Detroit council to vote tonight on ripping up Tiger Stadium field, replacing it with easier-to-maintain fake turf

The Detroit city council is set to decide tonight on whether to approve the city Police Athletic League’s plan to turn the old Tiger Stadium site into a youth sports facility — something that would likely be heralded by all sides as a great solution (previous plans would have had buildings on top of the old ballfield) if not for the fact that it would require ripping up the grass field meticulously maintained by the volunteer Navin Field Grounds Crew and replacing it with artificial turf. The PAL is proposing this because it’s a more modern, better surface for — aw, hell, it’s just because it’s cheaper, okay?

Prof. John N. “Trey” Rogers of Michigan State University’s School of Turf Management says he advised PAL to use synthetic turf only because PAL had an insufficient budget and a lack of the expertise needed to maintain a natural grass field.

PAL wanted to use the field six to ten hours daily, Rogers says, but presented a maintenance budget of “less than six figures” annually—which indicated they wouldn’t be able to hire anyone with the expertise needed to maintain a grass field at that level of usage.

Asked whether if PAL had a sufficient budget they could maintain real grass, Rogers says definitely yes—“it just takes a lot of care and know-how to do it.”

There’s actually a good case to be made that turf is more expensive than grass over the long term, because you have to replace it every few years, whereas grass just has to be maintained. I’m personally hoping that the Grounds Crew’s petition succeeds in getting the city to direct the PAL to come up with a plan to preserve the grass, if only because I haven’t made it out to play a pickup game on the old field yet; we’ll find out tonight whether I, and any other interested baseball fans, will get the chance.


St. Louis voters want to vote on Rams stadium subsidies, because you know how voters are

“A few residents” spoke out at St. Louis City Hall yesterday morning about the Rams stadium plan — currently sitting somewhere north of $500 million in public subsidies — according to KSDK TV, which further reported that “some even argued to the Convention and Tourism Committee that they should be able to vote on whether public money is used on a stadium.”

The occasion was a committee hearing on … actually, it was on alderwoman Megan Green’s bill to hold a citywide vote in March on whether public money is used on a stadium. And some people even argued for it! Those wacky voters, with their desire to vote!

The board of aldermen’s ways and means committee, meanwhile, is set to meet tonight at 6 pm to discuss the overall Rams stadium bill. I don’t think there’s likely to be a vote, but there’s a chance we might get more of a sense of where the members of the board stand on the bill, particularly board president Lewis Reed, who at this point is set to be the deciding vote on the proposal. I bet a few residents may show up there as well to have their say.

NFL considering half-billion-dollar L.A. relocation fee, could put off decision until 2017

Of course, whether or not St. Louis and Missouri approve $500 million or so in subsidies for a new Rams stadium, there’s still the little matter of the NFL approving which team or teams it will allow to move to Los Angeles. And despite rumors that the league was getting close to a decision, Ian Rapoport of the league-owned now reports that the L.A. situation is in “gridlock,” and while the “hope” is that a league vote could come by May, it might not take place until 2017.

What’s the holdup? It’s always possible that this is just a matter of the owners’ cabal not being able to decide which of their brethren’s move plans they want to approve, or that they’re waiting to see what city officials in St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland ultimately approve. (Though if so, why leak it to the media when a looming deadline is more likely to create a sense of urgency for those voting on stadium plans?)

There’s one other wild card, though, which is that, according to a report last week in Sports Business Journal, NFL owners are looking to get $500-600 million in relocation fees from any team moving to L.A. Given that the best guess is that a relocated L.A. team would see its revenues rise by a present value of maybe $500 million or so, taking on well over a billion dollars in stadium debt plus another half a billion in relocation fees seems like financial suicide.

So to the existing game of chicken between the owners of Rams, Chargers, and Raiders and the three cities that want to keep them, add in an overlay of an additional game of chicken between the L.A.-seeking owners and the NFL over how much cash they’ll have to cough up to the league to be allowed to move. I can see where this might result in gridlock, yes.

St. Louis on hook for $243m in Rams stadium costs, comptroller calls bill “fiscally irresponsible”

St. Louis comptroller Darlene Green, who’d previously expressed her opposition to the proposed Rams stadium plan as too expensive for city taxpayers, expressed her opposition more officially on Friday, saying she’ll vote against the current bill as “fiscally irreponsible”:

“If the bill is passed in its current state and presented to the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, my vote will be ‘no,’” Green said in a news release issued late Friday afternoon.

I’ve gotten a look at the city’s financial projections for the stadium, and they’re super-convoluted — not only is stadium sales tax revenue kicked back to the team to compensate for using naming-rights money to pay off city stadium bonds, which is Goldbergian enough, but the amount of tax revenue kickback bounces around between 25% and 100% over the next 40 years. From the looks of things, though, the city of St. Louis would be looking at (all numbers in present value, at a 5% discount rate) $66 million worth of sales-tax kickbacks, plus $77 million in future maintenance and operation costs, on top of the $100 million in hotel taxes that would be extended and used for the new stadium after they’re done paying off the old one. That’s $243 million from the city alone, and given that even the city’s best-case scenario (assuming all Rams sales taxes are new revenue, and they grow at 5% a year, well above the national average) is that city sales tax revenues will amount to $150 million present value, yeah, that does seem pretty fiscally irresponsible.

Green’s proposed solution is for the state — which is already set to be on the hook for about $200 million in hotel tax money, plus at least $50 million in tax credits, plus probably some maintenance costs as well, though I don’t have a spreadsheet spelling out those — to pick up more of the costs. Whether she’ll get her way will depend on the other two members of the three-person board of estimate, St. Louis mayor Francis Slay and board of aldermen president Lewis Reed — which, given that Slay is the one who negotiated this plan, probably means this is going to come down to how Reed votes. Reed has been relatively quiet recently on the stadium plan, but back in the spring he said St. Louis should do everything it takes to keep the Rams, so there’s that.

Of course, the Rams bill won’t even get to the board of estimate unless it first gets through the board of aldermen, which has been busily holding hearings but isn’t ready for a vote yet. The likely scenario on the ways and means committee, which must approve the bill to send it to the full board, is a 4-4 tie — alderman Stephen Conway recently griped, in CBS Sports Radio 920’s copy-editor-free transcription, that “there are people against it because it’s sheik to be against it and the wealthy NFL owners” — for which the tiebreaking vote would be cast by … oh, look, it’s Reed again! I think we can guess who the governor and the mayor and the Rams are likely wining and dining about now, huh?

Get your Field of Schemes stadium cards and zine reprints, hot off the presses!

I am very pleased to report that the Field of Schemes stadium cards first series and Brooklyn Metro Times original stadium issue reprints are now in the mail, and on their way to readers who’ve kindly donated to this site. Thank you all for your patience, and if you’re expecting tchotchkes and haven’t received them by next week, drop me a line and I’ll look into it.

And for anyone who’d still like to get in on this, I have some card sets and zines remaining, so please consider becoming a FoS Supporter at any of the three donation levels, and I’ll send out your goodies posthaste. Reader donations really are a huge help in enabling me to take the time to bring you the latest stadium and arena news every morning, and I appreciate them more than you can imagine.

Also, while I’m at it, thanks to FoS correspondent David Dyte for providing many of the photos for the cards. And check out his two photo books of Brooklyn and Manhattan, which are well worth some cash as

Public’s Braves stadium tab nears $350m on road and transit costs

The invaluable Dan Klepal of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has done a new tally of all the additional infrastructure costs for the new Atlanta Braves stadium, and it includes:

  • $41 million in road projects, to be paid off using a combination of local, state and federal money
  • $3.4 million for new buses, plus $1.2 million a year (figure $15 million in present value) for a new tram running around the stadium area
  • At least $9 million for a new pedestrian bridge over I-285 to get people from the parking lot to the stadium, assuming it doesn’t cost much more than that, and also assuming it doesn’t get scrapped entirely.
  • A bunch of other projects that were already on the drawing board but may now get funded because of the stadium, including a $4.3 million firehouse in Cumberland and a possible $500 million bus rapid transit project.

Not all of that would be solely to benefit the Braves, of course, but we’re certainly looking at an additional $60-70 million in public costs just for stadium-related improvements, on top of $276 million in direct subsidies. (Klepal has the direct subsidy cost at closer to $400 million, but he then subtracts out the rent the Braves will be paying to Cobb County, whereas I’ve deducted it from the initial figure — same math, different way of writing the equation.) I know everyone likes to have one solid cost figure to throw out there, so let’s go with “almost $350 million” — but if you want to count everything that the county will be spending money on at least in part because of the Braves, the figure could end up way higher. Sure hope they’ll at least get to watch Freddie Freeman for that price.

Clock running down on Miami stadium deal, Beckham tells school board (but it’s his clock)

Whoa, David Beckham’s Miami MLS stadium project has a deadline, according to the Miami New Times!

According to a timeline given to school board members today, the sports icon and his business partners have until just December 5 to have a plan ironed out and presented to Major League Soccer. That doesn’t mean a plan has to be totally approved by then, it just means that a there has to be a plan to approve in the first place.

That’s … okay, hang on a minute. This is what Beckham himself is telling the Miami-Dade school board, which he would presumably only do in order to increase the pressure on them to approve his deal by which the school board would take over ownership of his new stadium in order to get him off the hook for property taxes. There’s no particular reason for MLS to set a December 5 deadline, other than to help Beckham get his stadium deal pushed through — so I’m going to say it’s safe to assume this is a two-minute warning, and not anything real.

The board seems likely to approve its part of the deal anyway, with the bigger holdups being getting private landowners to sell their property, and a public referendum to approve the deal that would be held on March 15. I can’t wait to see the selfies that Beckham poses for with residents to try to win that one.

Blue Jackets bailout leaves Columbus schools, state arena board squabbling over tax money

The Columbus Blue Jackets arena saga is one of the weirder ones, with the team building an arena mostly with private money, then complaining it was losing money and getting the county to bail them out by taking the arena off their hands, then a local group trying to force the county to let residents vote on whether to default on the arena bonds (and failing). Now there’s a new twist: As part of the bailout deal, the Blue Jackets owners agreed to make an annual $1 million a year payment to the Columbus school system in lieu of property taxes. Starting in 2017, that deal expires — meaning the arena will be looking at a $4 million tax bill, and the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority will have to pay it itself.

This sounds bad, and it sort of is if you’re the arena authority, which is why the people who run that body is asking the state legislature to extend the tax exemption. But when you think about it, this is just a squabble between two public agencies over who’ll pay whom: Either the arena board gets more money to run its building, or the school system gets more money to run its schools. Or, you know, the state could just throw some more money everybody’s way and everyone could go home happy, except the recipients of whichever services got cut to make sure that the arena and the Columbus schools were both made whole.

The main lesson here, really, is this one:

“I don’t know what they knew or didn’t know” about the looming tax bill, said Don Brown, the facilities authority’s executive director since February and previously Franklin County’s administrator. “I’m not aware that there was a public discussion.”

That? Don’t do that. If you’re going to bail out your local hockey team, at least have a public discussion about what all the costs are going to be, including those a few years out. That is all.

Hartford arena operator proposes $250m renovation, because $250m is a nice round number

Connecticut’s Capital Region Development Authority is proposing $250 million in state-funded upgrades to the Building Formerly Known As The Hartford Civic Center, which would include redoing concourses, converting skyboxes to restaurants and clubs, and rebuilding the outer wall so that passersby can see in:

“The objective is to make this building a new building,” [authority executive director Michael] Freimuth said. “It has to look, feel and smell new.”

There’s no money-grubbing sports team owner behind this move — the Hartford Whalers moved out a while back, in case you didn’t notice — but rather just a public arena manager asking the state for a pile of cash to spruce up the building it runs. So is this a bad idea or not?

The question, as it should always be with stadium development deals (or development deals of any kind), is not “Is the public paying for it?” but “What is the public getting for it?” The arena authority claims that spending $250 million on renovations will help produce more revenues from the building, which currently runs about a $3 million a year loss for the state. Freimuth didn’t provide any details on how much more revenue, though, beyond saying that he hopes the arena “would be better than break-even” — and I’d hope even the most math-challenged readers (or legislators) can see that spending $250 million to bring in an extra $3 million a year would be a horrible, horrible investment. (Freimuth also hinted that the renovations could help land an NHL team, though 1) nobody thinks the NHL is ready to go back to Hartford, and 2) if any new revenues are set to pay off the renovation costs and not go into the team’s pocket, why would an NHL owner be attracted by them?)

So should Connecticut just sit and live with an oldish arena, if there’s no way to economically justify the improvements? Maybe. Or maybe somebody needs to look at that $250 million price tag and figure out which items on it are really likely to boost revenues, and which ones are just there because they look neat. Not that there isn’t some intangible benefit to having a nicer-looking arena in the middle of your downtown, but there’s benefit to most other things the state could be doing with $250 million too — just because somebody came up with a design that costs that much doesn’t mean state officials should fall victim to the edifice complex.