Suns owner may demand new arena, because all the other kids have one

Every once in a while one of my readers, out of concern that some day I might get my life back, wonders whether this site will soon run out of business once every sports team owner has a new stadium. To which I say: Don’t worry, my friends, Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver has my back.

One scenario being talked about — at least in real estate and downtown Phoenix circles — is a new arena being built where the current South Building of the Phoenix Convention Center is on Jefferson and Third streets. That is the oldest convention center building and is a block away from the Suns’ current arena.

US Airways Center — which is being renamed Talking Stick Resort Arena — opened in 1992.

It will soon be the fifth oldest NBA arena after new homes are built for the Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings.

Sarver actually dropped some hints about this last fall, but it sounds like things have now moved from the “whining about it” stage to the “talking to local business and political leaders about money” stage, so it’s likely things are going to heat up soon.

Note that there’s no talk here of the Suns’ current arena being obsolete or anything — just it’s older than all the other ones, can’t we have a new one too? That’s one of the great things about the stadium and arena game: No matter how many new buildings get built, there’s always another owner waiting to circle around and get back in line. If this latest is any indication, expect the next demands to come from the likes of the Toronto Blue Jays, Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Pistons, San Jose Sharks, and Anaheim Ducks. Check back in a year or so to see how this prognostication turned out.

Missouri gov says if it would mean public vote on Rams stadium, we don’t need county’s stinking money

It’s not quite building atop the site of ancient Indian burial mounds, but it’s still another sign that the St. Louis plan for a new Rams stadium isn’t going well: Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has told St. Louis County officials that he doesn’t want the county involved in the stadium financing plan, because the county would require a public vote and then it might lose, duh.

That would solve one problem, but create another, by blowing open a $6 million a year (roughly enough to pay off $100 million in construction costs) hole in Nixon’s proposed stadium budget, which already has enough holes as it is. Jones Dome chair Jim Shrewsbury, a Nixon appointee, painted this move as a way to convince the NFL that Missouri is serious about getting a stadium passed quickly, but the NFL cares about who’s going to pay for stadiums (preferably not them), not just whether they can proceed without public votes, so this looks like out of a frying pan and into the fire. It’s starting to seem more likely that Stan Kroenke might actually pull the trigger on an L.A. move, though with a $1.86 billion price tag, you have to think that at least part of him is hoping that Nixon finds enough spare change so that he doesn’t have to.

A guy in Minneapolis says MLS team owners will ask for public money, he just knows

A guy who owns land that Minnesota United wants for a new soccer stadium says he’s been told they won’t buy it yet because they’re waiting to “go through the legislature” first, which he interprets as a sign they’re going to ask for public money. Which is the whole story, really, and even if the Minneapolis Star Tribune drags it out to two full online pages, that doesn’t mean I have to.

Just file it away as a data point for future reference, for whenever United owner Bill McGuire decides it’s no longer “premature” to talk about this stuff. MLS commissioner Don Garber wants something in place by July 1 or he’s going to start threatening to yank the team, and if memory serves the Minnesota legislature wraps up its session in late May, so it shouldn’t be long now.

MLB commish tries to shake down Montreal for new stadium, mostly says “commitment” a lot

New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is back on the stadium-grubbing trail — can he shake down Montreal any better than he has Oakland? Let’s watch!

“The key thing in Montreal would be to have a plan for an adequate facility that could support baseball over the long haul,” he told The Canadian Press just a few days before Montreal hosts two exhibition games between the Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds at Olympic Stadium.

Manfred said the league would need a strong commitment from Montreal for a new stadium before the league could seriously consider relocating a team or expanding there.

“I don’t expect people to go into the ground and build a facility without some sort of commitment that they are going to get a team,” he said. “But I do think that you need a plan and a commitment to how that plan is going to be executed.”

Hmm. I’d give that at best a B for threatmongering: Manfred gets the general gist across (no new stadium, no team), but his stodgy rhetoric betrays his background as a lawyer, as opposed to the used-car salesman who preceded him. (Yeah, yeah, I know, Bud Selig only worked leasing cars, not selling them, but close enough for blog work, right?) Where’s the challenge to Quebecois to “show their support for baseball”? Where’s the wild claims that lots of teams out there could host major-league teams, now it’s up to Montreal to step up to the plate and distinguish itself? Where’s the pathos?

In all seriousness, Montreal is a fairly good potential MLB market (while metro area populations aren’t always directly comparable, it’s roughly the size of Seattle, a mid-size MLB market) with one of the few stadiums that I’m willing to agree is terrible for major league baseball: Olympic Stadium, which was a lousy idea at the time and hasn’t looked any better with age. However, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the city of Montreal’s problem: If Montreal is such a great market, an existing team owner should be willing to move there (or a new team owner to pay expansion fees to locate there) even if it means having to pay to build a stadium that fans might actually want to go to. Back in the Expos days, things got as far as designs for a new ballpark, but nobody was interested in paying for it, no surprise given that the Expos owner at the time was Jeffrey Loria. I’m always skeptical whether the mammoth cost of building new stadium can ever be repaid through stadium revenues — though a small-scale ballpark with limited bells and whistles would have a better shot at it — but it’s worth at least asking the question. Maybe Warren Cromartie could launch a Kickstarter.

TV reporter gets jump on April Fools, says losing Chargers will turn San Diego into Baltimore

In need of a laugh this morning, and not in the mood for tiresome selfie-related hoaxes? Allow NBC San Diego’s Derek Togerson to come to your rescue with his essay on how if San Diego loses the Chargers, it’ll end up just like Baltimore:

[Baltimore Stadium Authority Chairman John] Moag is a friend of former Padres owner John Moores and was loosely involved in the construction of Petco Park, so he has seen how things work in both places.

“Baltimore is a big small town, not unlike San Diego in that respect,” he said when asked to compare the situations. Then he offered another sobering observation.

“It was an enormous, enormous blow to our culture.”

If you want to hear a lot more from Moag, the guy who as much as anyone was behind Maryland spending $300 million in taxpayer money on new stadiums for the Orioles and Ravens — he says bringing in the Ravens has created $600 million a year in economic impact, and nobody (in this article, anyway) is going to tell him otherwise! — by all means, click through. If the mere notion of San Diego being one NFL team away from being Baltimore (they both have large Navy presences!) is enough to tickle your funny bone, time to go play some Google Pac-Man.

Beckham reportedly discusses new Miami MLS site at party, doesn’t cough cake all over his shirt

This slipped past me last week, but apparently David Beckham is sorta kinda maybe willing to consider a site near the Miami Marlins‘ stadium for a new MLS stadium:

Monday night he was sitting next to Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine at a birthday party for fashion magnate Tommy Hilfiger. The two chatted about soccer, and Levine said Beckham gave a tacit thumbs-up to the idea of building a professional soccer stadium next to Marlins Park.

“He mentioned it,” Levine said. “I think he has a sense of openness and willingness to anything.”

Why, that’s positively … hearsay, but I guess it’s more than anybody else has been saying about Beckham’s stalled Miami stadium plans, so sure, let’s call it news!

On the plus side, the Marlins stadium site is already set up for pro sports, with those expensive parking garages the city agreed to build and then almost also had to pay the Marlins’ property taxes on already in place. (It’s also used to hosting major events, as the former site of the Orange Bowl — in fact, there’s so much bad blood about the Marlins stadium deal that everyone involved is now calling it the “Orange Bowl site,” which is kind of hilarious.) But how much would Beckham be expecting the city to contribute to the project? According to the Miami Herald:

  • Beckham wants access to city land without paying market rate rent.
  • Miami-Dade County would likely be asked to take over ownership of the land, to exempt Beckham from paying property taxes.
  • Bruno Barreiro, the county commissioner pushing for a soccer stadium on the Marlins site, wants to create a “special taxing district” around the stadium to pay for expanding monorail service to the site, though the Herald isn’t clear whether this would be a tax surcharge or redirection of existing taxes.

How much in public money would that come to? Hard to say exactly: Those Marlins garages that cost $92 million would have owed $1.2 million a year in property taxes, so if an MLS stadium costs roughly double that, we’re talking maybe $2.4 million a year, which would be maybe $35 million in present value? And how much of a rent discount Beckham would want is completely unknown, so hard to say how much the access to city land would be worth.

That’s assuming, of course, that Beckham is actually considering this plan, and wasn’t just being polite at a party. It looks like the only deal he’s likely to get, though (that or a site in Overtown, which is even less far along), so if he really wants to own a team in Miami, he should probably at least consider it. See, cities do too have some leverage when it comes to stadium demands!

St. Pete council still not willing to let Rays go for cheap, local paper decries this as “stalemate”

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said yesterday that he still doesn’t have the votes to pass the bill the city council rejected in December that would have let the Tampa Bay Rays look elsewhere for a stadium site in exchange for a sliding scale of buyout payments, depending on when the team left. This is unsurprising, though it’s slightly surprising that Kriseman was willing to propose having the Rays give up any proceeds from redeveloping the Tropicana Field site — something Rays owner Stuart Sternberg had previously said he wouldn’t consider — and councilmembers still said no:

Kriseman’s proposal, which could earn the city as much as $20 million, inadequately compensates the city and county for what they have spent on the Trop over the years, [councilmember Steve] Kornell said. “I could not in good conscience vote for that deal.”

[Councilmember Bill] Dudley also said the proposed compensation payments are too low. “We’re just not getting enough,” he said, “and the vast majority of my constituents agree with me on this.”

In other words: We have a lease with you, and you have to live by it, and if you want to get out of it you have to pay our price or else lump it until 2027, pal.

That’s a perfectly reasonable negotiating position for the council to take, and thus makes it more than a bit screwy that the Tampa Bay Times chose to lead their article on this with the sentence: “Tampa Bay’s five-year stalemate over a new baseball stadium continues — with no obvious end in sight.” That implies that you have two sides trying to reach agreement on a shared goal, but which just can’t find a way to come to terms. What’s happening here is something different: Sternberg wants to break his lease and seek a new stadium elsewhere, and the St. Pete council is saying, “Not unless you make it worth our while.”

A more honest lede, then, would have been something along the lines of “The Tampa Bay Rays’ search for a way out of their Tropicana Field lease continues — but the St. Petersburg council isn’t going to let them go cheap.” But then, the Tampa Bay Times has a track record of trying to make St. Petersburg seem like it’s on the clock here, even when it isn’t.

Kingdome debt finally due to be paid off this year, 15 years after Kingdome ceased to exist

If you like stadium schadenfreude, you’ll love this: Seattle is about to pay off the last of its debt on the Kingdome, 15 years after the building was imploded:

Back in 1994, tiles fell from building’s roof, prompting an emergency closure and multimillion dollar fix. It was financed on a 20-year debt payment structure and was set to expire at the end of 2015.

King County Budget Director Dwight Dively confirmed Wednesday the county has collected enough money through hotel and motel taxes to pay off the debt nine months early.

If you’re asking yourself, Wait, how can paying off a stadium that’s been gone a decade and a half be “nine months early”?, well, that’s how bonds work: It’s buy now, pay later, and intentionally so. Everyone knew in 1994, or if not then shortly thereafter, that the Kingdome probably wasn’t going to be around at the end of the debt payments, but it was decided that rather than pay for the whole repair cost in one lump sum, it would make more sense to pay it off over time, so that what King County did.

Neither system is any worse, really, any more than taking out a mortgage to buy a home is any better or worse than paying cash, which is why I’ve previously disparaged “taxpayers are still paying off that pile of rubble!” stories as missing the point. The problem isn’t when the payments are made, but how many of them: Seattle taxpayers have now paid for building the Kingdome ($67 million), repairing the Kingdome ($51 million), demolishing the Kingdome ($10 million), and most of building Safeco Field (about $400 million). That’s a sizable slab of dough, regardless of which structures were still standing when the payments were made.

Walker promises new Bucks arena plan in “next few days” that magically won’t cost anybody anything

Oh, yeah, it’s definitely racino time in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker has announced that “in the next few days” he’s going to announce a new Milwaukee Bucks arena plan to replace his old arena plan that everybody hated. And what will be in the new plan?

Walker gave no specifics of the new plan but said that the alternative plan would not siphon off any tax revenue from the state’s existing tax base or rely on any new taxes.

So that leaves revenue from existing taxes as they bring in more revenue in the future — in other words, some variant on a TIF, just as his old “kick back any future rise in NBA income taxes” plan was. Any other specifics?

“It involves not only our Legislature leadership — Senator Fitzgerald and Speaker Vos, that I typically meet with on a weekly basis, but also representatives of the city of Milwaukee, the county of Milwaukee as well as the Bucks and I believe in the end we will find a viable alternative. We`re working with members of the legislative leadership, the city of Milwaukee and the county, and we’re having meetings even this week on that and once we reach a conclusion, we’ll be announcing that fairly shortly,” Governor Walker said.

Anything else, anyone?

Kit Beyer, [an Assembly Speaker Robin] Vos spokeswoman, said Vos has consistently said that in order to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee, city and county officials “need to step up more. He looks forward to learning what they can offer when they meet this week.”…

In addition, there is an expectation that the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County will be asked to contribute. No specific details of what the city and county could contribute have been released, though it is expected the city’s contribution will be in the form of tax-incremental financing districts for the expected ancillary development near the new arena site.

Put all the tea leaves together, and it sounds like Walker and city and county officials are going to be scrounging around for any future taxes that can be credited to the Bucks’ presence — even if some of these taxes would be collected on other entertainment options if the Bucks left — to see if they can get to $250 million. This is where that “ancillary development” that the Bucks owners promised last week comes in handy: If you package together enough stuff, and count up all the taxes that it’ll be paying, and then pretend that nothing else that would pay taxes will ever get built if not for the Bucks’ presence, then it’s all free money to the state and city, so why not just hand it right back to the Bucks owners, right? Right?

It all sounds so reasonable, and makes me yet again sad that I can’t find a YouTube video of that “Odd Couple” episode where Oscar’s gambling buddy wins big at Felix’s opera club casino night, uses the money to repay Oscar on a debt, and then Felix insists that it’s really his money and Oscar should give it to him, because “it’s from me to him to you to me, like an isoceles triangle.” Math is tough!

Tampa pastor cleared of labor law violations in unpaid stadium job case

Tom Atchison, who you’ll remember as the “faith-based recovery program” director accused of illegally sending his substance-abuse clients to run stadium concessions for no pay as part of a job training program, writes to point out that a federal Department of Labor investigation cleared him of the “illegal” part last month. And he includes a (partly redacted) DoL report on the matter, if you want to read it yourself.

This is good news for Atchison, obviously, since it means his model of funding his programs by having people in recovery work stadium jobs and have the payments go to fund his overhead — something he says he copied from the Salvation Army — is officially sanctioned as legit. It’s less certainly good news for the people in his New Beginnings programs, depending on whether you see having them work jobs and have their residence director cash the resulting checks is a valuable way to ease them back into the work world, or a way to exploit their free labor to pay the program’s bills. Either way, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rays ended their relationship with New Beginnings after the controversy arose — presumably less because they were concerned it was illegal than because they were concerned it looked skeevy — so we can leave any future coverage of the matter to other worthy sites.