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?

Wisconsin assembly decides it’s too hot to change Bucks arena bill, votes it in without debate

As expected, the Wisconsin state assembly easily passed the Milwaukee Bucks arena bill yesterday, 52-34; as slightly less expected, it didn’t make even insignificant changes to the language, or debate it in the slightest, just straight-up voting on what the state senate passed last week:

“I’m ready to go home,” [Rep. Dean] Knudson said. “We’re here in the summer. It wasn’t going to change anything.”

The arena deal now heads to Gov. Scott Walker, who will certainly sign it, though there’s some calls for him to veto the part of the bill that will direct part of a ticket tax to the state instead of the state-run arena district, which has to be the least interesting amendment possible to the deal unless you work in the arena district budget office. Next up would be Milwaukee’s city council, which is headed by that opposition leader from The Thick of It, and which isn’t expected to throw up any significant roadblocks either. It won’t vote until September, though, so expect lots more public squabbles in the interim over things that don’t really matter and don’t ultimately change anything, because that’s what elected officials do when they want to seem important but don’t want to rock any boats.

Boston doesn’t want your stinking Olympics, should any city?

I’m sure you all caught this already, but Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid imploded spectacularly on Monday, with Mayor Marty Walsh declaring that he wouldn’t let the USOC rush him into signing a guarantee to cover cost overruns, and the USOC promptly declaring that it was withdrawing Boston as its chosen bid candidate.

It was all very sudden, but, as I wrote at Vice Sports yesterday, not entirely unexpected given how poorly the bid was going so far:

All the talk about ballooning costs not only worried Boston residents — who were mostly opposed to hosting the Olympics from the start — but garnered opposition from more than a few local elected officials, the sort who typically fall into line once there’s sports to be chased. Boston city councilor Tito Jackson had already announced he planned to subpoena Boston 2024 for more financial details; Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, meanwhile, hired economists Brad Humphreys and Allen Sanderson — both notedskeptics about the benefits of sports construction — to put together that report on whether the Boston bid numbers made a damn bit of sense. (One hopes we’ll still get to see it, as it would be fun reading, though the governor may end up deciding that would be rubbing salt in Boston 2024’s wounds.) Walsh, in all likelihood, merely put the final nail in the coffin with yesterday’s announcement, though he certainly did it with gusto.

The question now is whether the USOC will put forward a candidate at all for 2024 — the deadline is September 15, which doesn’t leave much time to revive a candidate from the ashes, though they’ve already put in a call to Los Angeles — and whether we’re entering a new era of cities steering clear of the Olympics as a nightmarish money suck, after most of the 2022 Winter Games candidates withdrew for that reason. Writing in the Guardian, Les Carpenter suggests that that would be an excellent idea:

The internet is clogged with slide shows of empty, broken, useless stadiums built in the euphoria of a coming Olympics or World Cup then abandoned soon after, allowed to fill with weeds, rodents and other signs of human escape. Is there a better sign of Greece’s collapse than a pile of useless sports facilities crumbling since the torch went out in the summer of 2004? What use did Athens have for a baseball stadium anyway? It’s crumbling among the weeds just like the field hockey venue, the canoeing center and the training pool green with algae…

After Rome, Paris, Hamburg and maybe Toronto or Doha – all fighting to host the 2024 Games – the list of Olympic hopefuls may quickly dwindle until only bidders will be places like Beijing or Qatar or breakaway Soviet republic. These are places that won’t need to worry about local opposition when writing checks in the name of national pride. The concept of getting one big city to compete against another, with each promising more extravagance is probably an old one.

Of course, that’s still plenty of cities to keep the Olympics in business, though at some point the IOC may have to reduce its lavish demands a tad if it finds no takers. (Or gets tired of holding all its Olympics in China.) After all, the last time cities started bailing on the Olympics, after the financial disaster of the 1976 Montreal games, Los Angeles ended up the host by default, despite a plan that built no sparkly new facilities at all. We’re not there yet by any means, but the 2026 and 2028 bid processes are going to be real interesting.

Wolff says MLB would help pay for Oakland stadium if public unwilling, film of sky falling at 11

The San Jose Mercury News dropped a weird little bombshell into its report on the Oakland A’s trade deadline moves:

A’s owner [Lew Wolff] said Major League Baseball would likely kick in some money to help the A’s get a stadium done at the Oakland site, public money not being available.

Really? That’s not something MLB has done for any other team — aside from allowing teams to deduct stadium costs from income for purposes of revenue-sharing, which has been standard operating procedure for a while now. But if MLB actually gives in and throws additional cash the A’s way, that would be a huge departure for a league that so far has depended on the kindness of taxpayers for new construction.

Newballpark.org, meanwhile, speculates that the easiest way for MLB to funnel some money to Wolff would be to allow the A’s to keep receiving revenue sharing money once they move into a new stadium. (MLB changed its revenue sharing rules a few years back to prohibit teams in big markets from getting checks, but exempted Oakland from this prohibition until a new stadium is built.) It’s certainly something that the league could do, though you have to wonder if MLB commissioner Rob Manfred would have to twist some  arms to get other owners to agree to kick in to dispense with the Coliseum. He doesn’t seem a very arm-twisty guy, but we’ll see.

Wisconsin assembly Democrats will only vote for Bucks deal if it doesn’t get more awful than it is already

The leader of Wisconsin’s state assembly Democrats says they won’t provide the votes necessary to pass a Milwaukee Bucks arena deal without “six or seven amendments” to the plan the state senate approved last week. And what does Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca want to see?

“By and large, one thing that’s important is making sure that 30 years from now when the Bucks come around and want a new arena again that we’re in much better shape for the taxpayers,” he said. “That we’re not in the same boat (as) now where we have to put millions of dollars just to keep the Bradley Center operating because it needs significant maintenance.

“Additionally, we want to make sure that we have the best arrangement for the greater Milwaukee area for workers and for having jobs that are meaningful that I think the Bucks share in.”

Item #2 is clearly some kind of local hiring agreement, which the Bucks’ billionaire owners should be happy enough to agree to, since it’s no skin off their nose who actually builds the thing, so long as it’s mostly the public that’s paying the bills. The first one is a bit more unclear — some kind of clause ensuring that the team is on the hook for maintenance and upgrades on a new arena, maybe? — but is certainly worth trying to address, given that the Bucks’ actual lease on this new arena is still yet to be determined, which could hide an awful lot of subsidies down the road.
And speaking of hidden subsidies, Bruce Murphy of Urban Milwaukee has taken another shot at totaling up all the public subsidies involved in the Bucks deal, and come up with this list:
  • $195 million in Wisconsin Center District costs (including interest), less $45 million in accrued ticket taxes, for a total of $150 million. Murphy doesn’t convert that into present value, but it would come to about $70 million.
  • $55 million from the state (against translating Murphy’s numbers into present value) in arena bonds, plus $20 million to pay off existing Bradley Center debt.
  • $55 million from the county for arena bonds.
  • $48.5 million from the city.
  • $180 million in present value in property tax breaks on the arena.
  • $50 million in savings from federal tax exemption on arena bonds.
  • $17 million in sales tax exemption on construction materials.
  • A bunch of “miscellaneous,” including continuing to exempt the Bucks from the state’s 7.9% corporate income tax, just because.

That’s at least $505.5 million in public subsidies, or just about exactly the total cost of building the arena. (Actually slightly less if you want to be technical, since the federal tax-exempt bonds really reduce the arena cost, so without those it would be a $550 million arena.) You can quibble over the details of the math, but the public — including taxpayers in Milwaukee, in the state of Wisconsin, and even in the rest of the U.S. — would be paying for the vast majority of a new Bucks arena, to replace one that is less than 30 years old. With a deal like that, here’s hoping the state assembly Democrats do actually put a little effort into making sure that it doesn’t get even worse once the lease is decided on.

Atlanta mayor offers Hawks public money to replace 16-year-old arena, but only if it’s “reasonable”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says he’s met with the new owners of the Hawks about their stated desire for a new or renovated arena, and any hopes you may have had that he was going to tell them, “Fine, you want to replace your 16-year-old arena, do it on your own dime,” you can forget about that:

Reed said he’s met once with the team’s new owners and repeated his willingness to consider a deal involving the use public funds. The mayor first indicated that option last year in the wake of controversy involving the team’s previous leadership.

“What I’m willing to do is come to the table with a plan that makes sense and is fair to the people of Atlanta,” Reed said. “I’m not closed to participating in a reasonable plan to make sure that the Hawks remain in the city and that’s what I expressed in our meeting.”

Mayor Reed has a bit of a weird history with sports subsidies, being a prime mover behind giving hundreds of millions of public dollars to the Falcons for their new stadium, then declaring offering the Braves money to keep their from moving to Cobb County to be too rich for his blood, then offering $150 million for the Hawks to extend their lease when they weren’t even threatening to break it. There’s also the little matter that the Hawks couldn’t leave without paying off about $100 million in remaining bonds on the Philips Arena (and couldn’t leave before 2018 without paying an additional $75 million in penalties), but that’s apparently not going to stop Reed from leading with his wallet.

Possible sites for a new arena would be the Atlanta Civic Center (the current filming site for Family Feud, according to Wikipedia), a rehab of the existing Philips Arena (which the Hawks own), or a third, undisclosed site. Total cost: Who knows?

Prediction: This is not going to end well.

 

Minnesota United owner wants $40m worth of St. Paul land for “stadium, office, retail, housing, etc.”

I’m going to forgive Andy Greder of the St. Paul Pioneer Press for implying that I compared St. Paul with Harrison, New Jersey — I brought up Harrison as an example of a place where development is happening as much in spite of a new soccer stadium as because of it, but it’s a very different place than St. Paul — because he also reported this tidbit about Minnesota United‘s stadium demands:

Minnesota United FC would need less than 10 acres to build a stadium in St. Paul for Major League Soccer, but city emails in June show team owner Bill McGuire saying an adjacent 25 acres “now is essential.”

“Concept would involve the stadium, office, retail, housing, hospitality, etc.,” wrote McGuire, who also inquired about the possibility of city or state government offices moving into the proposed spaces.

 

If I’m reading this map correctly, the adjacent 17.75-acre parcel is valued at about $20 million, so for 25 acres we’d be talking about $28 million in land value, or almost $40 million when counting the 10-acre stadium site. McGuire didn’t quite come out and say he wants this land for free, but then, he hasn’t really said anything about financial details of a St. Paul stadium. You know he’s going to ask for something, because he says he can’t make money without subsidies after paying a $100 million expansion team fee. “I spent all my money, can I have some more?” doesn’t work for my 12-year-old, but I guess no one ever taught McGuire that lesson.

Glendale gets Coyotes to agree to two-year lease that’s slightly less sucktastic than old one

That was quick: Just six weeks after the city of Glendale acted to terminate the Arizona Coyotes‘ sweetheart lease, the two sides arrived at a revised deal yesterday. Okay, it’s only a deal for a new lease for the next two years, but given that just last month everybody was all lawsuits and vitriol, that’s still impressive.

The old deal, to recap, involved Glendale paying the Coyotes owners $15 million a year for each of the next 15 years, for the privilege of having the NHL team bless the city’s publicly built arena with its presence. (And operate the arena, something that the Coyotes owners insist is worth a ton of money, though others disagree.) In exchange, the city was getting back about $6.7 million a year in ticket taxes, parking revenues, rent, and other sundries, leaving it about $8 million a year in the hole. And while the city couldn’t back out (until it found a loophole that let it do so), the team could break the lease and leave (or renegotiate) at any point.

The new deal breaks down like this:

  • Instead of $15 million a year, Glendale pays the Coyotes owners only $6.5 million a year.
  • The Coyotes owners keep all ticket surcharges and parking fees, which the Globe and Mail says will be worth about $6 million a year, though I had it at more like $5.4 million.
  • The new lease only lasts until summer of 2017, after which everyone has to figure this out all over again.

If you can do simple math — which isn’t me this morning after staying out late at this, but I’m going to give it a shot anyway — Glendale just saved about $5 million over the next two years, plus got out of another 11 years of commitment to those $15 million a year payments. So that’s something!

On the other hand, this mostly just kicks the can down the road to 2017, which has some advantages for Coyotes owner Anthony LeBlanc: The NHL expansion situation should be resolved by then, and there should be more clarity on whether a new arena is likely in Seattle, allowing LeBlanc to level a more fleshed-out move threat then if he wants. Also, Glendale has mayoral and council elections in 2016, so LeBlanc can always hold out hope of getting more amenable negotiating partners into City Hall by then.

On the other other hand, LeBlanc could have used his out clause to do that anyway, so at least current mayor Jerry Weiers and the current council (which is supposed to vote on the new plan this morning) got something out of breaking the lease. And the Coyotes will continue to have the league’s most entertaining ownership and arena saga for the foreseeable future, which is good, because for sure nobody wants to watch them do whatever they claim is playing hockey.

Wisconsin pol says garnish wages of poor debtors to fund Bucks arena, because hell with those people

So remember how the state of Wisconsin proposed to help fund a Milwaukee Bucks arena by having the state go after $4 million a year in uncollected Milwaukee County tax debts, then it turned out this mostly meant shaking down poor people for money, then some senate Democrats complained that this would make them look bad, so the senate decided to leave it up to the county where to come up with the money? Well, now the arena bill has moved to the assembly, where at least one member thinks that garnishing the wages of the poor isn’t such a bad idea after all:

Republican Joe Sanfelippo (R-West Allis) says the remaining options are no better.

“It ties their hands and you’re left with two options: you either cut services or you raise property taxes countywide,” said Sanfelippo.

Sanfelippo says he will ask his party’s leaders to put the debt collection plan back into the bill.

“What we’re talking about primarily are people who willfully, knowingly, and purposefully just won’t pay their bills because they know they can get away with it,” said Sanfelippo.

Sanfelippo isn’t wrong that if you demand $4 million in county money for the Bucks, then the county needs to come up with $4 million somehow — though it’s worth noting that cracking down on debt collection would still be one option. (Not necessarily an option that would work, mind you, but an option.) And putting the debt collection plan back in the bill would likely cost Democratic votes, if not in the assembly then back in the senate, which would still need to sign off on a revised bill. So it’s probably a fair bet that the final plan will remain “punt it to the county with a $4 million a year invoice, let them figure it out,” but we’ll know more once the assembly votes next Tuesday.

Beckham tells Miami mayor he’s ready to talk about evicting people to make way for MLS stadium

David Beckham inched closer to building an MLS stadium next to Marlins Park yesterday, he and his co-owner sending a letter to Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado yesterday stating definitively that they wanted to “express our formal interest” in the site:

We have done a considerable amount of work to understand the requirements of the Site and its potential as the home of our Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise. While there is still work to be done, including completing the land assembly, we firmly believe that we can build a world-class stadium at the Site.

If that doesn’t exactly sound like a commitment, it’s as much as you’re going to get from a group of sports owners. (Or in this case, conditional expansion sports team would-be owners.) Essentially, Beckham & Co. are saying “Let’s talk about this, MLS says it’ll do,” while leaving plenty of room to back away if things go wrong.

But what could go wrong? They have the site picked out, so all they need to do is figure out funding details and what to do about the buildings currently occupying the — whuh-oh:

[Adelfa] Lopez at 70 years old will likely be forced to move, after spending almost four decades in her home next to the former Orange Bowl site.

“For us it’s an inconvenience. We have to look for a house that accommodates the animals, we have dogs and cats,” she said. “Whatever it is, it is, we don’t have nothing to say about it.”

Okay, so “completing the land assembly” may be more contentious than it at first sounded. As always, you want to keep your eye on these things well after the mayor and the team owner agree on what to sit down and talk about, since that’s when all the important stuff gets worked out. Miami news outlets, you’re with me on this, right?