports building the Rams stadium — a group of citizens, including some who introduced the 2002 initiative in the first place, sued to intervene in the defense, but Frawley tossed out their request as well. (A separate lawsuit filed by the citizen group is still in progress, and they will likely try to appeal yesterday’s ruling as well.) So for now, the law of the state of Missouri is that if the people of St. Louis wanted a say in spending money on sports venues, they should have worded it more carefully.

For now, though, this is obviously a big step forward for the Rams stadium plan, since it now means the state just has to worry about how to finance $400 million for a new stadium plus $100 million left on the old one from the same taxes that were approved to build the Jones Dome — which seemed a mathematical impossibility back when it was first proposed, even before Gov. Jay Nixon said he’d skip using the $6 million a year in county tax money if it would require a public vote. (The county had its own public-vote requirement passed in 2004, and it remains in place.) That would leave $18 million a year to pay off $500 million in expenses, which simply can’t be done — but at least if Nixon can conquer math, he no longer needs to worry about winning over St. Louis voters as well.

MLS commissioner decides “intrigued” is properly enthusiastic yet noncommittal word for St. Paul stadium

Sometimes I like to picture the offices of sports league commissioners, and alongside what I assume are the usual office accoutrements (a money printing press, the mounted heads of city officials and labor lawyers defeated in battle), I figure there must be a hefty thesaurus. Why? For times when it’s the job of a commissioner to express just enough enthusiasm for a stadium project to keep local boosters on the hook, but not so much that you’re actually committing to anything. Like, here’s MLS commissioner Don Garber, talking to the Associated Press last week about a new stadium for Minnesota United:

“We’ve now become intrigued by a possibility of having a stadium be in St. Paul,” Garber said.

Intrigued. You have to figure Garber thought, “‘Excited’? No, that’s way too positive. ‘Interested’? Too blah. Wait, ‘intrigued’! That has the perfect blend of ‘I’m not promising anything, but keep talking.’ Yeah, that’ll do nicely, and won’t hamstring me if I decide after all that the team should play in Minneapolis or Sacramento or Kuala Lumpur.”

Garber also said of David Beckham’s proposed Miami MLS stadium, “We believe Miami will be a great MLS market and we look forward to bringing the whole project across the finish line.” Which is pretty much a long-winded way of saying “intrigued,” but it’s bad form to repeat yourself, so cut the man some slack.

None of this actually means anything in terms of where either the Minnesota or Miami teams will end up playing, in case you were wondering. For that, await some real news involving actual money.

Beijing to host 2022 Winter Olympics, probably should just host all Olympics from now on

Beijing has been chosen to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, defeating Almaty, Kazakshtan in a two-city race after every city you’ve actually heard of dropped out. This will make Beijing the first city to have hosted both the summer and winter games, which is interesting from a trivia perspective I suppose, and the second city where there isn’t really any snow to host a Winter Olympics. (Events requiring actual winter will be held 100 miles away in Zhangjiakou.)

If there’s an upside here, it’s that at least Beijing already has lots of event spaces left over from the 2008 Olympics that can be repurposed for 2022, and presumably has already evicted everyone necessary to make way for the Olympic Village and such. In fact, once Beijing has a full set of Olympic venues for all seasons, maybe it would be best just to let it have the Olympics permanently, as Chris Dempsey of No Boston Olympics suggested earlier this week in my article for Vice:

Dempsey, for one, dreams of a day when the Olympics will just settle down in one place and put this orgy of beach-volleyball-stadium-building to an end. “Since 1896, we’ve invented the radio, TV, the internet, air travel,” he says. “You’re in a world now where 99.9 percent of people watch it on a screen. And the vast majority of the other people who are going to be there will fly in to see it. So they could really fly anywhere in the world for it — they could fly the same place every four years, and you could build this stuff once and not have to worry about with these massive capital and infrastructure costs.”

Sure, China has a terrible human rights record, but clearly the IOC doesn’t care much about that anyway. It would mean North America and Europe watching lots of events in the middle of the night or on tape delay, but we do that regardless, and who’s to say that Asia’s huge population doesn’t deserve to watch the Olympics in their own time zone? If Beijing wants to be Olympic City, I’m all for it, so long as it spares the rest of the world’s cities the headache. Now we just need to do something about the World Cup.

Miami’s deal with Marlins gives Loria right to dictate terms for Beckham’s soccer stadium

So it turns out there are some problems with the Miami soccer stadium site next to Marlins Park, beyond any possible need for public subsidies and evicting old people from their homes. And, surprise, surprise, these stem from the horrible Marlins stadium deal, which keeps on being horrible. As uncovered this week by Miami Today’s Michael Lewis:

  • A soccer team in a stadium next door to the Marlins facility wouldn’t be allowed to sell naming rights until the Marlins had done so first. And Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria hasn’t sold naming rights to his building yet because it is a monument to waste with a hideous sculpture and gets rain delays despite a costly retractable roof.
  • If allowed to sell naming rights, the soccer team wouldn’t be allowed to conflict with the Marlins’ sponsor — so, no two competing banks or airlines or what have you.
  • “No soccer exterior ads may conflict with a major Marlins sponsor. But if soccer sells an exterior ad that doesn’t conflict, the Marlins can then sign a conflicting sponsor and the soccer sponsor can’t renew.”
  • Neither soccer games nor soccer stadium construction can take place before, during, or after Marlins games, and the Marlins can set their own schedule as they see fit. And can change it at will, and the soccer team has to lump it.

Clearly, somebody in the Marlins’ lease-writing division was thinking ahead to having a soccer team as a neighbor, and the city and county lease negotiators decided to sign off on whatever the baseball team wanted. Which should come as no surprise, since it’s pretty much what they did with the entire stadium deal, but it’s going to create some headaches for David Beckham’s stadium plans. One can only hope that Miami isn’t asked to kick in public money to make up for some of these obstacles, but I wouldn’t hope too hard, given Miami’s track record here.

Bills owner says he’ll wait to ask for new stadium until it’s less embarrassing to do so

Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula was asked yesterday about his demands for a new stadium right after getting $130 million in state-funded renovations for his old one, and said, in essence, Shh, not so loud:

“The only answer to that question is the state and county, there’s been a lot of money put into Ralph Wilson Stadium,” Pegula said. “We’re in no hurry. We realize that if that work was just done, how foolish would you look if you start looking around for a new stadium when we’ve just renovated the one we have? We have time. We have an existing lease on the current stadium.”

Yeah, what kind of schmuck would demand a new stadium right after collecting a pile of state subsidies for renovations? I mean, really

“Well, there’s going to be a new stadium somewhere, that’s all I know,” Terry Pegula said. “The league was pretty emphatic that Buffalo — we’re a small market — needs to be as competitive as we can.”

It’s all about the timing.

DeKalb County subsidies for Atlanta MLS practice field could be worth as much as whole practice field

The Atlanta United FC MLS team struck a deal last week to build a practice facility in DeKalb County (that’s the other county that part of Atlanta is in, along with Fulton), and yawn, soccer practice facility, right? Except that today the indefatigable Atlanta Journal Constitution has dug up how much money and tax breaks the county would be providing for the project, and yowza:

  • The county would provide $12 million to United owner Arthur Blank for new parks department offices and demolition and land preparation.
  • The county would provide 41 acres of government-owned land for free.
  • The whole thing would be property-tax free.
  • The county would “” a pedestrian walkway to the nearby MARTA transit station.

Okay, that’s still not a huge amount as these things go — I don’t know how much property taxes would be (and the AJC doesn’t say) or how much a pedestrian walkway costs, but counting the cash, total maybe $20-30 million tops? How much is the practice facility going to cost, anyway?


On the bright side, the county would get a whole 15% of any naming-rights fees for the complex (which will include a 3,500-seat grandstand, because everybody wants to watch MLS players practice, right?), plus the county can use it when United doesn’t have dibs, which given that the MLS season runs March through November is likely to be not very often. And to think that some county commissioners aren’t convinced this is a great thing! Freakin’ NIMBYs.

Minneapolis pol proposes breaking deadlock over giving United public money by giving them more public money

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin has an idea for how to break the deadlock over giving Minnesota United $45 million in property tax exemptions for a new stadium: The state ballpark authority could buy the stadium from the team, thus taking it off the property tax rolls, and also the county could redirect sales tax money to infrastructure improvements once it’s done paying off the Twins stadium with it — hey, wait, that’s even more public subsidies! You’re going in the wrong direction, Peter! Don’t you know anything about deadlocks? Yeesh.

Best part of this article, meanwhile, remains the disclosure at the end: “McGuire’s investment partners include Glen Taylor, who owns the Star Tribune.” Not that I think this explains the paper’s failure to point out that McLaughlin’s idea doesn’t make any sense (or at least doesn’t actually solve the objections to the original United plan), but it certainly can’t help.

AEG asks Cincinnati to help pay for $200 million renovation of arena, no one laughs for some reason

Show of hands: Did you even know that Cincinnati had a basketball and hockey arena? It hasn’t had an NBA team since the Royals moved to Kansas City in 1972, and major-league hockey since the Stingers went away with the folding of the WHA in 1979. But it still has the U.S. Bank Arena, built in 1975 as the Riverfront Coliseum, and probably best known as the reason we don’t have general admission rock shows anymore.

Anyway, the arena is, according to its LinkedIn page, “a first-class, state-of-the-art venue,” and

U.S. Bank Arena’s owners unveiled a plan Tuesday morning that showed how long-anticipated and extensive renovations could support the Downtown venue’s future.

Right, that’s what I meant, it needs $200 million in renovations to gut the place and add luxury suites and “revitalize downtown Cincinnati” and all that. Because after all, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer, “The 40-year-old arena has not undergone a major renovation since 1997″! Can’t be having that!

The arena is co-owned by theater operators Nederlander Entertainment and venue mega-managers AEG, neither of whom have said anything about how this major renovation will be paid for, though the Enquirer reports that “taxpayers will be asked to pay at least part of the bill for any improvements.” This wouldn’t necessarily be bad if taxpayers also got a share of arena revenues to help repay their investment, but something tells me that’s not what Nederlander and AEG are thinking.

Anyway, one hopes that Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials will drive a hard bargain here, and — oh, who are we kidding, this is Cincinnati. Once your elected officials have bought into the notion that having concerts in the same place with nicer cupholders is going to “revitalize” your downtown, all hope is lost. Unless you get some different elected officials.

A’s owner now says MLB wouldn’t actually help pay for new stadium, world makes sense again

So that San Jose Mercury News report that Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff said MLB would help him fund a new stadium? Now the San Francisco Chronicle says Wolff says it’s not so:

Just this week, Wolff let it be known that new Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred was fully behind the A’s effort. However, he dismissed reports that MLB would kick in some money to get it done in Oakland.

“Dismissed reports”? But the reports came from you, according to the Merc News? Why … oh, never mind.

Meanwhile, Wolff is continuing to explore parts of the Oakland Coliseum site where a new stadium could be built while the A’s play in the old one. As for the Raiders, their execs continue to talk with the city of Oakland and Alameda County, though county officials would rather just the city buy them out of the Coliseum entirely so they don’t have to deal with it. The general assumption seems to be that the A’s are closer to a deal than the Raiders are, but that could just be social media getting ahead of itself; anyway, it’s always better to wait until we see actual funding plans, not just site preferences, before declaring anything set in even wet concrete.

Braves bridge may go way over budget, leave fans stranded on wrong side of highway for five months

Hey, how’s everybody’s favorite pedestrian-and-bus bridge that no one knows how much it will cost but that without which Atlanta Braves fans won’t be able to get to games? The good news is that the Cobb County Commission approved a preliminary design last night, one that involves side-by-side lanes for pedestrians and shuttle buses. The bad news is, as Dan Klepal of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, everything else:

The 1,100-foot bridge, which is meant to help fans walking or riding a circulator bus to the games from remote parking areas, likely won’t be completed until September 2017 — five months later than county officials originally planned, according to a document obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through Georgia’s Open Records Act.

Okay, that’s not good, considering that the stadium is supposed to open in April 2017 — five months is a long time to be late for the game.

And any news on how much this bridge is going to cost, and who’ll pay for it and how?

The county has not updated its $9 million cost estimate, despite its contractor working on the project since April. The AJC has previously reported that the county’s estimate is for construction costs only and does not include things such as moving utilities, buying land for right-of-way, or the $804,000 being paid to the contractor.

So that would be a lot more than $9 million, in all likelihood—

Outside bridge experts have previously expressed skepticism to the newspaper that the county can even construct the bridge for $9 million.

Okay, a whole lot more than $9 mil—

And now there’s a new expense: the top level of the parking garage, to which the bridge will connect, will have to be reinforced to support the circulator bus, according to documents reviewed by the newspaper.

The deck needs to be strengthened to support the buses that will drive across it to access the bridge, the document says. It does not specify what materials will be used or how much it will cost, but it is clearly an unexpected development.

Okay, clearly nobody has any idea how much this bridge will cost, or when it will be open, but they’ve gotta build it or half the fans attending every game will end up standing on the wrong side of a highway, because they went ahead and approved the stadium before finalizing the transportation plan. I’m going out on a limb here and saying maybe that wasn’t the greatest idea, guys?