Minnesota United said to be zeroing in on St. Paul, still mum on how stadium would be paid for

Minnesota United and MLS are “close” to choosing St. Paul as the site of a new soccer stadium, according to “sources with knowledge of the situation” cited by the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Actually, I’m not going to bother blockquoting anything from the story, because that’s really all it says. (Other than that “an announcement could come this week,” which is irrefutably unspecific.) The article doesn’t even indicate whether this would mean MLS and United announcing that St. Paul is the preferred site, or actually announcing a tentative deal with the city for a stadium there, which are obviously two very different things. The St. Paul Pioneer Press did notice that Mayor Chris Coleman gave his own vague comment yesterday:

“We’re working it. Nothing to announce today,” Coleman said in a live interview on WCCO Radio.

So what would this deal that may or may not be in the process of being negotiated look like? We know that United owner Bill McGuire would be seeking a property tax break on the part of the stadium land that’s city owned, and that both the St. Paul city council and Gov. Mark Dayton are open to that idea (though it would require approval from the state legislature as well). There’s also been talk about a sales tax break and/or tax increment financing to kick back property taxes from surrounding parcels, but nothing really specific. And who would pay for the cost of acquiring the rest of the stadium land? Would United pay any rent for using the city land? What about operations and maintenance costs? Hello, anyone?

In other words, there’s no friggin’ way to know whether any St. Paul stadium deal would be good, bad, or middling for St. Paul taxpayers. This articles is part of a long tradition of news stories focusing on “Where will they put the stadium?” without answering the far more important question of “Who will pay for the stadium and how?” — but you’ve got to figure that McGuire and the MLS are not displeased with this bit of misdirection. “Sources with knowledge of the situation,” hmmmm?


Raiders nixed using team revenues for stadium in April, but developer kept it in plan because whatev

So remember how NFL stadium consultant Marc Ganis said back in June that the Oakland Raiders owners would hate Floyd Kephart’s Coliseum City stadium proposal, because they’d be on the hook for all the construction costs? Well, turns out a Raiders exec said so specifically back in April, in an email obtained and published yesterday by the San Jose Mercury News:

“Simply put, the ‘terms required for the Raiders to commit to remaining in Oakland’ are a plan that fills that funding gap without stripping revenues from the stadium and preserves the current level of surface parking (for tailgating),” Raiders President Marc Badain wrote to Kephart on April 28.

He added that “all revenues from the stadium must be retained by the Raiders.”

Not to belittle the Merc News’s “exclusive” too much, but this isn’t really big news: That the Raiders owners don’t want to have to pay for a new stadium with stadium revenues has been a given from the start of this whole mess. (Otherwise the Raiders could just go and build a stadium in Oakland themselves, without messing around with city “conduit bonds” and the like.) So really what we have here is confirmation that an Experienced Developer doesn’t have any more ability to magically make $400 million appear out of thin air than city officials do.

Ultimately, the question here is whether Raiders owner Mark Davis is willing to pick up his team and move to L.A. — where, keep in mind, he would similarly have to pay for a new stadium out of stadium revenues, though he’d maybe have more stadium revenues to work with, depending on how excited you think L.A. fans will be to buy Raiders PSLs — and whether the NFL will go along with him. Which is going to depend on the same two known unknowns we’ve been working with all along: how lucrative the L.A. market really is for NFL owners despite not coming with any added local cable revenue like in other sports; and how the NFL is going to decide which if any of the three teams jockeying for L.A. (the Raiders, St. Louis Rams, and San Diego Chargers) will be given the go-ahead to move. And there’s so no indication that we’re going to know any of this before the start of 2016 at the earliest.

In the meantime, we can take comfort in the reminder that rich developers are mostly pretty useless, at least as far as turning money-pit stadium projects into money makers for all concerned. Though if someone wants to pay me a retainer to say, “I can build a stadium for the Raiders right now, if the Raiders put up the money,” I wouldn’t say no.

Rams stadium to serve “regular fans” by giving them place to drink beer and not watch the game

When you’re locked in a flamewar with the legislators you need to pass your football stadium funding plan, what can you do to get people excited about it again? Release new renderings of what the stadium might look like if it ever gets built!

55e61e893f6ba.imageNow, sure, you or I might look at this and think, “Wow, those upper deck seats are going to be a million miles from the field, sitting atop two (or three?) levels of luxury suites and looking down even on the scoreboard.” But that’s not how HOK designer Eli Hoisington thinks of it:

“There’s a trend where everything is luxury, everything is suites now. And we put the general die-hard St. Louis fan front-and-center, embedded in the experience.”

Hoisington’s example of “front-and-center”: Fans will get a three-story brewpub on the outside of the stadium, where they can buy beers and look out at the Mississippi River. Also a 30-foot-wide observation deck for looking at, again, not the game.

Here’s where I would normally make a joke about a slow, muddy river being more entertaining to watch than the Rams, but you know what? This isn’t about what the Rams have done on the field lately, or what they’ll do in the future, or even whether diehard fans might enjoy watching the team through good times and bad, because that’s what diehard fans do. This is about stadium designers thinking that the best thing can do for “regular fans” is give them a really big place to get drunk while watching the game on TV monitors. The saddest part of which is that in the modern NFL-watching experience, it may actually be true.

Milwaukee residents continue to berate Bucks arena deal at latest public hearing

The Milwaukee city council held its first public committee hearing on the Milwaukee Bucks arena plan yesterday, and as at the council’s previous public town hall meetings, there was lots of unhappiness at the already-approved-by-the-state-but-not-yet-the-city deal:

“Buck owners Mark Lasry, Wesley Edens and Jamie Dinan are New York billionaire hedge-fund owners who have the resources to build this arena themselves,” Jennifer O’Hear, speaking for Common Ground, told members of the Common Council’s Steering & Rules Committee.

“They do not need our public money,” she said. “Our children and our neighborhoods need our public money.”

Okay, that’s Common Ground, which has been harping on this whole “schoolkids need more money than billionaires” thing for a while now. (Come on, what do schoolkids have to spend money on? It’s not like they could even drive a yacht if they had one!) What about the hoi polloi, the average Joe, the person on the street?

One speaker after another panned the idea.

“It’s trickle-down economics,” Mary Watkins said. “We are hurting. We cannot afford to put millions of dollars in a project billionaires can build on their own.”

Several speakers said they were opposed to the entertainment district, which they thought would cannibalize existing bars and taverns.

“I have long accepted that the ship has sailed and the arena will be built,” Pat Small testified.

“Downtown has no shortage of bars and restaurants,” he said. There is “no need to subsidize the entertainment district.”

Peter Rickman, of Wisconsin Jobs Now, told council members: “Milwaukee has a good jobs problem.”

He urged council members to hold the Bucks accountable for living wages and for workers’ rights, both during the construction of the arena and its facilities, and once those facilities were built and staffed with waiters, janitors and housekeepers.

On the other hand, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “business and labor leaders” said the arena would be a “catalytic project,” presumably by means of something like this. The full council is expected to vote on the plan on September 22, at which point we’ll find out whose opinions they listen to.

Rhode Island protesters fly kites to oppose taking parkland for PawSox stadium

I haven’t reported much on the Pawtucket Red Sox‘ demand for a new stadium in Providence ever since the team’s owner up and died in May right in the middle of his stadium campaign. The campaign continues on without him under former Boston Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, though, as does public opposition to the $60 million in cash subsidies plus free land that team execs are asking for. And yesterday, about 150 opponents of the deal descended on the proposed riverfront stadium site flying kites and carrying beach chairs, to demand that the land be used as a public park as was intended when a highway was moved to create it in the first place:

The I-195 Commission, a state agency, bought most of the land and is reselling it, although some was given for free to use as a public park, including the 5-acre parcel the Pawtucket Red Sox, a Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, want to build on.

Johnston resident Don Bianco said taking the land away from residents who want an open space public park would be “borderline criminal.”

“There will never again be the possibility of a waterfront park in downtown Providence,” Bianco said.

Citizens with kites aren’t the only ones with a problem with the proposed PawSox deal, with the federal government also saying it’d want to be reimbursed the $4 million value of the park land if it’s instead given to the team, while Brown University is so far balking at selling an adjacent parcel that it owns for what would become left field. The state legislature doesn’t plan to meet to discuss any of this until next January, so expect lots more behind-the-scenes haggling in the interim.

Minnesota United land option expires, either killing Minneapolis plan or meaning nothing at all, depending

The Minneapolis land purchase option deadline for Minnesota United expired yesterday, and there are no signs that the team’s owners got an extension, though the Minneapolis Star Tribune seems to be hedging a bit behind “we don’t actually know nothin'”:

A development entity associated with Minnesota United FC had secured the exclusive right to purchase industrial property near the city’s Farmers Market for a $150 million stadium. But time ran out on that deal Monday, and there was no sign it was extended.

The team, which is seeking a tax break from the city, declined to comment on the implications of the deadline for a Minneapolis stadium. … [Property owner Robert] Salmen, who owns about 80 percent of the property proposed for the stadium, did not return a request seeking comment on Monday. … Minneapolis and Hennepin County officials weren’t giving up hope Monday, however, amid the team’s public silence.

Of course, an option is just an option, and there’s nothing stopping United owner Bill McGuire from going back to Salmen and waving a check in his face when and if he has a stadium deal in place with Minneapolis that he’s happy with. But it’s definitely a step back for any Minneapolis stadium plan.

Meanwhile, while I was traveling last week, the St. Paul city council last week approved a nonbinding resolution endorsing the idea of exempting the city’s share of stadium land from property taxes, but only if United pays for all stadium design, construction, and operations out of its own pocket. That’d be only part of the stadium site (the rest is in private hands, and would presumably remain taxed), so not a huge boon to McGuire, but then again paying for the stadium itself with private money wouldn’t preclude Mayor Chris Coleman’s previous idea to have the city pay for cleanup and infrastructure on the site with city TIF money, so … really, this is all way too soon to tell how it’s going to work out, beyond “everyone wants to make Bill McGuire happy without it looking like they’re just giving him money for his new toy.” There is much jockeying yet to go.

Scott Walker goes on TV, tries to justify building all sorts of crazy things

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker went on Meet the Press yesterday, and they actually asked him about the Milwaukee Bucks arena subsidy deal that he pushed through. His answer was unsurprising:

“For the state of Wisconsin, it’s less than $4 million a year to protect $6.5 million we collect. And over the next 20 years, that grows to a total of just shy of $300 million the state collects in income taxes for less than $80 million,” he said. “I’d be a fool.”

This is the “cheaper to keep it” line again, and we’ve covered the problems with it before: First off, that $300 million figure for future state income taxes is made up out of whole cloth, and almost certainly hugely overblown. And secondly, the $80 million (I have $75 million, but whatever) in state subsidies is only a small fraction of the $450 million in state, county, and city cash and tax breaks that will be going to the Bucks owners, meaning even by Walker’s numbers, Wisconsin taxpayers overall would be taking a large loss on the deal, even if the state treasury in particular might come out okay.

Fortunately for Walker, he distracted voters from his crazy-ass arena math by elsewhere in the interview calling building a wall across the Canadian border “a legitimate issue for us to look at.” To be entirely fair, Walker was just agreeing with Meet the Press host Chuck Todd’s question that “Why are we always talking about the southern border, and building a fence there — we don’t talk about the northern border?” Though to be even more fair, saying things that are no more crazy than Chuck Todd isn’t exactly something worth bragging about.

Owner of Minneapolis soccer land says hell with soccer, I’ve got better people to sell to

With all the talk about whether Minneapolis or St. Paul will be the first to offer Minnesota United owner Bill McGuire his precious property tax break for a new soccer stadium, it seems to have escaped notice that McGuire’s option to buy downtown Minneapolis land for a stadium site is set to expire. Like, today:

“The only thing that can change is they have a check on my desk on Monday morning. In reality, I doubt it,” said Robert Salmen, who owns two of the three parcels on Royalston Avenue that would be used for the stadium — about 80 percent of the proposed site.

A development entity representing Minnesota United team owner Bill McGuire secured the yearlong option at this time in 2014. Salmen said once it expires Monday, he does not plan to sell to McGuire.

“We have no interest. … Even if they’re interested at this point, we’re not going to proceed,” Salmen said. “We’re done with it.”

Now, Salmen could always just be trying to wrangle a check out of McGuire, but given that the latter is still in the midst of playing the Twin Cities off against each other, and buying Minneapolis land before securing a tax break would shoot his leverage to hell, that would seem to be a pretty stupid strategy. More likely Salmen is thinking that he can possibly get a bidding war going for his property — “When I want to sell, or if somebody makes a stupid offer, I’ll sell,” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune — and doesn’t see any upside to continuing to deal only with one suitor.

Weirdly, there’s been no public comment from McGuire on this yet, though perhaps not so weirdly, since McGuire isn’t really a public comment kind of guy. More news later today if and when Salmen actually lowers the hammer, I expect.

Stop the presses! St. Louis business leaders have no real opinion on Rams stadium!

Not much new this weekend in the standoff between Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and state legislators over who’ll get to decide on a St. Louis Rams stadium deal, so I know what you’re thinking: Won’t anyone think of the local business leaders?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has your back, magnates of industry. Not that you really seem to care much:

Through press representatives, corporate executives either declined to discuss the stadium plan’s specifics or did not respond to requests from the Post-Dispatch to describe in detail their support, or absence of support, for the project.

The few who were willing to speak on the issue were on either side of the spectrum: enthusiastic supporter or sharp critic.

Let’s try to picture the editorial process by which this giant ball of nothingburger ended up in a major U.S. newspaper. Either the reporter in question pitched his editor on a story on how local business leaders feel about a new stadium, or the editor assigned it to the reporter, probably figuring, Hey, these are Important People, we can get a story out of this on a slow Sunday. Problem was, hardly anybody answered. But it was too late to fill the hole in the paper with some actual news, and the article was already written, so sure, “Business execs guarded on stadium proposal” is a news story if we say it is, right?

Where it becomes really problematic, of course, is when whoever it was made the designation of who gets to be Important People. There are any number of people in St. Louis that could have been contacted for equally ambiguous opinions — “Union leaders guarded on stadium proposal,” “Schoolteachers guarded on stadium proposal,” “Women with small children standing on line at local supermarket guarded on stadium proposal” — but business leaders are considered newsworthy just because they are, even though no one elected them, they don’t get any more votes than anyone else, and their opinion doesn’t matter any extra for economic reasons. (It’s not like the local Schnucks grocery chain is going to shutter all its stores and move to California if things don’t go its way, even if its execs had a way they wanted things to go.) It’s like a weird holdover of feudalism: When there are important decisions to be made, ask the local rich guy. We’ve ostensibly had representative democracy for the last couple hundred years, but it’s taking a little while for journalism to catch up.