FC Cincinnati won its stadium vote thanks to dodgy campaign contributions

F.C. Cincinnati, you will recall, is getting $63.8 million in public subsidies thanks to a 5-4 vote of the city council last month, one that was held as an emergency measure so that regular citizens couldn’t overturn it in a public vote. And that key fifth vote, it turns out, is only in office thanks to a narrow winning margin helped along by $73,000 in campaign contributions from questionable sources:

It’s fair to say Republican Jeff Pastor’s questionable $54,600 personal campaign loan and $18,500 in “dark money” were likely good enough for 223 votes in last year’s City Council election. That was the slim margin the rookie candidate defeated Democrat Michelle Dillingham, whose 10th-place finish kept her off Council.

Questions are swirling about where Pastor got the money to loan to his campaign and whether a “dark money” nonprofit obeyed the rules when it electioneered for a candidate. That’s not to mention Pastor’s bizarre decision to pass out five-figure checks to churches during the campaign – money supposedly from his day-job boss Charlie Shor’s epilepsy foundation.

The story, as far as I can tell, is that Pastor loaned money to his own campaign at the same time as his boss loaned him money for a home mortgage, while also accepting that $18,500 from a Super PAC that doesn’t disclose its donors. None of that is necessarily illegal, but not keeping track of how he raised the money or spent it is — and Pastor’s campaign records didn’t bother to include any expense information.

Now, no one is suggesting that F.C. Cincinnati had anything to do with the dodgy campaign funds — I mean, they could theoretically be the Super PAC donors (so could me or you or Sheldon Adelson), but that would have taken a remarkable degree of foresight to realize he’d be their key stadium vote five months later. But it does mean that, but for some petty breakage of campaign finance law, Cincinnatians might today not have a new soccer stadium in the works, and still have $63.8 million. But at least now they have a shot at soon watching the glory of MLS soccer in the flesh!

As mayoral election threatens Nashville soccer, hockey subsidies, Predators’ mascot weighs in with key endorsement

When MLS announced that it was awarding one of two new expansion teams to Nashville S.C. last December, it seemed like the city had gotten the nod mostly because it had promised more than $75 million in subsidies for a new stadium. As it turns out, though, neither is now entirely certain — the public funds or the expansion franchise — thanks to, well, let’s let VenuesNow magazine tell it:

Former Mayor Megan Barry championed the stadium project but resigned in March after pleading guilty to a felony theft charge connected to her affair with a former police bodyguard. Mayor David Briley, who took over for Barry, faces a special election May 24, and other candidates have called into question the wisdom of Briley continuing on the stadium path.

Mayoral candidates have questioned allowing the team to take over space next to the stadium for development while Nashville taxpayers shoulder financial risk, candidate Ralph Bristol told local daily newspaper The Tennessean. One, Carol Swain, doesn’t believe the city can afford to fund the stadium, which the team plans to pay off with $25 million up front and $9 million a year over 30 years (ticket taxes are expected to cover the remainder of the yearly debt), and another, state Rep. Harold Love Jr., wants to look at changing the location but wonders whether any money at all should be spent on a stadium.

But can a new mayor undo a decision that the metro council already made last fall? Apparently so, as the council still needs to approve the stadium lease and rezone land at Nashville’s fairgrounds for stadium use. And if it doesn’t, team owner John Ingram warns, MLS could still pull the franchise and give it to another city.

And Nashville SC isn’t the only sports team concerned about Thursday’s mayoral election: The owners of the Nashville Predators, who have been seeking a new lease that would include public money for renovations for their arena, are worried about the outcome as well. So they waded in the only way they know how: By having the Predators’ president and mascot stand side-by-side to endorse Briley for re-election:

I don’t know about you, but when a silent person in a giant sabre-tooth tiger head points at me with instructions on who to vote for for mayor, I pay attention. I don’t know that I do what he says — the only pointing mascot I’ll take political leadership from is Youppi! — but I will certainly stare on, transfixed by the spectacle.

Friday roundup: Panthers’ record sale price goosed by public money, Beckham stadium delayed yet again, Rams stadium really will cost $4B-plus

Google looks to have broken all of its RSS feeds, so if I missed anything important this week, drop me an email and I’ll play catchup next week:

Temple economist Michael Leeds just pwned the Browns on their stadium demands, yo

The Cleveland Scene has a long article up today about the Cleveland Brownssaber-rattling for a new stadium, most of which is about what the Browns are probably after in seeking to replace a 19-year-old stadium — a site with lots of land around it to develop, probably — and how likely that is to happen — not too likely, according to the Scene, unless the Browns owners can get Cleveland to decommission an airport, which is hard because the FAA would be involved. It’s an interesting read, but I mostly want to take a moment to appreciate this quote from Temple University economist Michael Leeds, explaining why teams keep upping the ante for what they “need” despite having stadiums that are barely out of the packaging:

“Every parent goes through this type of thing and knows the deal,” he said. “You ask your kid what they want for their birthday, and she might say, ‘I want a pony.’ You ask her why and she says the kid down the street has one. Most of us figure out a way to ignore what she wants and get her something else.”

[mic drop]

Columbus Crew owner reveals Austin stadium plans, can’t even come up with generic rendering

Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt has revealed preliminary designs for his proposed new soccer stadium in Austin, and, and … and:

To quote the guy in the back row at my showing of Avengers: Infinity War when the end credits were rolling, “What the fuck was that?” A stadium vaportecture plan is supposed to have swooping architecture and happy clip-art fans and fireworks — oh, so many fireworks — whereas this, this is the Austin American-Statesman art department taking a Google Earth image, applying a “lighten 50%” filter in Photoshop, and then drawing some rectangles on it to represent a stadium. And for this, Precourt gets a feature article in the newspaper.

Things were so bad that even stadium supporters felt obligated to note that the presentation was a bit on the disappointing side:

City Council Member Kathie Tovo noted that there wasn’t much information in the site plan but likes parts of what she saw.

“The three access points are a real positive,” Tovo said. “There are walkways and a parklike feel, and I’m encouraged that the Precourt group is thinking about ways the site can benefit the community.”

This is what journalism has come to: Guy seeking to move soccer team to Austin suggests that roads lead there from three different directions. I know the newspaper business is desperate right now, but I don’t actually think that more people are going to start picking up the American-Statesman to read the soccer box scores, if that’s the plan here.

Cincinnati: Citizens can’t vote on soccer stadium deal, because it’s an “emergency”

A group of West End residents calling themselves the Coalition Against an FC Cincinnati Stadium have begun gathering signatures to put a referendum on the November ballot to decide whether to repeal the city’s deal to spend $64 million in cash and tax breaks on a new MLS stadium for F.C. Cincinnati, assuming F.C. Cincinnati gets invited to join MLS. But in any case, the city of Cincinnati is having none of this whole “popular vote” nonsense, arguing that because the stadium deal was passed as an “emergency” measure, it’s not subject to referendum:

The FC Cincinnati deal was passed as an “emergency” ordinance, and the city’s law department told The Enquirer Friday “if an ordinance is passed with an emergency clause, it is not subject to referendum.”

Emergency clauses allow ordinances to go into effect immediately instead of after 30 days…

“That this ordinance shall be an emergency measure is necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health, safety and general welfare,” the ordinance reads. “The reason for the emergency is to enable the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) to be executed as soon as possible so that the Club can promptly move forward with its attempt to secure a bid for membership as a Major League Soccer franchise, which if granted will result in the construction of the stadium, the creation of job, and the stimulation of economic growth in the area at the earliest possible date.”

That takes a lot of balls, passing legislation as an “emergency” on the grounds that it will create such desperately needed economic growth that waiting even a month would put at stake the general welfare. (I’m going to assume here that “creation of job” is a simple typo and not a Freudian slip.) It’s not clear that there are any limits on the Cincinnati council’s power to determine what is and isn’t an emergency, though; as the Cincinnati Enquirer notes, a similar challenge to a 2013 emergency measure that would have privatized the city’s parking system — man, Cincinnati sure does have a lot of emergencies that involve handing public assets over to for-profit entities, don’t they? — was rejected on appeal, though it never received a final verdict as the parking privatization plan was eventually withdrawn.

In general, the history of after-the-fact attempts to repeal stadium subsidies isn’t a great one, going back to 2002 when the people of St. Louis voted to require that any sports subsidies be required to go up for a public vote, only to have the courts rule that this couldn’t apply to the then just-approved Cardinals stadium subsidy because it had already happened before the 2002 referendum. And then when it was time to approve subsidies for the Blues the St. Louis city council just went and decreed that it wouldn’t require a public vote. But don’t be too judgey of the councilmembers — it was probably an emergency.

Friday roundup: Graceland seeks arena money, Marlins and Cards seek spring-training stadium money, guy in Raleigh seeks MLS stadium money

In no particular order, or as we call it in New York, Mets style:

Louisville NBA expansion owners won’t seek public money, unless maybe they do

A group led by former Kentucky Colonels great Dan Issel (or at least with Dan Issel as its public face) is pushing to get an NBA expansion team for Louisville, and Issel says it won’t require any taxpayer help:

Issel, who is serving as the president of the “NBA 2 Louisville” initiative, made his comments at the Louisville Forum on Wednesday, stating that “he doesn’t envision” a scenario where public financing would play a role in luring a team to Kentucky.

“We’re not looking for a handout,” said Issel, a basketball Hall of Famer who played for the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels and the NBA’s Denver Nuggets after setting the career scoring record at the University of Kentucky.

That’s promising! As you can tell I think from the part of the Louisville Courier Journal article where it quotes me calling it “promising”! Though also not really all that much to get excited over, as:

  1. The University of Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center (I never get tired of typing that) is only eight years old, and is already getting so heavily subsidized by the city of Louisville that it would be hard (though not impossible) for an NBA team to ask for much more in improvements. And I’m pretty sure that no city has actually been asked to chip in on NBA expansion fees, though there’s a first time for everything.
  2. Issel may be promising not to use (or failing to “envision”) public money for acquiring an NBA team, but Kentucky economic development secretary Terry Gill seems to have a better imagination, telling the Courier Journal: “I think the state and local government, we certainly have a role to play but we should not be burdened with too much of that risk.”

Anyway, there’s no sign that the NBA is expanding anytime soon, or that Louisville will be on the short list to land a team once it does. Maybe that’ll give the KFC Yum! Center time to celebrate its 10th birthday, by which time all concerned will probably decide that it’s time for a new one anyway.

Hamilton County may now have to fire sheriffs to afford payments to Bengals required by stadium lease from hell

Hamilton County, Ohio, has reached an agreement with the Cincinnati Bengals allowing the county to defer $2.67 million in payments to the team from this year to next. And if you’re wondering why the county is sending public money to the local pro sports team on a regular basis, you clearly haven’t been following the county’s lease from hell, which not only requires taxpayers to foot the bill for any future stadium improvements needed to keep the team on par with other NFL franchises (including, famously, holographic replay systems once they’re invented), but also has the team paying negative rent, with the county forwarding $2.67 million a year (rising by 5% each year) to the Bengals owners for “operating costs.”

County officials made noise late last year about simply refusing to make the payment and seeing what the Bengals owners would do — they could break the lease and threaten to move, but then they can do that when the lease runs out in 2026 anyway — but instead they seem to have settled on waiting a year to figure out where to come up with this year’s $2.67 million, plus next year’s $2.8 million. Which is going to be a bit of a problem, because the cupboard is pretty much bare:

The cash-strapped county can’t pay the Bengals this year because it faces $28 million budget deficit in 2019. The county is considering raising the sales tax to help keep the overcrowded jail running, pay for sheriff patrols and avoid deep cuts to staffing.

If Hamilton County ends up adding “laying off sheriffs” to “selling public hospitals” on the list of things it’s done to pay for this Bengals stadium over the years, it will truly cement its place as negotiator of the worst lease in the history of professional sports. If it hasn’t already, that is.

D-Backs get official okay to break lease and build new stadium to replace decrepit 20-year-old one

The Maricopa County board of supervisors voted 4-1 yesterday to sign off on the revised agreement with the Arizona Diamondbacks, allowing the team to break their lease five years early in exchange for not suing the county for stadium upgrades:

Under the agreement, if the Diamondbacks found a new location in Maricopa County, the team could leave Chase Field without penalty in 2022, five years earlier than the team’s current contract.

A new stadium built on tribal land, an idea that has been rumored, would have to charge the same taxes as currently charged at Chase Field, according to the agreement.

That last bit initially sounds intriguing — especially since building on tribal land, which is free from property taxes if the reservation owns it, is an option the D-Backs owners are likely to pursue. But Chase Field, being owned by the county, currently pays no property taxes either, so that’s really not much of a promise of anything.

Really, this whole mess seems to be mostly Maricopa County washing its hands of the Diamondbacks, and saying to municipalities and reservation officials, Here, you guys figure this out, just leave us out of it. I mean, just listen to county supervisor Denny Barney:

“We don’t have the ability to put more money in the stadium nor will we build them a new stadium. If they can find something that will take them the next 20, 30, 40 years in Maricopa County outside of Chase Field, great. As long as they’re here — that’s our goal.”

And then finally, the Arizona Republic article on the board hearing includes this memorable tidbit:

One resident spoke publicly in support of the deal at the meeting. Diane Barker urged the Diamondbacks, other downtown businesses and the city of Phoenix to cooperate on improving the stadium.

“I’d like to see these corporate oligarchies put their money in it to make it a great project,” Barker said.

Apparently either Maricopa County resident Diane Barker, or the Arizona Republic copy editors, think that the city of Phoenix is a “corporate oligarchy.” Either way, fear for the future of what’s left of our democracy.