Staten Island columnist wants to build hockey arena, because he doesn’t understand how cities work

New York City has already built several billion dollars of new sports venues for the Yankees, Mets, Brooklyn Nets, Brooklyn Cyclones, and Staten Island Yankees, much of it with public money, but why stop there? There’s still that talk of a $400 million NYC F.C. stadium at the most inaccessible tip of Manhattan, plus why even limit yourself to teams that actually exist?

The idea of a 5,000-7,000-seat indoor entertainment and sport facility with a harbor view hit a nerve with Staten Islanders.

Some folks loved the idea of an Island building large enough to house a minor league hockey franchise and also play host to big-time entertainment.

A few hated it.

Others thought it impossible.

But plenty are interested.

Admittedly, this appears to be less an actual plan than just a Staten Island Advance columnist with a crazy idea and a soapbox. I wouldn’t even have mentioned it, in fact, if not for this quote from a College of Staten Island finance and accounting professor:

“Why not an arena?” asks [Jonathan] Peters, who tried virtually single-handedly for years to get the city seriously interested in a revival of commuter rail service on the Island. “Staten island is the same size as Detroit and Miami. Would people in those cities be surprised if something like that was built in their town?”

Where to even begin? I could start with the fact that Staten Island (population 472,621) isn’t anywhere close to the population of metro the city of (sorry, you know what I meant, right?) Detroit (688,701), but that’d be missing the main stupid here. I hate to even have to point this out, but: The city of Miami (which is indeed about the same population as Staten Island) is at the center of a metro area population of six million people. Staten Island is at the center of a population of 20 million people, of course, but it’s an area that already has multiple sports arenas, and a couple dozen existing sports teams, all of which people can choose to go to instead of the hypothetical Staten Island Ice Weasels. In fact, let’s take a look at what happens when you drop a Staten Island baseball team into a market with five to ten other baseball options, depending on where you draw the lines for “market”:

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 9.10.50 AMThat’s a whole lot of meh, there.

Anyway, I mostly mention all this just to shake my head sadly at what can make it into the newspaper these days. So long as you can find some half-baked policy claims to point to (“Development drives down crime”!) and some local officials willing to say it’s not a totally crazy idea, that is. If you’re just a regular person who wants to build a space elevator in your backyard, don’t try this at home.

PawSox claim renovating existing stadium would cost $65m, won’t say where they got that number

The mayor of Pawtucket, which is set to lose the Pawtucket Red Sox to nearby Providence if the team owners’ demands for a taxpayer-subsidized new stadium go through, has requested that PawSox management release its study showing that renovations to 73-year-old McCoy Stadium would be prohibitively expensive at $65 million. And how do you think that’s going?

When asked whether the team would release the study, PawSox spokeswoman Patti Doyle said Lucchino “will most certainly respond” to Grebien’s request for a meeting, but she did not address whether the team would release the study.

This is kind of key, since teams have been, dare I say it, less than truthful about renovation costs in the past. (The most notable example may have been the Detroit Tigers in the 1990s, who declared that it would cost a then-astronomical $100 million to repair Tiger Stadium, only to have it later discovered that this was the projected cost for a massive renovation that would have included installing a dome over the building.) This probably isn’t actionable under freedom of information laws, but it’s still worth journalists inquiring about this as well; I’ll call over to the team offices later today and report back on what, if anything, they say.

PawSox owner says $65m renovation needed for current stadium, dies of heart attack

Pawtucket Red Sox owner James Skeffington’s campaign to get $60 million in stadium subsidies plus free land for moving a few miles to Pawtucket hit an obstacle this weekend when Skeffington unexpectedly died of a heart attack. The Rhode Island attorney was 73.

Shortly before Skeffington’s death was announced, the team put out a press statement saying that McCoy Stadium, the team’s current home in Pawtucket, would need $65 million in renovations to be made “state-of-the-art,” a figure that city officials told the Boston Globe seemed ‘‘extraordinarily high.’’ Nobody quite knows what will happen now with Skeffington gone, as he was the driving force behind the Providence stadium campaign, but that won’t stop people from speculating wildly in print.

RI gov could consider PawSox stadium deal, but only if it’s, you know, good

The governor of Rhode Island talked a lot about plans for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium in Providence yesterday, but whether she actually said anything is a matter of opinion:

“I think the right way to think about it is: What’s the economic value to the state?” [Gov. Gina] Raimondo said at a news conference promoting a jobs-creation bill introduced by state Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi. “And whatever that is, that’s what we can afford, but right now, the proposal that they made, the taxpayer has to come up with all the money and we don’t share in any of the profit or the revenue, and that’s just not fair.”

Raimondo said she doesn’t know if the state can reach a decision by the end of this legislative session, the deadline the team’s owners have proposed. But she said negotiations have been “constructive,” and the owners have been “open-minded … taking our suggestions.”

“If there’s a good deal here for the people of Rhode Island, then I’m going to find that deal and do it,” Raimondo said. “I think the right answer is: Let’s calm down, be rational and see if there’s a deal to be had. And if there’s not, and if they don’t want to operate on our terms, then fine, then we’ll kill the deal, but we’re not quite ready to do that.”

So she’s open to a deal, but only the right deal, and isn’t afraid to walk away from a deal if it’s a bad deal, but she’s not saying that yet. That’s all perfectly reasonable, but doesn’t say much about what she’d consider a good deal, except it’s not what the PawSox’ new owners first proposed, which, well, yeah.

In other news, the Rhode Island state house of representatives has hired economist Andrew Zimbalist to consult on the proposed stadium, because he does that stuff. (Though sadly, he doesn’t include it as a skill on his LinkedIn profile.) And if you’re interested, here’s a long discussion courtesy of WPRI on whether attendance at the PawSox’ current McCoy Stadium home is really disappointing. (Spoiler: Maybe a little, but it’s still pretty good.)

PawSox owners: Fine, maybe we’ll pay for stadium land if that’ll make you people happy

Perhaps sensing that asking for $60 million in state subsidies plus free riverfront land just to move your minor-league baseball team from one part of the state to the other wasn’t necessarily the best strategy, Pawtucket Red Sox owner Jim Skeffington now says he’ll consider paying something for the land, maybe:

“Larry Lucchino and I, as managing partners of the new ownership, wish to meet with you at your earliest convenience to consider various alternatives and explore ways to accomplish our mutual objective, including the possible purchase of the state land for the ballpark,” Skeffington wrote.

The 195 commission is obligated by the Federal Highway Administration to sell the land it owns at fair market value. So far, the commission has agreed to sell two parcels: 1.25 acres for $2.7 million for student housing and a third of an acre for $750,000 for mixed-use development.

If you figure that’s about $2.2 million an acre, and a baseball stadium would take up maybe 10 acres, that would mean the PawSox would have to pay around $22 million for the land — though of course they could always ask for other concessions in return.

This is all the haggling stage, where the team owner tries to figure out what they can get away with asking for, before ultimately settling for whatever looks like it’ll pass muster with government officials. As such, the interesting part will be to see how Rhode Island politicians react: So far we’ve just had a spokesperson for the governor saying, “Frankly, we’re pleased that they’ve reached out because I don’t think the proposal as it was originally formulated was a particularly fair deal for the citizens of Rhode Island,” which doesn’t tell us what they’ll think of any new plan, whatever it ends up being.

If they want, here’s a suggested response: “Actually paying for the land you’re using is nice, but why exactly should we pay you $4 million a year when at best we’re going to get $2 million in new state revenue out of this, according to your own figures?” You’re welcome.

Connecticut considering tax breaks to help lure minor-league team from Connecticut to Connecticut

It’s been a while since we checked in on the new $56 million stadium that Hartford is helping to build for the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats, who will become the Hartford Yard Goats. (It’s a train thing. Also, goats are cool now.) Apparently the latest is that in addition to the city paying the team to play in the stadium, it would also agree to exempt the team from the state’s 10% admission tax on tickets. [EDIT: Or more accurately, to kick back the admission tax to the city, which would use it to help make its payments to the team to help fund the stadium. So it would be shifting part of the existing subsidy cost from the city to the state, not on top of it.]

This is a gift that some other Connecticut venues have been able to extract from the state legislature, so on the one hand you can see why the Yard Goats (and the Bridgeport Bluefish, who are also seeking to get out of paying the admissions tax) would be going for this. On the other hand: Why on earth should the legislature of the state of Connecticut want to help a team move from one part of the state to another? Especially when the team is already moving, so this would simply be a gift to plump up the Yard Goat owners’ bottom line? (Don’t for a moment think that a lower ticket tax would make tickets cheaper for fans. Owners may not be rocket scientists, but they know how to charge 10% more in face value if a 10% tax goes away.) Why, I ask?

[State senator John] Fonfara said it was not unusual for the state to help businesses from moving out of state and instead move from one city to another. He cited the Diageo liquor producer moving from Stamford to Norwalk, Oakleaf Waste Management moving from East Hartford to Windsor, and the ING Financial Services moving from Hartford to Windsor.

And there you have it: States are now in the business of helping steal businesses from one city to move them to another, because if they don’t do so, some other state will do it first! Hey, Congress: Art Rolnick is still waiting.

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.