Friday roundup: A’s stadium goes lopsided, another Cali soccer stadium stalls, plus how to skip rent payments and use them to fix up your own home

I’m very busy this morning, busy enough that one entire news item will have to wait till Monday when I can give it its due, but that means an extra post on Monday, so what are you complaining about, really? Anyway, there’s still plenty of stadium and arena news from this week, let’s have at it:

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Friday roundup: Miami ripped off again by Loria, Rays roof removal proposed, America’s journalists snookered

I’ll keep this short today, in deference to any Texas readers who may be trying to save battery life thanks to that state’s power outages. Once your bandwidth is back, here’s a good reminder from the New York Times that climate change is expected to cause unseasonable cold snaps and winter storms as well as insane summer heat, so you have lots more of both to look forward to. Or, if you prefer, here’s an article on a similar theme from the Village Voice a few years back that I wrote a much snappier headline for.

Stadiums, right, that’s what you came here to read about! Let’s see what we’ve got:

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Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own a sports team

There are many open questions about the proposed Tennessee Smokies stadium in Knoxville — questions like “How will Knoxville pay for $65 million in construction costs without ‘burdening’ taxpayers?” and “Will team owner Randy Boyd get out of paying property taxes if he ‘donates’ the land to the city while still building his private stadium on top of it?” and “Why are the players in the rendering so huge?” So, sure, it’s definitely time for WBIR-TV to run a news story that consists almost entirely of Boyd saying how great a new stadium would be:

The millionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist believes it can be “The People’s Park,” a place for walkers, shoppers, sports fans, craftsmen, music lovers, even couples who want to say, “I do.” …

“The idea of building a baseball park is not something of creating a venue just for baseball, but creating an entire entertainment venue that can have concerts, soccer, all kinds of other tournaments, family reunions, we could have farmers markets.” …

“We’ve got a lot of enthusiasm. We’ve got a lot of plans. But we still got a lot of work left to do,” he said.

Okay, eventually Knoxville Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie shows up to ask some questions — or rather, to say that she has questions and “I’m looking forward to just getting more information” — but then it’s back to Boyd to rave about how people could go to the stadium on their lunch hour or for a walk before work, because those are things that actual humans actually do in the actual world.

WBIR being a TV station, there’s a video report as well, which starts off with the reporter describing how a stadium development would “transform” a “crumbling industrial site” (can a site crumble?) before going on a walk around the site with Boyd, who talks about the “tangible return” the stadium would bring, without presenting anything tangible. This is described as one in a series of reports on the stadium plan by the station, but the last two I can find are another report that is mostly Boyd talking about how great it would be, and one on Boyd launching a new website to promote it.

This is pretty common practice for local news outlets, but, seriously, does anyone think it’s actually journalism? Sure, Boyd is a “newsmaker,” but when certain people get free TV time to expound on their sales pitch while everyone else just has to sit at home and watch, that’s a huge problem. Compare, for example, with this story (recounted in Field of Schemes: The Book, go buy it now if you don’t have it already, there are ebook and Kindle versions too!) told by Tiger Stadium Fan Club activist Frank Rashid of the time he tried to get a local newspaper not even to quote him, but just to run a correction of some stadium propaganda it repeated without checking:

On one occasion, Rashid recalls, he wound up calling the [Detroit] Free Press to complain about an inaccurate story about the Fan Club. He pointed out to a city desk editor that the reporter had printed inaccurate statements by the group’s opponents about the Fan Club, statements that the reporter himself had to have known were untrue.

The editor, according to Rashid, replied with indignation, “What do you expect? [Tigers owner Tom] Monaghan has made money. He’s paid his dues. Who are you guys?”

“I really appreciated the honesty,” says Rashid. “But, damn! None of us is disreputable. We’re all people who are solid citizens, but we don’t have money. Solid citizens without money don’t count as well as somebody who’s got a big corporation.”

If the book, and this website, have a motto, it’s probably that last line. It’s a sentiment that doesn’t seem to have changed at all in the 25 years Joanna Cagan and I have been reporting on this — though I guess it’s only three more years until the Bell Riots, so maybe things will finally improve after that.

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Friday roundup: More crazy stadium subsidy demands than can fit in one headline, you call this a lull?

Every couple of weeks, it seems, someone in the comments predicts that we are about to see the end of sports’ 30-year surge in stadium and arena subsidies, either because of Covid-depleted budgets or legislators smartening up or just everybody already having a new place. To which I say: If the stadium scam is slowing, why are my Friday mornings still so #$@&%*! busy?

Ahem. And now, the news:

  • A lawyer for the South Bend Cubs, saying the team owners were “shocked” to discover that a law allowing them to siphon off up to $650,000 a year in sales and income taxes for their own purposes had expired in 2018, has asked the state legislature to renew it. Oh, and also increase the cap to $2 million a year. You know, while they have the document open on their screens. “South Bend and every other city that has retained their relationship with Major League Baseball have to get to a certain level by 2025,” said attorney Richard Nussbaum. “If they don’t, they risk losing the team.” It’s an epidemic, I tells ya.
  • Speaking of which, Hudson Valley Renegades owner Jeff Goldklang got his $1.4 million in stadium renovation cash from Dutchess County, after emailing residents and fans warning them that the team could move if it was denied the subsidy.
  • Fort Wayne F.C., which I had to look up to be sure it actually exists and which turns out to be a “pre-professional” (much in the way that kids are “pre-adults”) USL League Two club, is seeking to move up to League One in 2023 and wants a $150 million soccer-stadium-plus-other-stuff project, to be paid for by mumble mumble hey look over there! It also features an instant classic in the field of fans-throwing-their-hands-skyward-while-fireworks-go-off-over-soccer-players-not-playing-anything-recognizable-as-soccer renderings, which is worth $150 million if it’s worth a dime:
  • The Oakland A’s owners (not the Oakland A’s, I still remember when I was an intern at The Nation Christopher Hitchens lecturing us on how one should always say “the U.S. government” and not “the U.S.” because just because the government approved something didn’t mean the populace did, but anyway) won their lawsuit to allow their Howard Terminal stadium project to have challenges to environmental impact reviews reviewed on a fast track, which is a big thing in California. “This is a critically important decision,” said A’s president Dave Kaval, who indicated he hopes the Oakland city council will be able to vote on a stadium bill this year, presumably after it’s figured out who the hell would pay for what.
  • Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin wants to talk about building a new hockey arena to keep the Carolina Hurricanes in town long-term — their “old” one opened just over 21 years ago — and Sougata Mukherjee, the editor-in-chief of the Triangle Business Journal, points out that maybe now is not the best time what with 7% of the state not having enough to eat, small businesses on the brink, and, oh yeah, a pandemic still going on. Cue Hurricanes execs or their political talking about how a new arena will mean “jobs” in three, two…
  • While we wait, here’s San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist Bryce Miller saying that San Diego should build a new arena to lure a nonexistent NBA expansion franchise because it would be “catalytic.” In the sense of the Oxford dictionary’s sample sentence for meaning 1.1, maybe?
  • Twenty years ago this week, the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ and Steelers‘ Three Rivers Stadium was blowed up real good, only a little over 30 years after it was first opened. I went to a couple of games at Three Rivers over the years, and I agree with former Pirate Richie Hebner’s review that “the graveyard I work in during the offseason has more life than this place,” and the Pirates’ new stadium is one of my favorites. Still, it and the Steelers’ new stadium deserve the blame for popularizing tax kickbacks in the stadium financing world, after Pittsburgh voters passed a referendum barring any new tax money from going to new stadiums, and the state legislature responded by “loaning” the teams stadium money that would be “repaid” by taxes the state would be collecting anyway — prompting Pittsburgh state rep Thomas Petrone’s timeless comment: “It’s not a grant. It’s not a loan. It’s a groan.”
  • Phoenix restaurants are hoping that having partial attendance at Suns games will provide more happy hour customers, something that seems not only ambitious given the proven not-so-robust spinoff effects of sports stadiums, but also slightly heedless of whether it’s such a great idea to encourage basketball fans to congregate indoors and take their masks off to drink and then go directly to congregating indoors to watch the Suns. In entirely unrelated news, restaurants around the new Los Angeles Rams and Chargers stadium in Inglewood are afraid of being driven out of business by new high-priced options gravitating to serve well-heeled football fans.
  • Finally a partial explanation of how funding for that new Des Moines Menace soccer stadium would work: In addition to city funds, it would be up for state hotel-tax funds designated for projects that “improve the quality of life for Iowa residents.” Other projects proposed to dip into the hotel-tax pool include a Des Moines Buccaneers junior hockey arena, a private indoor amateur sports facility, and a new mall; is it just me, or does “quality of life” seem to have been interpreted as “ways to put money in the pockets of Iowa business barons”?
  • Hey, remember the $200 million highway interchange that Las Vegas is building, totally coincidentally, near the Raiders‘ new stadium? It is now a $273 million highway interchange. But the city needed to build it anyway, because traffic was too bad at the old interchange and, shh, don’t tell them.
  • Okay, here’s one way in which maybe the pandemic has delayed some stadium spending: The Baltimore Orioles owners have signed a two-year lease extension on Camden Yards, while also working with the Maryland Stadium Authority “to establish a new long-term agreement that includes upgrades to the facility,” according to WJZ-TV. So it’s possible some 2021 and 2022 sports subsidies will end up getting pushed back to 2023 or so — yay?
  • If you wanted a live webcam of construction on the new Knoxville stadium for the Tennessee Smokies that hasn’t even been approved yet, let alone started construction, the team’s new stadium promotion website has got you covered.
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Friday roundup: We have entered the Golden Age of minor-league stadium scams

Welp, that was another week. I know from comments that some of you think that the stadium and arena subsidy racket is about to come grinding to a halt, either because of the Covid economy or everybody already having a new enough stadium or something, but it sure looks like team owners didn’t get the memo — my RSS feeds are as hopping as they’ve ever been with tales of sports venue funding demands, and it’s still a rarity when local governments say no or even hmm, really? Check out this week’s roster, which, as yours truly predicted a couple of months ago, is especially jam-packed with minor-league baseball stadium plans:

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What we know about Knoxville’s plan to spend $65m (or more!) on a new Smokies stadium

The Knox County Commission joined the Knoxville city council in approving the creation of a sports authority yesterday, the first step toward building a new stadium for the Tennessee Smokies. The next step is (checks assembly instructions) figuring out what to build and how to pay for it, which looks simple enough. Who’s got an Allen wrench?

We already went over some of the details back in August, but that’s like a decade ago in 2020 time, so a quick recap and update:

  • Smokies owner Randy Boyd, an invisible dog fence baron, failed gubernatorial candidate, and current president of the University of Tennessee, as well as owner of the Johnson City Cardinals, Greeneville Reds, and Elizabethton Twins of the just-demoted-to-amateur-college-ball Appalachian League, would put up 11 acres of land and $140 million toward a new stadium complex that would also include a “mixed-use development.” The city and county would put up an additional $65 million.
  • Does squeezing a baseball stadium plus a bunch of apartment buildings onto one 11-acre site look like a topological impossibility? You bet it does! (Boyd has said the development would include “apartments with balconies overlooking the field,” which it kind of would have to; he has not said whether the Smokies’ left fielder would double as a doorman.)
  • Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs has said that “in order for me to be supportive, this project cannot and will not put any additional tax burdens on Knox Countians,” which will be a neat trick given that $65 million public price tag. Presumably there will be some sort of TIF deal where future taxes from the project will be kicked back to pay for construction, or something similar, but no details have been released yet.

That still leaves a ton of questions, including how Boyd’s land “donation” will work: If it means he gets to use his land to build a lucrative development project but hand over the deed to the public so he can get out of paying property taxes on it, that could be a significant hidden subsidy on top of the $65 million in taxpayer cash. There also remains the issue of who would pay Boyd’s buyout fee for the remaining years of his lease on the Smokies’ current stadium in suburban Kodak, which could cost as much as $10 million.

This is all taking place against the backdrop of MLB’s downsizing scheme for minor-league ball, which if nothing else makes having a traditional farm team with actual prospects paid actual salaries seem a more scarce commodity. Which isn’t to say that Boyd will threaten anything like “If you don’t approve this, I can ask MLB to move my Double-A team to Johnson City and stick you with a bunch of college sophomores on summer break” — Knoxville still has the advantages of population and fan base — but you and I and he and the sports authority all know he could, and that’s the kind of leverage a savvy negotiator likes to have.

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Friday roundup: Titans seek overhaul of 21-year-old stadium, FC Cincy subsidy nears $100m, plus: bored sportswriters go rogue!

A quick programming note: The next two Friday roundups will be on Thursdays, since the next two Fridays are Christmas and New Year’s. Not that I’ll be doing much special those days — I’ve done pretty much nothing since March other than sit and stare at my laptop screen — but I’m doing this anyway as a courtesy to readers who may feel the need to go out and infect extended family members with a deadly disease or something.

And on to this week’s news remainders:

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Tennessee Smokies owner looking for “public-private partnership” to build new stadium in Knoxville, here we go

All this talk of Covid infection control protocols is fun to pass the time, but I know you’re all wondering: When are some rich dudes going to resume the real national pastime of grubbing for taxpayer dollars to build sports stadiums? And today you shall wait no longer, because Randy Boyd, multimillionaire invisible dog fence baron, failed gubernatorial candidate, University of Tennessee president, and Tennessee Smokies owner, has asked the city of Knoxville to build him a new stadium. The basics:

  • The Smokies currently play in Kodak, about 15 miles east of Knoxville, having moved there from the city when a new stadium was built for them by Sevier County in 2000.
  • Their lease expires in March 2025, but Boyd can leave early if he buys out the remaining years, which would cost him either around $10 million or $300,000 a year, depending on which news source you believe.
  • Boyd spent $6 million in 2016 to buy seven acres of land in Knoxville that he hopes to use for a stadium.
  • Knoxville Chief Economic and Community Development Officer Stephanie Welch says the city is exploring funding options, and is “excited about exploring the opportunity with other partners” and seeking a “public-private partnership”; this translates as “Boyd doesn’t wanna pay for all of it, so we’re trying to find some local business suckers to split the cost with the city.” There’s also talk of a “mixed-use development” on the site, which would be a lot to fit on Boyd’s 11 total acres along with a ballpark, but is definitely the kind of thing you say when you’re looking for ways to involve other investors.
  • Are there renderings? Do they involve ballplayers the size of Volkswagens standing in positions bearing little resemblance to actual baseball? You bet they do:

This is all just the kicking-the-tires stage, but it’s certainly worth noting that Knoxville officials seem perfectly eager to throw some kind of public money at a new stadium even in the midst of a pandemic recession that has forced budget cuts to such things as libraries and public health. And that’s before Boyd has even rattled any sabers about moving out of the Knoxville area entirely — don’t forget that once minor-league baseball restarts, it will likely be without 42 affiliated teams including the Chattanooga Lookouts, any one of whose cities could be interested (or at least cast as interested) in becoming the new home of the Smokies. I know it may seem like the world has changed irrevocably under Covid, but the underlying business model of the sports industry and its relationship to local political forces is still there, waiting patiently for this to all be over. Or not so patiently, if there’s an expiring lease and an unemployed sketch artist with no sense of proportion ready and waiting to go.

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