This may be the stupidest paragraph ever written about a sports stadium finance plan

Pawtucket Red Sox president James Skeffington went on local TV today to stump for his $60-million-plus-free-riverfront-property stadium plan, and according to the TV station’s report, he said this:

Skeffington and his partners promise to build it at no cost to taxpayers, unlike most sports stadiums. But they are asking in return a $4 million a year contribution from taxpayers that Skeffington said would be offset by more than $2 million in taxes on economic activity around the field.

Good job, NBC 10 in Rhode Island, you’ve just broken math.

Milwaukee official says arena subsidies are stupid, proposes sales tax hike to pay for one

Sure, every politician in Wisconsin is coming up with a way to use public funds to help pay off a new Milwaukee Bucks arena, but what do those other people in Wisconsin think? You know, the ones who voted them into office?

Seventy-nine percent of registered voters oppose a plan being discussed by Republican legislative leaders for the state to cover part of the $250 million in public funding the Milwaukee Bucks owners say they need to complete funding of the estimated $500 million project, [a Marquette Law School] poll found.

The poll only asked about Gov. Scott Walker’s plan for the state to borrow $150 million for an arena, not other iterations of public funding; still, that’s a pretty whopping majority, and the margin wasn’t much smaller (67-29%) when the poll looked at only residents of Milwaukee itself. And you know who else thinks giving public money to sports teams for new buildings is a lousy idea? Milwaukee alderman Bob Bauman, that’s who:

No one has answered the question: why are we providing any public money in the first place? Explain to us again why there’s a need for any public financing for a private basketball franchise. Why are we offering any money? Why is that even on the table?

The answer may well be, well, we’re being extorted. Then we at least know that, and the answer is these guys are going to get public financing because they can. They can leverage one city against another and basically extort the money. But so far, it’s just assumed that a private professional sports franchise requires a public subsidy. Why is that so?…

It is a money-losing investment, from the public standpoint.

Bauman then followed this up by — just minutes later — proposing to hike sales taxes by 1% in Milwaukee County to fund a new Bucks arena. And new parks. And mass transit. And museums. And cut property taxes. Raising sales taxes by that much would funnel a ton of money from Wisconsin shoppers to the county government ($125 million a year, by Bauman’s calculations), so the county could use it to pay for all kinds of stuff, only some of which are extortion plots that voters overwhelmingly hate.

Now, it’s entirely possible that Bauman isn’t entirely serious about this, and that he’s just floating his sales tax plan either 1) to tweak state officials for refusing to consider a tax hike as a way to pay for public projects or 2) to try to build support for funding other things, like public transportation, that he actually likes. Still, it’s not every day that a U.S. elected official gets up to proclaim that sports stadiums are a ripoff and blackmail, and we should immediately raise sales taxes to keep team owners happy — in a state that once recalled a state senator for approving a sales tax hike that was only one-tenth the size for a Brewers stadium. Racino time is weird, indeed.

Minneapolis mayor to MLS team owner: You are too asking for a subsidy, quit pretending!

No sooner was I reading this column by Minneapolis Star Tribune online sports editor Michael Rand arguing that “even if you don’t like soccer, rich people or stadiums, it’s hard for a reasonable person to find much wrong with” the plan to give Minnesota United almost $50 million in tax breaks for a new soccer stadium, when this came across the digital transom:

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges doubled down Wednesday on her rejection of a plan to provide tax breaks for a new professional soccer stadium, calling the request from the team’s owner unprecedented and “extraordinary.”…

Hodges dismissed McGuire’s suggestion that the plan includes “no public subsidy whatsoever,” and said she and other city leaders have not been provided with enough information to assess the full cost of the project to taxpayers.

“If people want to debate the merits of this public subsidy, let’s do that,” she said. “But we’ve got to start with the accurate information that what they’re asking for is a public subsidy.”

That seems … pretty reasonable, actually! Hodges was elected mayor in 2013 partly on her opposition to the $1.1 billion in taxpayer costs for the spendy Vikings stadium plan, and clearly is intent on joining her colleagues in Anaheim and Calgary on the short list of mayors who actually approach stadium subsidy requests by asking whether they’re a good deal for taxpayers, and not just whether they can find enough money to shovel at team owners without making the wrong taxpayers too mad. The Minneapolis city council is split on whether to go along with her — Hodges could veto council approval, and the council could in turn override her veto with the vote of nine of its 13 members — so it’s not like the mayor is in total control of the situation, but it’s a nice starting point for negotiations, anyway.

Meanwhile, city councilmember Andrew Johnson raises the interesting question of whether tax breaks worth more than $10 million (which this would certainly be) would trigger the requirement for a city referendum on the project, as approved by voters back in 1997 during the Twins stadium battles. The state legislature could overturn that — as it did for both the Twins and the Vikings — but that would add another contentious step to the approval process. I bet I know what Minnesota United owner Bill McGuire is thinking about now: Man, this would all be so much easier if our system of tax expenditures were controlled by online sports editors.

Kevin Johnson wants to build a Sacramento soccer stadium for nonexistent team at unknown price

His city may have been rejected for now for an MLS expansion franchise, but Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson isn’t going to let that stop him from building a new soccer stadium regardless. KJ announced yesterday that he was launching “Operation Turkey,” a plan to — sorry, what? Oh, “Operation Turnkey.” Well, that does sound better, but you decide for yourself which one is more apropos:

One of the toughest tasks on the mayor’s list might be obtaining control of the proposed stadium site, located on the eastern end of the long-vacant downtown railyards…

City officials said the sticking point involves determining who will be responsible if additional toxic pollution is discovered in the ground…

Johnson appeared Wednesday to have softened his opposition and said he imagined the stadium as a public-private partnership. He pointed out the state has already invested million for roads and bridges in the railyards, but declined to say if would support a subsidy for the project.

Cost of said stadium? Unknown! Who’ll pay for it and how? Also unknown! When Sacramento might actually get an MLS team to play in it? You guessed it! Johnson says he hopes to have all this worked out by the end of this year, which bwahahahahaha, damn, he’s a funny guy.

PawSox owner wants taxpayers to fund three-quarters of new stadium, calls this a great deal

The owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox have revealed the subsidies they’re seeking for their proposed new stadium in Providence, and it’s a whole hell of a lot more than the free city land they’ve been expected to ask for:

The team is asking state lawmakers to approve a guaranteed 30-year state lease of the new stadium that would commit taxpayers to pay about $5 million a year in rent, which would come out to $150 million over the life of the lease. The team would then sublease the stadium back from the state for $1 million a year, putting the net cost to taxpayers at $4 million annually, or $120 million over the life of the lease.

That’s a lot of numbers there, but just focus on that last one: Team owner Jim Skeffington wants the state of Rhode Island to pay him $4 million a year to play in his own stadium. That’d leave the public paying almost three-quarters of the $85 million construction cost, plus providing city land for $1 a year.

How on earth would this be a good idea?

The economic-impact study commissioned by the team from the consulting firm Brailsford & Dunlavey estimated games played in the new park will generate $12.3 million in direct spending and about $2 million a year in additional state tax revenue, which Skeffington said would further reduce the out-of-pocket cost of the park to taxpayers to about $2 million a year.

Woohoo! According to the team’s own economic projections, taxpayers would only take a $2 million a year bath on the stadium! That’s … not exactly a strong selling point, Jim, what else you got?

“In our present case, the new owners are taking all the risk of designing and completing the construction of a ballpark and are offering to pay 100% of the costs with our private funds,” he said. “We are using the lease/sublease arrangement as a vehicle to obtain financial support to help us keep the team in the state.”

So there you have it: The owners of the Boston Red Sox‘ top minor-league affiliate (who include some owners of the Red Sox themselves) are demanding that Rhode Island taxpayers foot the lion’s share of a new stadium, or else they’re going to move the team … somewhere. Somewhere that would have to be in New England, really, since the Sox want to keep their top prospects close by and stay near the team’s fan base, and no other suitors have emerged. But you don’t want to risk that, Rhode Island, so time to cough up $60 million (present value) worth of annual subsidies, plus free land, in order to get the team to move from one part of your state to another, because that’s sure to be a big economic boon!

All for a team that just sold for only $20 million, a fraction of the asking price for public subsidies for the stadium. This really couldn’t be a better time for local officials to try the eminent domain gambit.

Anyway, enjoy your blackmail threat, Rhode Islanders. Here’s some vaportecture porn to go with it. Not pictured: the redevelopment that was supposed to go on the site when the federal government spent $610 million moving a highway to clear it.

Braves VP on parking at new stadium: I hear bicycles are all the rage

Hey, Atlanta Braves and Cobb County, how’s that transportation plan that you’ve been punting on for a year and a half coming along?

The plan for where people can park near the stadium, spread out over 40 acres of property the Braves have purchased around the stadium, will be revealed in the last quarter of 2015 or the first quarter of 2016, he said.

Alrighty then. Do you have any ideas at all for how to get people to games in a spot next to a highway intersection without enough off-ramps in the middle of a not-all-that-developed suburb?

Mike Plant, Braves executive vice president of operations, said he encourages business owners and residents to “think outside of the box” and look into new transportation methods to the stadium. For instance, he said, he hopes local community improvement districts will consider extending their biking trails toward the stadium.

Anyone else have any other ideas?

Kim Perez, president of the Kennesaw Business Association, said at a meeting of the organization Tuesday she knows of many business owners in Cobb who are working on a smaller scale to transport employees or customers to the 81 games each year.

“Restaurants and other businesses are thinking about how they can get people to the stadium, and that’s a really neat thing,” Perez said.

Bicycles and crowdsourcing. This really is going to be a 21st-century stadium!

NFL VP delivers a master class in San Diego on shaking down cities for stadium cash

Hey, Rob Manfred, you want some pointers in how to shake down cities for stadium deals? You might want to talk to NFL VP Eric Grubman, because he has this stuff down:

“It’s obvious that no proposal has gained the support and enthusiasm of the Chargers — that’s obvious,” Grubman said in [a] press conference with reporters after the meeting [of the San Diego mayor’s citizens’ stadium advisory group]. “So you don’t need me to tell you that.”…

“If you start out with the key parties that have to support these things on different pages, it’s certainly a recipe for delay,” Grubman said. “It’s probably a recipe for failure.”…

“At this point of time, I think it’s more likely that we would move it up than leave it the same or delay it, unless something happens to knock one or more of the projects off of its pace,” he said. … “To wait until the end of next year to get the vote it seems to me to be very risky.”

Vague threats about “failure” and “risky” behavior, a message that no deal is a deal until the local team owners have been made happy, the general tone of a scolding dad — now that’s why they pay commissioners, and their henchmen, the big bucks. Not that this solves any of the problems that San Diego is having in finding a way to fund a new Chargers stadium that makes the team owners happy (key to this being “somebody who is not us paying for a large chunk of it”), but it turns up the perceived heat on city officials, and that’s all that league officials are expected to do, really.

Minnesota United’s “privately financed” stadium could cost public almost $50m in tax subsidies

Minnesota United issued a press release about their new soccer stadium plans yesterday afternoon, and check it out:

In the proposal, the ownership group has committed to privately finance the construction of an outdoor stadium – with natural grass – that is accessible to all people and communities. The Minnesota United Major League Soccer franchise will be the first professional team in Minnesota to construct their stadium without a direct public subsidy.

Well, that is big news. It’s previously been assumed that United owner Bill McGuire would demand public money for his project, mostly because he kept being coy about it. But if he’s really going to fund it all himself, then — sorry, what’s that you say, St. Paul Pioneer Press?

The club asked lawmakers for a sales-tax exemption related to construction costs for materials and supplies, a property-tax exemption or relief, and limits on future taxes levied on the stadium and its operations.

Oh, so that’s what McGuire meant by no “direct” public subsidy. Tricky things, those press releases.

So how much are United’s owners actually asking for from the public? The sales-tax break, which is a common subsidy given to big construction projects, is estimated to be worth about $3 million. The value of the Vikings‘ full property tax exemption has been estimated at $25 million a year, so given that the United stadium would cost about 12% as much to build2, let’s guesstimate $3 million a year, or $45 million in present value.

That leaves us with limits on future stadium taxes — or as United’s own stadium memo actually puts it, “limits on future local taxes levied on the facility and operations that do not currently exist.” That could mean a couple of things: either a promise not to add new taxes (ticket taxes, say) that would hit the MLS team in the pocketbook; or a TIF to kick back an increased taxes resulting from stadium “operations that do not currently exist.” (Damn you, misplaced modifiers.) The former wouldn’t be an additional public cost, though it would mean giving up possible future revenue; the latter could mean just about anything, depending on what local taxes they mean — property taxes would already be waived, but “limits” on sales taxes could amount to a significant chunk of change.

So, we’re looking at $48 million in tax breaks that McGuire and company are asking for, at minimum, for a $120 million stadium. The United owners have certainly identified the low-hanging fruit of the subsidy world — construction sales tax breaks and property tax exemptions are indeed very common, and tough for either legislators or the public to fully understand — but that doesn’t make them any less of a taxpayer cost than if the $48 million were delivered via suitcases full of twenties. So far top public officials’ responses have been cautiously positive about the team not asking for direct cash, but cautiously pessimistic about getting any tax breaks through the legislature in the month and change left in this session, and McGuire said he wants. Expect this to get very heated very quickly, with high odds of the can eventually being kicked down the road to 2016.

Idiotic lease clause could force Houston to spend $50m on upgrading Texans stadium for Super Bowl

To the list of crazy things that the NFL demands in order to allow cities the honor of hosting the Super Bowl (free billboards, free police officers, free bowling alleys), add spending $50 million to make the luxury suites more luxurious at your 13-year-old stadium. That’s what Houston was told for its plans to host the 2017 Super Bowl:

Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s senior vice president of events, said Monday that upgrading the stadium’s WiFi is something the bid committee has agreed to do. In terms of sprucing up the seating, he said he noted on a recent visit that NRG “is in a very good place at this stage in its stadium life, but there are opportunities to upgrade that are common across Super Bowl stadiums as they prepare and continue to make sure they are state-of-the-art.”

So far, no Houston government officials have stepped up to offer $50 million to the cause — in fact, Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack swore earlier this week that “I’m not about to vote to spend a single dollar of county money updating these luxury suites” — and it doesn’t appear that the Super Bowl bid committee actually committed to it as a condition of hosting the big game. So the NFL seemingly doesn’t have a leg to stand on, unless there’s something in the Texans‘ stadium lease:

A clause in that lease agreement says the county must maintain the facility in “first class” condition and “a manner comparable to other stadiums.”

Noooooooooooo! Don’t you people ever learn?

Glendale proposes $46m garage for Coyotes, Cardinals, because they already got them everything else

Believe it or not, the Arizona Coyotes have found yet another way to get more subsidies out of Glendale: The city council will vote in June on whether to approve a $46 million parking garage to serve the Coyotes, the Arizona Cardinals, and the local mall. The garage bonds would be paid off by Glendale’s 235,000 residents, which on the face of it is only $20 $200 [EDIT: sorry, early-morning math] apiece (plus interest), but coming on top of a $220 million arena and $275 million in operating subsidies for the NHL team, it’s adding insult to injury, if nothing else.

To be precise, the parking garage would actually still be part of the original terrible deals with the Cardinals and Coyotes, which requires the city to provide 6,000 parking spaces for the football stadium and 5,500 for the hockey arena. (The new parking deck would hold 4,000.) And it would save the city a few hundred thousand dollars a year that it’s been spending on renting spaces to meet that obligation.

Still, it’s another expense that hasn’t previously been accounted for in the subsidy totals, so update your scorecards appropriately. And shake your head sadly for the poor citizens of Glendale, who are paying a record price for the presence of a hockey team that hardly any of them are actually interested in going to watch.