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.

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.

Boston paper asks an economist about stadium economics, risks enlightening readers

I am quick to attack sports journalists who do a lousy job explaining stadium economics, so let me just say that the Boston papers are doing a bang-up job so far this year: First they tore through the city’s rhetoric about a “no public money” Olympic bid to reveal all the likely hidden costs, and now the Herald has responded to Pawtucket Red Sox owner James Skeffington’s claims that a new stadium in downtown Providence would be an economic boon by asking an actual economist. Who says exactly what you’d expect him to say, because it’s what damn near every economist who’s looked into the matter has concluded:

When we look at cities that have built new stadiums, we’re just not seeing that bump in economic activity,” [Holy Cross economics professor Victor] Matheson said. “In most cases, you’re just shifting around an entertainment dollar. You’re not seeing new dollars, and that’s especially true with minor league sports.”

Okay, citing one local economist (and a study by the Cato Institute) isn’t the most exhaustive report the Herald could have done, but cut them some slack, they’re a tabloid. At least they have reporters who call around for second opinions rather than just reprinting whatever the local stadium advocate says, like some people I could mention.

Red Sox investors buy Pawtucket team, say it’s really more of a Providence idea

A bunch of minority owners of the Boston Red Sox are buying the team’s top farm club, the Pawtucket Red Sox, and their first order of business is moving them out of Pawtucket and into a new stadium in Providence:

Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium will be home to the Triple A franchise for only a couple of more years, [Providence lawyer James] Skeffington said during an exclusive interview with The Journal.

“Pawtucket doesn’t have the infrastructure,” Skeffington said. “We can’t recreate what Providence has.”

The “target” for a new stadium, said Skeffington, is a piece of freed-up I-195 land he can see from his law firm’s office atop One Financial Plaza downtown.

Beyond saying that his group has a $60 million price tag in mind for the stadium, Skeffington didn’t say how it would be paid for, whether he’d be seeking public subsidies, or whether he’d pay rent on the public land that it would use, if the I-195 site is approved. This is kind of a big deal, given that the state of Rhode Island and the federal government just spent $610 million to move I-195 and free up 39 acres of land downtown, 20 acres of which was supposed to be sold for redevelopment — a baseball stadium could take up close to half of that acreage, so if the PawSox want access to the property without paying for it, that could amount to a huge opportunity cost.

It would also mean the likely end for McCoy Stadium, the team’s current 73-year-old home, which is not only one of the few surviving ballparks from the first half of the 20th century, but has a long and storied history, including being the site of the longest pro baseball game ever. Not that that in itself is a reason to retain it, and not that it’s necessarily going anywhere soon, given that all the team’s new owners have going so far are vague plans for a new stadium. Still, I’m going to try to swing by there this summer, just in case. If nothing else, maybe I’ll find out what “infrastructure” Skeffington thinks is missing from a stadium that drew a respectable 515,000 fans last year.

Hartford council okays $56m in Double-A stadium subsidies, state-of-the-art clause could add more

I’m in superbrief mode this morning, but in, um, superbrief: The Hartford city council voted as expected last night to approve about $56 million in subsidies (give or take a mess of free land) for a stadium for the double-A baseball New Britain Rock Cats.

“It is exactly a road map to how we move forward as a city,” council President Shawn Wooden said at the meeting Tuesday. “There is no reward, there is no benefit, without some level of risk. … It’s appropriately risky for the return.”

Risky it certainly is: The initial plan contains no provisions for what happens if the private part of the $350 million project doesn’t get built, which is kind of important given that that’s where all the economic benefits are supposed to come from. Also, there’s apparently a state-of-the-art clause included, of sorts: The city of Hartford needs to pay for any future stadium improvements to keep the building on par with new Double-A venues in Birmingham and Tulsa. That’s better than the El Paso state-of-the-art clause that it looks like Hartford lifted the language from — El Paso just says it must be kept on par with other “first-class” facilities, which opens things up to all kinds of shenanigans — but still means Hartford’s costs here will only go up.

And now, over to you, city planning and zoning commission. I’ll skip the obvious joke.

Hartford council votes tonight on $56m for stadium in exchange for promised new buildings, because that always works

Tonight is the Hartford city council vote on the New Britain Rock Cats stadium-and-other-crap project, which means it’s time for frequently asked questions!

How much will this cost Hartford taxpayers? Starting with a hard one, eh? The Rock Cats owners would actually be building the stadium, but then paying for it by leasing it to the city for $4.67 million a year, and then paying the city back $500,000 a year in rent. Plus the developers would be getting a bunch of land for free. Public estimates have generally put this at $60 million in cash value, though without attempting to factor in how much the free land is worth.

Is that definitely it? Yes, now that the council has decided to establish a hard cap on construction costs of $56 million. Except that the council has also ruled that the stadium will have to be built with union labor, which the developer insists will add 10% to the cost. That seems high (stadiums are pretty materials-intensive, not labor-intensive), but regardless, it does raise the question of who will pay for cost overruns if they can’t be made up for by using cheaper bathroom tile, which honest to god is what the developer suggested for saving money.

What does Hartford get in return?More than 1,000 jobs“! Not from the stadium, of course, but from the other crap, including a brewery, office towers, residential buildings, and a space elevator. (Possibly not the space elevator.) If all of that gets built, which will totally definitely happen, because development around a sports venue never just stalls completely without warning. Everyone involved seems to agree that the council needs to put in some kind of contractual requirement that all the bits that the city wants will actually get built — ideally, by cutting off public stadium payments if they’re not — but the council doesn’t seem to be planning on actually doing that, not tonight, anyway.

If the council approves this, is it definitely happening? The city planning and zoning commission, which already voted against this project once for going against the city’s downtown development plans, has to sign off on a special zoning permit for it, and could still say no. What they’ll do is anyone’s guess — anyone’s, I guess, aside from the developers’ lobbyists who are no doubt following the commission members around Hartford even as I type this.

Hartford council to vote Tuesday on $60m Rock Cats stadium subsidy

The Hartford city council will vote on Tuesday night on the downtown development project that includes a $60 million subsidy for a New Britain Rock Cats minor-league baseball stadium, and council president Shawn Wooden has indicated that he has the votes for it to pass. (CAUTION: Don’t click on that link if you are sensitive to terrible, terrible web design.) The council is looking to add a few more amendments to the proposal, one of which is a bit worrisome:

The revisions would also include requiring a commitment from Minor League Baseball that it would not allow the Rock Cats to be transferred during the term of the lease, and that it assures the presence of a Double A minor league team at the Hartford stadium for at least 25 years.

So does this mean that the Rock Cats’ 25-year lease doesn’t require the team itself to commit to staying put? Or just that this would guard against MiLB up and pulling the franchise out from under Hartford? A “commitment” seems awfully not legally binding, but maybe the Hartford Courant’s choice of language is just as terrible as its web design.

If this project does get approved on Tuesday, it will still have to go back before the city planning and zoning commission for a special permit, the same planning and zoning commission that voted against the project last month. Either way, though, it’s an indication that local officials can still be swayed by everything-but-the-kitchen-sink projects: The stadium part of the plan, and the subsidies for it, are pretty much identical to the previous proposal that was withdrawn in the face of massive opposition, but tack on a bunch of private development next door, and suddenly everyone is focused on the special toy surprise and not on the stadium. We’ve seen it plenty before — and not just in stadiums — and if this goes ahead, we’re only likely to see more of it.

Hartford residents speak on stadium plan, press marvels that they don’t all say exact same thing

There was a public hearing in Hartford yesterday about the proposed New Britain Rock Cats stadium project (which is supposed to include lots of other development, but it’s the stadium that would require city subsidies), and not everyone agreed!Some people believe history will blame Hartford if it fails to seize this opportunity:

“Are we going to be the city that cannot get a $350 million development deal together?” [Mayor Pedro] Segarra asked. “If we don’t allow this to happen, picture us a year form now wondering what went wrong. If we can’t work this out, why would any other private investor come to Hartford?”

And some believe history will blame Hartford if it does seize this opportunity:

Resident Bernadine Silvers asked it this way: what will they think of us if we do build it? “I want you to know that when you’re gone, and your grandkids know who you are, and everybody else that looks in the history books knows who you are,” she said, “and there’s a big, empty building sitting there in the middle of our downtown, they will know that you had something to do with it. That’s the reason I’m scared about that stadium… I just want you to know that I’m concerned, and I want all of you to please look at the things in this city that were supposed to be good ideas, but they were follies.”

And some people, according to WNPR, “stood out” for not believing anything at all:

“I see [councilmember] Ken Kennedy nodding his head, as always,” [Carmen Rodriguez] said. “I know you love Hartford, and I know each and every one of you love Hartford, and these people here, whatever moved them, love Hartford. That’s all I’m going to say. I ask that you look for the best plan.”

Also, a certain book is reported to have attended the proceedings. WNPR did not report on whether it testified, and it never tells me anything:


Hartford lawyer fundraising for anti-stadium lawsuit or lobbying or maybe a really cool party

Hartford attorney Ken Krayeske has announced he’s raising money for a political action committee to fight the New Britain Rock Cats proposal by … doing something as yet to be determined:

He said money raised by the committee could be put to a number of uses, including to support political candidates, hire an economist to study the numbers or file a lawsuit once the Hartford City Council approves the project.

“We want to have the option should we need to,” Krayeske explained. “Should City Council not come to its senses and reject the stadium as bad public policy, then we’re going to have to have to ability to take other measures.”

That’s not all that specific, but okay! Hartford, consider yourself warned.

Krayeske’s Twitter bio notes that he “has run his own law firm for a year, and tries not to take himself too seriously.” Here’s hoping he uses any funds raised to buy Mayor Pedro Segarra the world’s biggest clown nose.

CT prof replies on Hartford project: Yes, stadiums suck, it’s the rest of it that’s worthwhile

In the wake of my post on Friday critical of the excited media reception of University of Connecticut economist Fred Carstensen’s report on Hartford’s proposed minor-league-ballpark-plus-lots-of-other-stuff development, Carstensen weighed in with some long responses of his own, and then I responded to his response, and soon enough a whole bunch of us were having fun playing with the pencils on the bench there.

You can go read the whole comment thread now, but for those who are pressed for time, here are some of the highlights:

  • Carstensen’s analysis, he stresses, was of the combined stadium/retail/commercial/housing development, not just the stadium. The stadium itself, he notes, would likely be a bad deal for the city, as will the retail piece; however, adding office space that could bring in new jobs and apartment buildings that could bring in new residents could make it a net positive.
  • The REMI model that he used does account for displacement of other spending, though it wasn’t spelled out in the Hartford paper; I’m still reading through REMI’s FAQ to figure out how exactly it handles it.
  • It might well be more beneficial for Hartford to seek a development on the same site that doesn’t require a $60 million stadium subsidy, but that’s not what’s on the table here. So at least the city would be getting something positive back for its money, even if there’s no way of knowing whether it’s the best deal possible without putting the site back out for bids.

My concern remains not just that last bullet point, but the question of what happens if the stadium subsidy gets approved, then the office and residential space — all the good stuff, in city fiscal terms — never gets built. Carstensen writes via email that this is in fact something he pointed out in his testimony (but which didn’t make it into the papers that I could tell): Any deal would need to include some kind of provisions to cover the city’s costs if the rest of the development doesn’t happen, or else Hartford could be left holding the bag.

Anyway, my apologies for giving short shrift to Carstensen’s study of the project, which looks like was actually more comprehensive (and more mixed in findings) than what made it through into the next day’s reportage. This still looks like a risky project for Hartford, but he’s not the one trying to paper over the risk.