NYC Mayor de Blasio: Sure, wealthy sports owners should pay their taxes, I guess

As I mentioned in my Gothamist article last week, a group of New York city councilmembers have called on Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to start making the city’s sports teams pay property taxes on their stadiums and arenas, which none of them currently do. (The Yankees and Mets and Brooklyn Nets all pay “payments in lieu of taxes” that are really their own construction debt payments, funneled through the city as a tax dodge; the Knicks and Rangers don’t pay taxes on Madison Square Garden because somebody accidentally gave them an eternal tax break in 1982 and no one can be bothered to repeal it.) And the campaign got a boost yesterday when de Blasio sorta kinda endorsed its call for team owners to pay their fair tax share:

De Blasio, a Democrat, was asked at his daily press briefing to respond to a letter last month from nine lawmakers on the New York City Council who called for the Garden, Yankee Stadium, the Barclays Center and Citi Field to pay property taxes. The mayor said he hasn’t seen the letter and was unfamiliar with the legal specifics, but supported the concept of requiring New York’s local teams to increase their contributions.

“Let’s be clear – sports franchises have gained incredible value over the years,” de Blasio said. “They clearly have the resources. I think the history in this city and pretty much all over the country was stadium deals were not good deals for the public, by and large. Some of the more recent ones have been better, but mostly they haven’t been that good. Everything should be reevaluated especially at a point when the city is going to need resources for our recovery.”

That phrasing puts the “blah” in de Blasio, but “everything should be reevaluated” is fightin’ words compared to the usual approach to sports tax breaks, which is for elected officials to shrug their shoulders and say whatchagonnado? And the mayor also responded to a call by 161st Street Business Improvement Director Cary Goodman that the Yankees be forced to pay property taxes just as other businesses in the neighborhood do:

“We all hope and pray that next year baseball will resume in person at some point in the year and the fans will come back and the businesses will thrive, but of course the Yankees should help them through and I assure you they have the money.”

Okay, so none of this is exactly laying down the law, and de Blasio has previously called for Madison Square Garden to pay taxes before shrugging his shoulders and saying whatchagonnado? But it’s still more than we’ve seen before, and is certain to encourage both the councilmembers and Goodman and his South Bronx business owners. The latter has a rally outside Yankee Stadium coming up this Thursday at noon, plus a Change.org petition, and with that and a long enough lever you never know what can happen.

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4 comments on “NYC Mayor de Blasio: Sure, wealthy sports owners should pay their taxes, I guess

  1. Which deals do you think de Blasio is referencing when he says “Some of the more recent ones have been better”? Anything specific to New York?

    At least he sounds like he has some familiarity with the history of public financing in this domain.

  2. PILOT agreements are mentioned, but this completely ignores than only MSG is owned by a private entity. Mets Stadium, Yankee Stadium, and Nets (and formerly Islanders) Stadium are all owned by NYCIDA. Each sits on land that is leased from the city. The city and its agencies do not pay taxes. I highly doubt that they can add taxes to the lease agreements that run for decades to come.

    This is made even more complicated by the actual agreements and use of subsidiaries that entered into the leases.

    Maybe that is the point. They know nothing can be done, but they at least get points for effort.

    1. They’re owned by IDA (actually by the Parks Department, in the case of the Yankees and Mets stadiums) because that’s how the city and the teams arranged it in order for them to be tax-free. They city could have required the teams to pay PILOTs — or even taxes, on the precedent of Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, which is similarly city-owned but taxable because it’s fully controlled by a private entity — but has chosen not to.

  3. But…. if the Knicks have to pay taxes to the city… that could impact their ability to sign free agents and adversely affect their dominance in the field of professional basketball… right?

    I mean, won’t anyone look at the big picture here?

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