Orioles consider asking for public money to upgrade Camden Yards, apocalypse threat level raised to “nigh”

So four years and change ago, I wrote this:

If current trends are going to continue, circa-1990 stadiums like SkyDome/Rogers Centre, New Comiskey Park/U.S. Cellular Field, and even Camden Yards would have to be replaced by the end of this decade. Okay, probably not Camden Yards — though I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Baltimore Orioles ask for “improvements.” But it’s going to be very interesting to see whether teams start demanding new stadiums, and if so how they justify them, as the first wave of “retro” parks start going out of warranty.

As it turns out, whoever had 2015 in the “When will the Orioles owners ask for upgrades to Camden Yards?” pool, you’re a winner!

The Baltimore Orioles are considering updates to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the 23-year-old stadium still celebrated for its red-brick hominess and retro charm…

The latest stadiums incorporate design elements — such as open concourses commanding views of the game — that Camden Yards lacks. Many also include stadium clubs for VIPs that offer prime, low-level field views.

Now, this isn’t totally crazy, depending on what the Orioles want to do with the stadium (and even team officials say they’re not sure yet). Doing some minor improvements a couple of decades down the road certainly makes a lot more sense than tearing a stadium down and building a whole new one, and shouldn’t be a problem so long as the public isn’t expected to—

The state holds a capital expenditure account that might be used. And since there is some retired debt on Camden Yards, new bonds could be issued to finance improvements.

Guh? I’d ask on what planet it would make sense for the state to finance upgrades that will benefit solely the Orioles, but the Baltimore Sun website never answers when I shout at my computer screen.

The one possible silver lining is that the state might ask the Orioles owners to extend their lease beyond 2021 in exchange — “Typically, when you see a very large amount of capital expenditure, it comes with a new lease negotiation,” Maryland Stadium Authority Michael Frenz told the Sun — though given that they have a decent sized market and a popular stadium and are making money hand over fist, it’s not like they could reasonably threaten to leave with or without a lease. Maybe the MSA will offer to float some bonds for stadium construction in exchange for the Orioles offsetting the bond costs by paying more in rent — ha ha, we all know that’s not likely to happen. But we can dream, can’t we?

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8 comments on “Orioles consider asking for public money to upgrade Camden Yards, apocalypse threat level raised to “nigh”

  1. Hi Neil,

    Your post makes me feel good that I sent the email below to John Angelos – COO of the Orioles – on 4/28/2015 during the Baltimore riots. Not surprisingly, I have not heard back from John.
    From: Scott Myers
    To: Orioles Customer Service
    Sent: Tuesday, April 28, 2015 12:43 PM
    Subject: Orioles COO John Angelos offers eye-opening perspective on Baltimore protests – PLEASE FORWARD TO JOHN ANGELOS

    Hi John,

    Since I was unable to obtain your email address, I am hopeful that this message will get forwarded to you by ‘Orioles Customer Service’.

    BTW, do you have a direct email address that is available to the public?

    I read your very articulate message (http://ftw.usatoday.com/2015/04/orioles-john-angelos-baltimore-protests-mlb) that you posted on twitter, shown below for convenient reference.

    You mention that the ‘American political elite’ are a significant part of the problem. Does that mean just government folks, or are some private enterprise folks included in this category as well?

    It should be noted, that Baltimore and Maryland taxpayers have paid hundreds of millions of dollars for Oriole Park at Camden Yards (96% of total cost) as well as for the Ravens stadium – M&T Bank Field (87% of total cost). Just think, if that money had gone instead to ‘hand up’ programs in Baltimore instead of making your family and Stephen Biscotti billionaires, how much good could have been done – maybe enough good to have avoided the ugly riot situation currently going on in the city. How many young citizens in Baltimore could have benefited from college scholarships? How many working parents could have benefited from having more affordable after school care programs? How many working parents could have purchased a car so that they could travel to better jobs? How many citizens could have gotten better health care?

    So, my take away from your statement below, unless you are a total hypocrite, is that your family will never ask the Baltimore and Maryland taxpayers for another dime to support your current ballpark or any future ballpark, and that you will never threaten to leave Baltimore because of lack of public financing. Can I count on you for that? If so, we only have about another 112 professional sports franchise owners to join with you so that the $2 billion per year transfer of wealth from taxpayers to billionaires will come to an end.

    Thanks for listening
    John Angelos statement:
    Brett, speaking only for myself, I agree with your point that the principle of peaceful, non-violent protest and the observance of the rule of law is of utmost importance in any society. MLK, Gandhi, Mandela and all great opposition leaders throughout history have always preached this precept. Further, it is critical that in any democracy, investigation must be completed and due process must be honored before any government or police members are judged responsible.
    That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.
    The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importances of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards. We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.

  2. Nice stadium. Better than Coors Field where I live. I hate the sightlines at Coors. You end up with a backache by the end of the game, having to twist to see the field.

    Coors was built waaaaaaaaaay back in 1995, and it is already the second-oldest stadium in the National League. Behind only Wrigley and Dodger Stadium.

  3. Backache-inducing seats should be easy enough to fix — just install seats angled from the rows like newer stadiums have. (Pirates and Mets come to mind.)

  4. I disagree re: Coors. Tear it all down. Rebuild exactly the same way, but with seats rotated 15 degrees.

  5. I don’t know why baseball teams settle renovations when the tax payers are willing to pay for a new stadium every 20 years. Build a second Coors Field, with better sight lines and seats that rotate, in south Denver or Colorado Springs. Play 40- games a year there. Build a second Camden Yards in the suburbs, like the Braves are doing. Play week days in the burbs, weekends in the city. 20 years later they can replace the older of their 2 stadiums.

  6. Sadly, I know the Blue Jays won’t be far away from joining in to play catch-up with the Orioles demands. According to Rogers earlier this year (who owns the Blue Jays and SkyDome/Roger Centre), the stadium will need between $200- to $400-million to update it in the coming years. At some point they’re likely going to ask for a new stadium or have the repairs fully covered since, you know, playing in a place that’s 25 years old is just ludicrous! And after all, Rogers only makes $10-billion a year.

  7. Greg: There have been rumblings of that already as I’m sure you know. The problem Rogers has is that they own the building lock stock and (occasionally) rotating roof panels (as you noted). As I recall, the gov’t sold it’s $700m “investment” to a specially formed company called SportCo for $125m, who then dumped it to Rogers for $25m a year or two later. That makes upgrades Rogers’ problem, not the general public’s.

    I’m not saying they won’t ask for (or maybe get) some form of subsidy, but when you’ve kicked out the only (sort of) paying tenant you have and own the building in which your professional sports team plays in yourself, it’s a lot harder to justify tax dollars going to spruce up your building.

    One of the reasons team owners want to the buildings to remain publicly owned is precisely that… the public tends to end up on the hook for upgrades, repairs and other operating costs almost by default, and the venues tend to be tax exempt.

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