PawSox CEO: How about public gives us lots of money, we give them worthless deed to stadium?

Pawtucket Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino announced yesterday that he wants a new stadium in Pawtucket, paid for with the help of an undisclosed amount of public money — pretty much the same thing he said a year and a half ago when he was last heard from on this matter. But this time it’s different, says Lucchino, because it would be a publicly owned stadium:

The concept of a publicly owned stadium is a “complete reversal” from the team’s failed 2015 efforts to win public support for a privately owned stadium on former highway land in Providence, Lucchino said.

Uhhh. Dude. You know that public ownership of a stadium is mostly just a dodge to get out of paying property taxes, right? If Lucchino were proposing to let the city of Pawtucket actually control the stadium’s revenues, and maybe charge his team rent for playing there, that might qualify as a complete reversal, but needless to say he didn’t propose any of that.

Anyway, I’ve already been invited to appear on one radio show and one webcast (neither of which are at times I can make, unfortunately) to talk about this latest “announcement,” so clearly Lucchino’s statement accomplished what he set out to do, which is to jump-start talk about a new stadium, even after his last stadium funding request was roundly rejected and he promised to shut up about stadiums for five years so he could focus on healing “wounds that were suffered by fans” when he threatened to move the team to Worcester. If I were going on the radio, here’s what I’d say: “Don’t feed the trolls, people.”

Hartford finally set to open Yard Goats stadium, start losing $2m+ a year running it

Hartford Yard Goats opening day is just two weeks away, and Hartford is finally getting ready to welcome its new Double-A baseball team, just one year late after various catastophic construction screwups, and finally getting ready to have money rolling in instead of just going out. Right? Okay, maybe not:

Financial estimates show that professional baseball is a costly investment for Hartford and initial promises of new development surrounding the $71 million stadium have failed to materialize.

Projections show Hartford is expected to operate at a net loss on the downtown north development during the first and second year the stadium is open. The city will lose about $2 million this year and $3.5 million next year.

Uhh, okay, that’s new. And worse yet, the losses aren’t limited to the first two years — those are just the only years that the city has calculated so far, meaning losses could continue indefinitely.

The reason for running at a loss is that construction costs were supposed to be paid for with tax revenue from new development around the stadium, and instead nobody’s been building nothing except for some hotel-room conversions. So this is the same $63 million (plus free land) subsidy we’ve been talking about for more than a year, only counted out one year at a time instead of as a lump sum.

At least the stadium will be open, and Hartford residents will get to drown their sorrows in quality two-levels-below-the-majors baseball without driving 15 whole minutes to New Britain like the used to. I know it’s not much, but take your silver linings where you can get them, you know?

Yard Goats stadium sparking literally dozens of hotel-room conversions, yay?

Next in today’s rundown of questionable media spin, the Hartford Courant is reporting that “the city’s shiny new minor league ballpark has dramatically transformed what for decades was a just barren stretch of land north of downtown.” How dramatically? This dramatically:

The owners of the nearby Radisson Hotel are combining guest rooms on the top nine floors of the 18-story hotel into apartments. The $19.5 million project will create 96 rentals, some of which will overlook Dunkin’ Donuts Park. The first apartments are expected to be ready by this summer.

Hotel owner Inner Circle U.S. said the apartment project was planned prior to the plans for the stadium, but the ballpark helped sell the idea of rentals to Inner Circle’s lenders.

VERDICT: I do not think that word “dramatically” means what you think it means. Building a new sports facility may not have the kind of economic impact that sports team owners pretend it does, but it does have some, and “making the hotel-to-rental-apartment conversion that developers already had in the works marginally more marketable” is just about perfectly the size of it. Downtown Hartford is starting to draw more interest from renters with money, but that’s thanks to the Great Inversion, not anything to do with sports, and certainly not a minor-league baseball stadium that until recently wasn’t certain ever to open.

That said, I am eagerly awaiting the chance to take in a Yard Goats game this summer. I will almost certain make it a day trip from New York City, and will probably stop for pizza or falafel in New Haven. My footprint on the Hartford economy will be exceedingly light, but if some millennials want a view from their apartments of my car pulling in and out of the stadium parking lot, more power to them.

Hartford Yard Goats stadium may actually get finished, legal battle never will

And last but not least for the week, it’s time to check in with the ongoing Hartford Yard Goats stadium saga, which never fails to entertain. This week: FBI investigations and more lawsuit news!

  • The FBI has launched an investigation into now-fired developer Centerplan’s handling of stadium construction, one that Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin says was “prompted by information proactively shared by the City of Hartford.” In other words, Bronin tipped off the FBI to please look into these clowns to see if the public money that disappeared while in their hands was actually embezzled; the FBI said, sure, we don’t have much else going on right now.
  • Centerplan has upped the amount of money they’re demanding in their lawsuit against the city of Hartford, now asking for $90 million on the grounds they coulda finished the stadium, really, if the city didn’t keep giving them change orders.

At last word, at least, the stadium was on track to be ready for opening day on April 13, which means the Yard Goats may finally play a home game one of these days. Although:

[Arch Insurance senior vice president Patrick] Nails did offer one bit of concerning news, saying they are still finding minor defects in construction that the contractors are addressing.

“They’re pretty minor but the fact that we’re finding them is a concern,” he said.

Chompers and Chew Chew were not immediately available for comment.

New York Cosmos stadium plans dead, team and league may be too

In case you’re wondering what’s up with those plans for a $400 million stadium at Long Island’s Belmont Park racetrack for the minor-league New York Cosmos soccer team (which always sounded as crazy as that sentence, yes), they are now officially dead:

Empire State Development Corp. canceled its 4-year-old request for proposals, or RFP, at the site, closing the door on a plan to construct a 25,000-seat stadium on the property.

This may have had something to do with the fact that the Cosmos not only have made zero progress on actually building said stadium, but may be on the verge of folding, with the club furloughing employees and deferring making payroll payments, and the entire NASL possibly on the verge of collapse with several teams either leaving for other leagues or considering shutting down.

If there’s any silver lining here, it’s that all this happened before the state dedicated a huge plot of land to a stadium for a minor-league sports franchise in a league with an uncertain future. Not that those don’t work out sometimes — pretty much every league had an uncertain future at some point, even if you have to go back a couple of centuries to find it — but when those deals go bad, they go spectacularly bad.

Yard Goats stadium features rusting rebar, doors that don’t fit, hole in men’s room floor

Just when you thought the sad saga of the Hartford Yard Goats‘ never-completed stadium was almost over, along comes the stadium’s architect to do an audit of everything that’s still wrong with the place and make you goggle in horror once more:

The report, which The Courant obtained through a Freedom Of Information Act request, details exposed rusting rebar, cracking stairs, honeycombing and chipping concrete, improperly poured concourse slabs that invite pooling water, and clogged and improperly installed drains.

The report notes “cracks at both dugout roofs (underside fascia and above roof)” that “when exposed to freezing and thawing conditions will expand and move.”

Oof. That’s pretty bad, indeed, and suggests that there’s a lot more work to—

The report detailed multiple instances of doors being much smaller than required to match openings, which resulted in large amounts of sealant being used to close gaps, electrical outlets installed in the wrong places and in contrast to the designed drawings, improperly installed sprinklers, cable trays that interfere with signs, and gaps where walls and other structural elements meet throughout the ballpark.

Man, who were these bozos doing the construction work on this place? Anyway—

The report, dated Sept. 5, found repeated instances of “daylight” — around doors in premium suites, around ventilation and exhaust ducts, in the roof above the fireplace and sports bar, and in one case a gap in a men’s room floor that allows one to see into the floor below.

Guh.

The city’s insurance company still needs to hire a new contractor (or the old contractor, but maybe that wouldn’t be the best idea, under the circumstances) to repair all these defects and finish other unfinished elements, all in time for the stadium to open next April. Oh, and it’s about to be winter in Hartford, which tends to come with ice storms. There’s still a chance that the opening day 2017 construction deadline is blown, and the Eastern League ends up pulling the Yard Goats franchise and sending it to another city — or that Hartford just says screw it, slaps a new coat of paint on everything, and opens up a brand new taxpayer-funded ballpark where you get to look down on your fellow fans while peeing. Either way, it promises to be a lot more entertaining than watching Double-A baseball.

Yard Goats stadium work set to restart, we may have to find someone new to laugh at now

Everyone rejoice! The city of Hartford and their insurer have agreed to a plan to finish construction on the Hartford Yard Goats‘ stadium by next spring, meaning there will still be a Hartford Yard Goats next spring:

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said the city had reached an agreement in principle with Arch Insurance to have the bonding surety company take over construction of Dunkin’ Donuts Park and pay for the cost – a plan that would have the Hartford Yard Goats play their first-ever home game on April 13, 2017.

Now all that remains to be determined is who’ll actually do the construction work: Arch could still rehire Centerplan, which botched the initial construction deadline, though city officials would rather not see them back. Presumably everyone involved can figure out how to finish off a mostly built stadium over the course of the next seven months, though with the Yard Goats, you can never say never.

If there’s a silver lining at all, it’s that Arch will have to foot the bill for any additional costs, so Hartford taxpayers are just on the hook for $63 million in cash plus free land for the project. In exchange, they’ll get all the excitement of Double-A baseball, plus getting to be the laughingstock of the sports world for a year. And who can put a price on that?

Consultant reports that soccer stadium would lose around $40m, let’s go build one!

With the race officially on to see which cities can land all the expansion franchises MLS is selling for $200 million a pop, Louisville welcomes to the world a study it commissioned on building a new stadium for Louisville City F.C., which currently plays in the USL but could join MLS as easily as anyone else, I guess. Anyway, the study was conducted by our old friends Convention, Sports & Leisure, the rent-a-consultants owned by the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees, and as usual, their recommendation is build build build:

In January, Louisville Metro Government paid Minnesota-based firm Conventions, Sport and Leisure International $75,000 to complete the study. The result calls for a 10,000-seat soccer-specific stadium to be built, primary for use Louisville City FC, by 2020…

CSL estimates a new stadium with its recommended specifications would cost between $30 million and $50 million, and the study assumed in its scenarios the city would fund the stadium through 20-year bonds to be repaid by private and public sources.

The funny bit is that unlike its usual handwavy economic studies, CSL at least gave a shot at doing a deeper dive into the numbers in this one, acknowledging that economic impact would be blunted by both leakage (money spent on soccer doesn’t recirculate locally if it goes to out-of-town owners and players) and what it calls “displacement,” better known as the substitution effect (entertainment dollars spent on soccer instead of on something else local isn’t a net gain) — though CSL doesn’t provide any details at all of how these were taken into account in its calculations. In any case, its cost-benefit analysis for the project is actually pretty dismal:

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 8.34.27 AMThat’s $2.7 million in new tax revenues over 20 years, which is an absolutely horrible return on a $30-50 million expense. Yet CSL still recommends that the public fund this money pit, on the grounds that — wait for it — it’s such a money pit that you can’t possibly expect any private businessperson to fund it:

The net income from operations will not be able to fund a material amount of stadium project costs, which is typical of most soccer-specific stadiums that have been built for teams in USL, NASL and other similar leagues. Historically, the development of soccer-specific stadiums has generally involved varying degrees of public-private partnerships.

The study then goes on to list a whole bunch of different ways to pay for a stadium on the public’s dime, including tax increment financing and EB-5 green-cards-for-investment deals and the Louisville general fund, because there’s no real way to build one of these things without dipping into that. Unless you might think about asking a team owner who’d be potentially plunking down $200 million for an MLS franchise to chip in another $50 million for a stadium — or for MLS to take only $150 million for the franchise so that the rest of the cash could go to build the stadium. You know, crazy talk.

Ultimately, when you hire someone like CSL to do a stadium study, you’re not getting an evaluation of whether building one is a good idea, so much as a long list of rationalizations for why it could be defensible, if you squint right. CSL got $75,000 for putting this together, which leads me to believe that I’m in the wrong line of work: I should charging cities a few grand to provide a link to this.

 

Hartford insurer could rehire fired developer who’s suing city, this is just self-parody now

If there was one thing that seemed impossible in the crazy saga of the Hartford Yard Goats stadium that is now going to open at least a year late, it was that Centerplan, the developer that city officials blamed for the delays and then fired from the project, leading Centerplan to sue the city, would ever be back in the picture. So — of course — that’s exactly what might now happen, with Centerplan officials saying they’re talking with the city’s insurer about returning to work, possibly right after Labor Day.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said that it was up to the insurer to decide who to hire now to finish up the ballpark, then gave Centerplan the most backhanded of possible endorsements:

Asked whether construction could resume in September, Bronin said the former developers “seem to live in their own reality” but added that that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

More likely this is mostly just Centerplan looking for leverage to get back on the job — we can finish the job quick, and if you don’t let us we’ll sue you and gum up the works until the team bolts for another city — but at this point anything can happen. September seems awfully unlikely, given that Bronin says Arch Insurance is still investigating how best to fix the whole mess, but there are still a few months left before Hartford gets too icy to do construction work in. If nothing else, it’ll give me some more time to find that “Hartford Road Goats” t-shirt for sale that I swear I bookmarked, but now can’t find anywhere…

Yard Goats could skip town if stadium not ready for 2017, Hartford’s shame now complete

The Hartford Yard Goats stadium fiasco has so far included construction delays that have the Double-A baseball team playing its entire season on the road, the city paying massive fire department overtime to be sure the stadium didn’t burn down, and giant budget holes as a result of the city paying this whole mess. Couldn’t possibly get any worse, right?

According to an email from the city’s top lawyer, [Yard Goats owner Josh] Solomon informed him Monday that Hartford’s inability to complete the more than $60 million Dunkin’ Donuts Park is a breach of their development agreement and that sets the clock ticking.

That development agreement says that the city has six months to fix the problem. If it can’t, Solomon has the right to terminate his contract with the city, pack up his team, and go.

This is a nastygram, certainly: Solomon doesn’t want to move the Yard Goats elsewhere, but he does want to light a fire under the city to ensure that the stadium is complete in time for next season, and “Finish it now or else we walk out that door” is one way to get attention. Hartford (or its insurer) will now need to find a new developer to finish the job in a hurry, which won’t be made easier by the fact that it’s in the middle of a mess of lawsuits with the one it just fired.

The best-case scenario for all involved right now is Hartford hires somebody else to finish the job, they do so by April while being paid by the city’s insurance coverage, and at least the bleeding is stopped where it is now. The worst-case scenarios include the city either having to throw millions of dollars in new rush charges at getting the stadium done by next Opening Day, or the city not doing so and ending up with a 90% completed stadium and no team to play there after spending $61.5 million on building it.

Either way, it’s a complete mess, and a good reason not to throw $60 million at a stadium without making sure that the developer and the city’s lawyer have fallback plans worked out in case things don’t go as expected. Other prospective minor-league host cities, at least read up on this a little before jumping into bed with the next owner who makes eyes at you, okay? You won’t be sorry.