Yard Goats road trip has no foreseeable ending, as Hartford fines developer for unfinished stadium

I know you want to know what’s up with the Hartford Yard Goats‘ road trip from hell, so here’s the latest: The team will keep playing home games in Norwich through June 6, then move a planned home series vs. the Reading Fightin’ Phils in mid-June to Reading, then cross their fingers and hope real hard that their Hartford stadium is ready by their next scheduled home game on June 21, because the Connecticut Tigers of the NY-Penn League will need the Norwich stadium by then.

Whether there’s any chance of that happening is still very much an open question. As an added incentive to the developers to get the damn thing built already, the city has started fining them $15,000 a day, as allowed in their contract. City officials also have the option of asking their insurer to cover the entire $2 million cost of finishing the stadium — much of which has already been spent — which would undoubtedly be better for the public’s bottom line, but worse for the Yard Goats, since waiting on the insurance claim could eat up the rest of the season.

It is pretty much the worst-case scenario to end all worst-case scenarios, with everybody losing out: Taxpayers who shelled out to build this thing, the team’s owners and fans, and even New Britain fans who lost their team to a city that wasn’t even ready to host it. (I guess fans in Norwich are getting to watch some extra Double-A baseball, so that’s a plus for them?) At this rate, the only baseball being played in Hartford for the foreseeable future could be these guys, and they got arrested so they probably won’t be playing much more this year anyway. Maybe Hartford should just skip the baseball team and keep the mascots?

Hartford Yard Goats stadium opening delayed until July, now officially complete disaster

Surprise, surprise, the Hartford Yard Goats‘ new stadium was deemed not “substantially complete” on Tuesday, meaning it won’t be ready to host the team’s much-delayed home opener on May 31. In fact, it now won’t be open until at least July, which likely means more home games in Norwich — at this point, Hartford fans would have had an easier time seeing their new home team if it had stayed put in New Britain.

With the designation of the stadium as falling short, Hartford can now levy fines of $15,000 a day on developer DoNo Hartford, which is nice but unless this drags out all year isn’t going to do much to cover the $2 million that team owner Josh Solomon can now pull out of providing toward finishing the stadium, plus $500,000 in this year’s rent. (Solomon said yesterday, “I will continue to honor my agreement with the city and I will be flexible to help,” which sure sounds like “Our deal says I don’t have to pay you that $2.5 million now, but you have my sympathies.”) The city apparently has some insurance coverage it can avail itself of, but if it fires DoNo now and goes to seek a new developer the stadium may not open all year, and oh man, is this a juicy mess. Let’s go, Bees!

Portland hockey team celebrates $34m publicly funded arena renovation by moving to Springfield

The owners of the AHL Portland Pirates (that’s Portland, Maine) announced yesterday that they were selling the team to new owners who would move it to Springfield (that’s Springfield, Massachusetts), and everybody in Portland is understandably upset. Some are upset because they’re worried about the effect on local restaurants, which is almost certainly overblown — people in Portland have still got to eat, and they may even spend more of their entertainment dollars eating out now that they don’t have minor-league hockey to occupy their time. Others are upset because of this:

The Pirates, whose season ended Sunday, just completed the second year of a five-year lease with the county. The lease has provisions in the event the team breaks the agreement that limit the damages the arena can claim to $100,000, according to Mitch Berkowitz, chair of the board of trustees for county-owned CIA. He said an executive session of the board is scheduled for Thursday morning.

[Portland Mayor Ethan] Strimling said taxpayers should be upset that they helped pay for a $34 million renovation of the arena in 2013, only to see its anchor tenant leave without warning a few years later.

“Tens of millions of dollars went into that facility,” he said. “When taxpayers put that much money into a project we should have at least been called to the table.”

Yes, you have every right to be upset, Mayor Strimling, though getting mad at the team owners for exercising a $100,000 out clause without calling you first is probably not the most productive way to express your anger. How about getting mad at whichever Cumberland County leaders agreed to spend $34 million on arena renovations for a minor-league hockey team without even getting them to sign a long-term lease that would ensure they stayed in town? In fact, the renovations were approved in 2011 (with one local business leader noting at the time that “the prospect of no Portland Pirates … was just a specter over everybody”), but the lease wasn’t settled on until three years later, which is exactly the wrong way to go about it.

The good news is that the county only breaks even on hockey games anyway, so this will free up some dates for concerts, which could be more lucrative. The bad news is that Cumberland County voters approved spending $34 million on arena upgrades in order to keep their hockey team, and now they have no hockey team. The lesson here: If you’re going to do a quid pro quo, make sure you get the quo before you spend the quid.

Yard Goats’ eternal road trip may get longer, as stadium still not ready

It’s been a while since we checked in on the Hartford Yard Goats, the new minor-league team that’s starting the season on a two-month-long road trip because the developer of their $63 million publicly funded stadium couldn’t finish it in time for opening day. And that road trip could get even longer, because now both the league president and the construction contractor say the stadium may not even be ready by the rescheduled May 31 opening:

At the final Hartford Stadium Authority meeting before the developer is scheduled to deliver the stadium to the team, city development director Sean Fitzpatrick said he was “skeptical” the stadium developer would meet the May 17 deadline.

“We have grave concerns at this point,” he said…

At Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Luke Bronin asked an official for the company overseeing the project for Hartford if he believed the developer needed two weeks beyond May 17 to get to “substantial completion.”

The official, Kevin Greene, executive vice president of International Facilities Group, replied “yes.”

The bad news is … well, pretty obvious: It looks like the Yard Goats either won’t be able to start their home season on May 31, or will be doing so in a half-finished stadium. The better news is that if that happens, the bailout deal worked out in January means that the city can replace the current developers, DoNo Hartford and Centerplan, and charge damages of $50,000 for the first day and $15,000 per day thereafter; the team, meanwhile, can get out from having to contribute $2 million toward construction cost overruns or this year’s $500,000 in rent.

This is likely to come down to a determination whether the stadium is “substantially complete” by May 17, as stipulated in the contract, which, jeez, people, who the hell puts vague language like that into important legal documents? Either way, the relocation of the Yard Goats from nearby New Britain is turning into a bigger fiasco day by day, though you know that all will be forgiven once there’s a shiny new ballpark to watch baseball in, at least for a few years until it’s not so shiny anymore and people realize it’s the same old Double-A team they used to watch ten minutes away, only now with a goat on the cap.

Long Island residents protest $400m soccer stadium that’s been mostly dead for three years already

There’s been almost zero movement on the New York Cosmos‘ plans for a $400 million minor-league soccer stadium at the Belmont Park racetrack site (I almost wrote “crazy” plans, but I’ll leave that for readers to determine on their own) since it was first floated three years ago, but that isn’t stopping some locals from protesting it anyway:

[Nassau County Legis. Carrié] Solages, surrounded by about a dozen supporters, said the project was conceived without the input of the community, and that New York doesn’t have an appetite for soccer that would fill 25,000 seats. Protesters called on the state to issue a new request for proposals that considers the vision of local residents.

The state has so far held off from asking for new bids on the site, though it’s clearly not happy with the current bids: Not only has it sat on them for three years without taking action, but it released a statement saying it’s “re-engaging” bidders to get a better deal. The dream of the NASL Cosmos getting a better stadium than either of New York’s two MLS teams isn’t quite all dead, in other words, but it is mostly dead. This is going to take a really big set of bellows.

Minor-league team threatens to leave Altoona if 17-year-old stadium isn’t upgraded, this is getting nuts

How far has the trend of sports teams demanding upgrades to not-even-20-year-old stadiums spread? To Altoona, Pennsylvania, that’s how far:

A plan to fund improvements to Peoples Natural Gas Field, home of the Altoona Curve (Class AA; Eastern League), is needed to keep the team in central Pennsylvania.

Two proposals could generate revenue for a fund to enable maintenance and improvements to the ballpark. First, Logan Township is considering a plan to lessen its amusement tax on tickets and diverting the difference to a maintenance fund. Second, Blair County is considering whether to implement a hike in the hotel tax and putting that money toward the ballpark.

Ballpark Digest, citing the paywalled Altoona Mirror, says the initial upgrades would only cost $2.5 million, but presumably any “maintenance fund” could be used for any additional later improvements as well. The important number, though, is 1999, the year the Curve‘s new stadium opened — meaning here’s a Double-A minor-league team threatening to leave town (or threatening to have the league lean on it to leave town, it’s not entirely clear) because its stadium is turning 17 years old. Rod Fort’s quip about teams getting a new stadium every year is becoming less and less of a joke every day.

California city’s attempt to evict team over $1-a-year lease heads to arbitration

How are things going with the city of Adelanto, California’s attempts to evict the High Desert Mavericks to get out of the terrible $1-a-year lease a previous administration agreed to in 2012? Not so great so far:

On Monday, a San Bernardino County Superior Court judge granted the team’s request for a preliminary injunction to stop the city from interfering with its use of the stadium while the dispute is resolved. The judge also granted its request to force the city into arbitration…

In a statement last month, Mayor Richard Kerr said the city’s financial situation is dire.

“Adelanto declared a fiscal crisis in 2013 and is still not in a position to continue to assume financial responsibility to pay for water, gas, electricity, landscaping and maintenance for the stadium the next seven months to accommodate the team’s schedule,” he said.

The issue at stake here is whether the $1-a-year lease amounts to a “gift” of public funds illegal under the California state constitution, an argument pursued occasionally in other state to try to block sports subsidies, but never so far successfully. For his part, Mavericks owner Dave Heller said that the team provides other intangibles to the city like improving quality of life, and said the $1 rent isn’t unreasonable because Adelanto is very small. All of which seems to come down to “You were dumb enough to offer us free rent in order to keep us from moving somewhere else, too late to complain about it.” I don’t know off the top of my head if the California state constitution has a “no backsies” clause, so we’ll just have to wait to see how this turns out.

Famous soccer guy calls FC Cincinnati crazy for not wanting new stadium

The owners of the USL soccer franchise F.C. Cincinnati — yes, of course there’s a minor-league soccer team called F.C. Cincinnati — are being refreshingly reasonable about their plans for building fan support toward eventually getting a possible MLS slot, noting that the team’s current home, University of Cincinnati’s 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium, is more than big enough to fit an MLS team if it ever comes to that. And Hamilton County isn’t interested in building a new stadium after racking up hundreds of millions of dollars in debt on new stadiums for the Reds and Bengals. So the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Patrick Brennan had to go a bit far afield to find someone to say that Cincinnati needs a new soccer stadium now now now now!

Not having a stadium in the works could be damaging to FC Cincinnati’s cause, said Fox Sports soccer analyst and former U.S. men’s national team veteran Alexi Lalas.

“This is a gold rush, and you’ve got to get there and stake your claim because they’re going to continue to expand, but eventually it will be capped,” Lalas told The Enquirer. “This is not for the faint of heart. There are going to be plenty of casualties along the way. People are going to get hurt, and not everybody is going to get rich. And it’s going to require deep pockets, not just fortitude of body and mind.”…

“In this day and age, ‘major league’ means having your own soccer-specific stadium and having your own facility, and being able to show how it’s going to get done,” Lalas said, “and in the current climate, a lot of times it can’t be done with public funding.”

Okay, Alexi Lalas is a famous former soccer player and current soccer TV analyst, but WTF is he doing in this article defining what “major league” means? He grew up in the Detroit suburbs, went to Rutgers, and never played pro soccer within 500 miles of Cincinnati, so there’s no local connection. The only imaginable explanation here is the reporter thought (or was told by his bosses), “We need someone to espouse the MLS point of view that only new stadiums are acceptable!” or “We need conflict!” or just “Hey, doesn’t somebody in this office have Alexi Lalas’s phone number? He’ll probably comment, he’ll comment on anything! Have you seen him on TV?”

As for the content of his comments, there’s something special about anyone who can call stadium-building both “a gold rush” and a likely money-loser without public subsidies all in the same article*. Though given what happened in the actual gold rush, maybe he was just showing an astute knowledge of history.

[*EDIT: Reading more closely, it doesn’t look like Lalas was explicitly saying that stadiums require public money to make money, just that oftentimes teams will want public money, but elected officials won’t always cough it up. That’s a more reasonable point, but there’s still a “Man up, build a new stadium like all the other kids are doing!” tone here that’s a bit odd for anyone not on the league office payroll.]

Newark to raze 17-year-old minor-league stadium it spent $30m on, because that sure didn’t work

The minor-league Newark Bears folded two years ago, going out in a blaze of bankruptcy auction (I still have my $5 game-worn Bears jersey, not to mention my souvenir Bears yarmulkes), and leaving the city of Newark with the stadium that it paid $30 million to build just 15 years earlier. And soon, it won’t have even that, as the city has announced it’s selling the land to a developer for the construction of a mixed-use tower.

Newark will get $23.5 million for the land sale, which at least takes some of the sting out of spending $30 million (in 1999 dollars) to revitalize part of its downtown with a team that was never exactly vital. (Though Rickey Henderson and Jose Canseco both played there briefly, which helped draw at least a few gawkers.) Though even then, Newark could still be on the hook for more money with the new development:

While [deputy mayor Baye Adofo-]Wilson said [developer] Lotus will probably seek a tax abatement for the project, the details of what it will look like have not yet been ironed out. But, the tax break would be contingent upon the company hiring Newark residents during construction, and hotel staffing, he said.

“We require that you hire Newark residents,” Wilson said. “If you do that, we can grant an abatement.”

Depending on how big an abatement and how many hires would be required, that could certainly be a pretty awful deal — Newark might be better off just keeping the tax money and handing it out to residents on streetcorners — but we’ll have to wait and see. Regardless, it’s a sad ending to what was both a pretty nice place to watch baseball and a monument to the willingness of desperate cities to throw money at any sports franchise that offered a promise of a return to urban glory, regardless how faint. Don’t do this at home, kids.

No crazy stadium renderings released today, Internet is sad

Slow news day today, to the point where the only remotely stadium-related news is a minor-league soccer team signing a lease to play in San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium — which once hosted the 49ers, but now is a public park, so that was somewhat controversial — and the news that if you ask Siri where to find sadness in Cleveland, it will give you directions to the Browns‘ stadium.

Enjoy your Friday and your weekend, and may we be rewarded with more wack-ass stadium renderings on Monday.