Friday roundup: Saints’ $300m subsidy moves ahead, St. Louis MLS announcement on tap, Richmond council votes no on democracy

Sometimes I feel lucky to cover a topic with so many constant absurdities, and then this happens, and I realize that constant absurdities are just the new normal. Anyway, I did get to edit this this week, which is an excellent look at how this week’s absurdity is having potentially catastrophic impacts on people’s lives, so go read it!

But not before you read these:

  • The Louisiana State Bond Commission has approved selling $450 million worth of state bonds to fund renovations to the Superdome, in exchange for the New Orleans Saints signing a 15-year lease extension. As covered back in May, Saints owner Gayle Benson would cover one-third of the bond cost, leaving Louisiana to pay off $300 million, bringing the Saints’ five-decide subsidy total to a cool $1.442 billion. In exchange, the Saints will sign a 15-year lease extension — with another 15-year option, but there’s no way they’re going to extend their lease again without more subsidies the way this gravy train is rolling — which comes to state taxpayers ponying up $20 million a year for the presence of an NFL team, which is a hell of a lot of money, though not as much as Indiana pays the Pacers, because Indiana.
  • The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported this week that St. Louis will be announced next Tuesday as the next MLS expansion city, bringing the number of teams in the league to a cool 154. (I think it’s actually 28, but honestly the number changes so fast it’s hard to keep track.) Deadspin read the announcement that there would be no public subsidies for the as-yet-unnamed team’s stadium and excitedly reported that the deal “might not completely fleece the city”; sadly, it will actually involve about $60 million in public subsidies, but since about half of that is coming from the state, not the city, that Deadspin headline is still technically correct, right?
  • The Richmond city council has voted 5-3 against allowing a referendum on the city’s proposed new $350 million city-subsidized arena on the November ballot, because voting is for elected officials, not regular folks. Though regular folks do still get to vote on electing elected officials, something that referendum sponsor Reva Trammell clearly had in mind when she said following the no-voting vote: “I hope the citizens hold their feet to the fire. Every damn one of them that voted against it.”
  • Two-plus years after the arrival of the Hartford Yard Goats in exchange for $63 million in public stadium cash — plus a couple million dollars every year in operating losses — the Hartford Courant has noticed that stadium jobs are usually part-time and poorly paid. Not included in the article: any analysis of how many full-time jobs could have been created by spending $63 million on just about anything else.
  • New Arizona Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo said he intends to keep the NHL team in Arizona, but that keeping it in Glendale is a “difficult situation,” at which point a Glendale spokesperson said that city officials would meet with Meruelo “to see how we can help him achieve his goals of success.” Which is all fine and due diligence and all, but given that helping Meruelo “achieve his goals” is likely to mean paying him money to play in Glendale like the city used to do, it’s not exactly promising; if nothing else, Glendale officials would do well to remember that Meruelo currently has exactly zero better arena options elsewhere in the state, so he’s not exactly negotiating from a position of strength.
  • Joe Tsai, who was already set to buy the Brooklyn Nets from Mikhail Prokhorov, has officially exercised his option to purchase the team, plus the Barclays Center arena to boot, for a reported $3.5 billion. Given that the arena is currently losing about $21 million a year, this seems like an awful lot of money even if the team does employ whatever’s left of Kevin Durant. Since Tsai already owns the New York Liberty, though, maybe it at least means that WNBA franchise will finally return to the city from its exile in the suburbs.

Hartford Yard Goats stadium failing so far as urban catalyst, surprise, surprise

Last week I was interviewed by Greg Seay of the Hartford Business Journal about stadiums as development catalysts (my sound bite: “If there is a positive impact, it is so small that it’s not going to be measurable in the data”), and today his article is up on how the Yard Goats‘ new stadium is doing at reinventing Hartford. If you had “not so hot” in the betting pool, you’re a winner:

While the stadium has brought new energy and fans to the city during the spring and summer months, it has so far largely struck out in delivering on its promise to spur development in Hartford’s Downtown North (DoNo) quadrant, a linchpin of the city’s plan to pay for the stadium.

The addition of taxable DoNo development was supposed to help the city pay the approximate $4.6 million annual debt on the ballpark’s bonds. Currently, the city only draws about $1 million from its ballpark lease and a share of the team’s non-baseball revenue, leaving city taxpayers to foot the more than $3 million annual deficit.

There is planned development for the future — this thing — but even if it eventually happens, we’re still left with questions about the “spur” part of the equation: Would development have happened anyway in DoNo without a minor-league baseball stadium next to it? Would it have happened elsewhere in Hartford, if not in DoNo? It’s kind of tough to imagine that developer Randy Salvatore thinks the success of his mixed-use development is contingent on there being a 6,000-seat ballpark nearby, especially one that’s only in use during Double-A baseball season. While I. Charles Mathews, former chair of the Hartford Stadium Authority, asked Seay, “You know what happens when you build a big mall?” — meaning other stores open nearby to get spillover foot traffic — 6,000 fans 70 nights a year is pathetic compared to the number of people who pass through even a small mall. (Also, what mostly happens when you build a big mall these days is you end up with an empty mall.)

Anyway, Hartford’s baseball stadium is already built and paid for by the people of Connecticut, so we may as well hope that the surrounding development gets built, so at least there’s a nice neighborhood to walk through on the way to way to Yard Goats games. And that Hartford has learned its lesson and realized that spending on sports venues isn’t a punched ticket to urban revitalization

“The XL Center is at a crossroads, not next year, not five years from now, but right now,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said. “This tournament, which will put Hartford and Connecticut on TVs across the nation is only possible because of the XL Center. I fear this may be one of the last significant events held there if the state chooses not to invest in the future of a facility that does so much, not just for the Capital City but the state.”

Sigh.

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.

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?

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.

Hartford spending $6,200 a day to make sure Yard Goats’ unfinished stadium doesn’t burn down

Yesterday, it was the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium making a bid for “biggest train wreck ever” with the revelation that Cobb County has granted the team a monopoly on all paid parking within a half-mile radius. Today, it’s the Hartford Yard Goats, whose unfinished stadium is costing the city $6,200 in fire department overtime because it doesn’t have a working sprinkler system and has to be kept on round-the-clock fire watch:

The detail, which has been stationed to the stadium since Friday, costs the fire department about $6,200 a day — and $37,200 so far — from its overtime budget.

Hartford fire Chief Reginald Freeman said that the cost is expected to be passed on to Arch Insurance, the bond surety company that is in charge of completing work on the 6,000-seat stadium north of downtown. However, city officials acknowledged that Arch has not committed to covering the cost…

Arch is conducting an investigation into the claim and then will determine the path to completing the stadium. No timetable has been given for completion.

If the investigation determines that the city was at fault for cost overruns and construction delays at the ballpark, Arch could decide the cost of the fire watch should be shouldered by the city.

You see the obvious solution to everyone’s problems here, right? Right? I mean, right?

The Yard Goats’ eternal road trip is now scheduled to continue at least through July 20, at which point the entire state of Connecticut will be swallowed by a passing black hole.