Friday roundup: Spending on training facilities is a bad idea, Portland seeks MLB team, Jays game postponed after roof hit by falling ice

I can’t believe none of you wrote in to ask why I hadn’t reported on a Toronto Blue Jays game getting postponed due to falling ice puncturing a hole in the stadium roof, but I guess you’re all acclimated to waiting for the Friday roundup now for that sort of thing. But wait no longer! (Well, wait a few bullet points for that one in particular.)

Cincinnati’s new stadium doesn’t actually win it MLS franchise, at least not yet

MLS owners met yesterday, one day after Cincinnati approved $64 million in subsidies for a new F.C. Cincinnati soccer stadium, and … didn’t actually approve F.C. Cincinnati as an expansion franchise as boosters had hoped:

There are a couple of ways to read this: Either the Cincinnati stadium approval was too unexpected for MLS owners to get all their voting ducks in a row; or they really are intent on keeping this bidding war going, and seeing if maybe Cincinnati upping the ante convinces Sacramento to throw in a few more million dollars. (Sacramento the ownership group, Sacramento the city, it almost doesn’t matter.) Regardless, MLS has to be thrilled with how this expansion shakedown is going — it wasn’t that long ago that the league was at most looking at one subsidy-rich option to choose from — so holding off a little longer can’t hurt. I mean, it’s not like Cincinnati can revoke its stadium subsidy approval now just because it’s been told it has to wait 4-6 weeks for shipping, right?

Cincinnati council approves MLS stadium, West End residents remain pissed

Sure enough, the Cincinnati city council voted 5-4 to approve spending $34.8 million on a new MLS stadium in the West End (it will also get $15 million in county money plus around $14 million in discounted property-tax payments), clearing the way for F.C. Cincinnati‘s expansion bid. If that’s approved today, as expected — and it’s hard to see MLS turning down all this stadium cash for a team that has been wildly successful in attendance in the USL — Cincinnati will become the 517th MLS franchise (more or less, I’ve stopped counting) and Sacramento and Detroit will have to wait until the next round of expansion in a few hours (estimated).

That’s a whole bunch of money from a city that’s already poured even more than that into poorly received stadium deals for the Reds and Bengals — the latter of which famously required selling a public hospital to pay off — and it only took place after team owners arm-twisted a final vote by hashing out a last-second community benefits agreement to provide $100,000 a year for local organizations and provide some community oversight of elements like lighting, parking, and traffic. But at least West End residents got some say in what they’d get out of having their local high school football stadium torn down and rebuilt to make way for an MLS stadium, right?

The fight over the benefits agreement will continue on Tuesday, when the West End Community Council meets. Some members are calling for council president Keith Blake, who signed the agreement on Monday, to be impeached.

Ah, democracy.

Cincinnati could approve $63m stadium subsidy today, get MLS team tomorrow

The Cincinnati city council is set to vote on approval for an F.C. Cincinnati soccer stadium in the West End today at 4 p.m., which could lead to the city being awarded an MLS franchise as soon as tomorrow:

The vote would come just ahead of Tuesday’s Major League Soccer board of governors meeting in New York City. MLS has twice delayed awarding the next round of franchises, although Nashville did get one in late December. FC Cincinnati is in competition with Sacramento and Detroit.

Five votes are needed to pass the stadium plan, which would involve $63 million in public subsidies, and right now there are four sure votes, with councilmember Jeff Pastor reportedly holding out for a written community benefits agreement before signing off on the funds. Team president Jeff Berding, though, says he’s confident Pastor will vote yes:

“We’ve had great leadership at City Hall. I expect that tomorrow the ordinances that provide the public infrastructure to support our privately funded stadium will be approved,” Berding said Sunday after three days of last-ditch meetings in hopes of sealing the deal…

Berding said he worked through the weekend to meet Pastor’s demand to put the CBA in writing in time for council to review it before it votes at a 4 p.m. special session.

Um, that’s not really a community benefits agreement if you don’t negotiate it with the community, only with one councilmember in secret? [CLARIFICATION: Berding did say he’s been meeting with the West End Community Council to discuss the CBA, or at least with its executive board.] But you know, never mind, far worse deals have been cut for votes in other cities.

If there’s one thing for sure, it’s that the Cincinnati police department has not been leafletting the West End with flyers calling the neighborhood a “high violent crime area” just so that the soccer team owners can buy up land on the cheap. Probably.

F.C. Cincinnati gets its stadium land after school board lowers its price

F.C. Cincinnati‘s once-dead West End stadium plan continued its resurrection tour yesterday, as the Cincinnati Public School board approved a land swap that will provide the team with the site of Willard R. Stargel Stadium in exchange for a vacant lot where a new high school football venue will be built to replace it. And the crowd went wild:

A crowd of nearly 50 people, some of them holding signs opposing the deal, chanted “Shame!” following the vote.

The school board said it got what it wanted in exchange for the land, but it really didn’t: It’s getting roughly $1 million a year in property tax payments instead of the $2 million a year it initially said it was due. And while F.C. Cincinnati’s owners agreed to add a community benefits agreement with local community members, they’ve already decided unilaterally how much they’re going to put into any community fund, and anyway the stadium deal will be approved before the CBA is negotiated, so the West End will pretty much end up liking it or lumping it, or at best haggling over how to divide the boodle — which is pretty much par for the course with CBAs.

CPS Board President Carolyn Jones said the board made the decision after weighing the benefits of getting new revenue for schools and the opposition of many vocal West End residents, concluding, “Like I always said, it’s a no win-win situation.” I’ve never actually heard that particular idiom before, but it’s oddly apropos for stadium subsidy deals.


F.C. Cincinnati cuts deal with councilmembers for $63m in West End stadium subsidies

Oho, so this is why F.C. Cincinnati kept moving the goalposts on its stadium deadline, and then released a statement pivoting back to the West End site it had previously rejected: The team had been secretly — or at least behind-the-scenesedly — working on a deal with the city council to revive subsidies for a West End stadium:

The deal, presented by Councilmen P.G. Sittenfeld and David Mann, calls for FC Cincinnati to build a $200 million soccer stadium, pay $25 million in property taxes to Cincinnati Public Schools and infuse $100,000 a year for 10 years into the neighborhood.

City and county taxpayers would contribute $48.8 million, vs. $51 million for the Oakley site.

Okay, let’s back this up a sec. When the West End site was last in play, F.C. Cincinnati was looking to have its property taxes capped at between $100,000 and $500,000 a year, while the school district thought the team should be paying more like $2 million a year. The deal proposed by Sittenfeld and Mann would set property taxes at closer to $1 million a year, which would still be a tax break worth around $14 million in present value, if the school district’s valuation is correct.

Meanwhile, taxpayers would spend an additional $48.8 million in straight-up cash: $17 million from local hotel taxes, $6.3 million from the sale of the former Blue Ash airport site, $8 million in tax-increment financing kickbacks, $2.5 million in city capital funds, and $15 million in county money to build a parking garage for fans. Add in the tax breaks, and that’s $62.8 million that Cincinnati residents would be contributing toward the $200 million stadium project. (F.C. Cincinnati would also build a new high-school football stadium as part of the deal, but as the West End already has a perfectly good one that it would lose to make way for a soccer stadium, that’s really a net gain.)

So what now? The support of Sittenfeld and Mann should give F.C. Cincinnati five votes on the nine-member city council, though the other three nominally pro-stadium members haven’t actually chimed in on this latest plan. The school board has to approve selling the stadium land in a vote tomorrow; presumably the councilmembers wouldn’t have announced this deal if the school board hadn’t signed off on it, but who really knows. And then MLS has to actually award Cincinnati an expansion team, but given that the league has been twiddling its thumbs since December waiting for Cincinnati to put together a stadium deal that makes the team and league happy (read: pays for a large chunk of the costs with somebody else’s money), that’s probably a slam dunk.

If it all pans out, there is some happiness here, in that Cincinnati boasts by far the strongest fan support in the second-tier USL, and so arguably deserves a shot at an MLS club. (We will ignore the fact that in most of the world, Cincinnati could earn this promotion without anyone paying a dime just by winning games.) But man, $63 million is a lot of dough, nearly as much as Nashville is coughing up toward its MLS stadium. Soccer is still a relatively cheap date in terms of subsidies compared to the Big Four U.S. sports, but MLS is doing its best to change that, and this whole multi-city bidding war thing is working out about as well as the league could have hoped, even if it’s taking a while to get there.

Friday roundup: Warriors rail stop turns pricey, West End stadium undead again, Montreal mayor meets with would-be Expos owners

Superbrief mode today:

  • Expanding light-rail service to the Golden State Warriors‘ new arena is now expected to cost at least $62 million, which is a lot for Muni Metro, though not for some other transit systems. The Warriors owners are kicking in $19 million, but the rest will be funded by tax money from the arena district, which may or may not be enough to cover the entire nut. Tim Redmond saw this coming.
  • F.C. Cincinnati owners are officially pivoting back to the West End stadium site that it had declared dead last month after not getting offered enough property-tax breaks on the land. How come? Team CEO Jeff Berding said of the other two options, Oakley is “not as close to the urban core as desired,” and the team couldn’t secure land in Newport, Kentucky. Sounds like the West End has the club over somewhat of a barrel, which it should be able to use to ensure the team pays full property taxes, at least, though some residents may be more concerned about keeping out a stadium entirely over fears it will further gentrify their neighborhood.
  • The mayor of Montreal is meeting today with an ownership group that wants to bring a new Expos MLB team back to town. “We don’t need a cent from the city of Montreal, but we need a little help,” prospective co-owner Stephen Bronfman said earlier this week; your guess is as good as mine what that actually means.
  • Minnesota taxpayers have spent $1.4 billion on new or renovated sports venues over the past 20 years, if anyone is counting.
  • The Pawtucket Red Sox‘ stadium demands continue to be stalled, if anyone is keeping track.
  • “A deputy in one of Russia’s 2018 FIFA World Cup host cities has claimed that a latest inspection by the world’s footballing body has neglected a missing column at a newly built stadium.” You’ve just got to read the whole Moscow Times article now, don’t you?


F.C. Cincinnati is just going to keep setting stadium deadlines until one of them works

Readers of the book Field of Schemes — you are all readers of the book, right? if not, would you mind clicking here or here? — will be familiar with the sections of the chapters on the standard stadium playbook titled the “Two-Minute Warning”: the tactic whereby team owners declare an arbitrary deadline to get a subsidy deal done, then if it doesn’t happen by then, declare another arbitrary deadline a bit further down the road.

Well, F.C. Cincinnati‘s owners did just that for their stadium plans, announcing that they would select a stadium site by the end of March, and then when they couldn’t get approval for any sites by then — at least, not on terms where they wouldn’t have to pay full property taxesblew right past that date without making a decision. But that didn’t mean the clock wasn’t still ticking, nosirreebob:

FC Cincinnati CEO Jeff Berding described the next 24 hours as “critical” in determining where a proposed new soccer stadium would go.

According to Berding, the March 31 deadline was a real deadline, and he is engaging in conversations with Major League Soccer officials to keep the process moving forward.

He would not share details about the specifics of those discussions, but indicated that by noon Tuesday, after the conversations have taken place, he would have a better sense of how the rest of the week would unfold.

That statement by Berding was on Monday, so the 24 hours were up yesterday, and … nope, not a word from him since. So either he’s talked to MLS officials about how to proceed but isn’t telling anyone yet, or he’s talked to them but nothing was decided (beyond “yeah, gotta figure that out at some point soon”), or he keeps calling and getting a busy signal.

Either way, there’s no shame in waiting to make a decision until you actually know what you want to do. But it is yet another reminder that all stadium “deadlines” are garbage, always.

Friday roundup: Rangers to keep empty ballpark, football Hall of Fame seeks bailout, Goodell dreams of a new Bills stadium

Happy baseball season! Unless you’re a Miami Marlins fan, in which case it’s already ruined. But anyway:

Friday roundup: Coyotes seek investors, Detroit MLS stadium deal maybe not dead after all, and new stadium fireworks renderings!

So much news! Let’s get right to it: