St. Pete council calls Rays’ bluff, rejects lease buyout unless team coughs up development rights

If yesterday’s news had you thinking that city councils were just mindless automatons who would inevitably rubber-stamp any stadium deal set before them, then the St. Petersburg city council had a surprise for you: That body voted 5-3 yesterday afternoon to reject the proposed deal in which the Tampa Bay Rays could buy their way out of their Tropicana Field lease to move to a new stadium elsewhere in the bay area for a payment of at most $42 million.

Given that as recently as a week ago, all signs were that the council was going to approve the plan that Mayor Rick Kriseman had worked out with Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, this was a bit of a shocker. But according to the Tampa Bay Times, Rays execs shot themselves in the foot with their answer to questions about whether the team would agree to forgo a split of profits from development of land on the 85-acre Tropicana Field site if they were in the process of leaving anyway:

Council member Darden Rice, who voted for the agreement, said the Rays blew the deal with their presentation.

“I think at one point we had five votes,” Rice said. “But I was very disappointed by Auld’s response to Karl Nurse’s question about development rights. It was either tone deafness or arrogance.”…

Nurse had asked Kriseman earlier in the week to change the agreement so the city could retain all development rights in that situation. But the Rays declined to make any substantive changes to Kriseman’s deal.

Nurse still voted for the deal in the end, but this did not go over well with several other members of the council:

[Councilmember Bill] Dudley said he felt like the Rays were making ultimatums. “I don’t like arrogance,” he said.

“The deal breaker for me was the idea that they want us to abide by the use agreement for redevelopment purposes, where they can benefit,” [councilmember Amy] Foster said, “but they didn’t want to abide by the use agreement” by staying at the Trop.

“This is a common strategy,” she said. “They use their mobility in order to threaten cities in order to get more.”

Yep, that they do. But in most cases they don’t have an ironclad lease like the one that the Rays are locked into in St. Pete, which currently doesn’t allow the team owners to buy their way out, or even talk about leaving, until 2027. That’s a hefty piece of leverage that the council has at its disposal, and they just used it.

For Sternberg, the logical next step in this situation is to haggle: If the council wants a bigger share of development rights, throw them a bigger share of development rights. Or kick in an extra million or two a year in lease-breaking payments. But it seems like the council isn’t opposed to the principle of the deal, just the specifics, so the usual strategy would be to pick off a couple of councilmembers and find out what their price is.

Sternberg, however, has already declared that he won’t negotiate any more changes to the lease buyout, saying last week, “If it doesn’t pass, we’re doomed to leave.” This kind of paints him into a corner, with his only obvious options being:

  • Try to pretend he never said anything about no further negotiations, and quietly resume talks in a few months. This would not only require swallowing a lot of pride at this point, but also leave him with a weakened negotiating position, since clearly his ultimatums wouldn’t be worth squat.
  • Sit tight and wait — if not 13 years, then at least for a new city council to be elected next fall. And then hope like crazy that the new folks are more willing to give you anything you want.
  • Sell the team and make it someone else’s problem. Forbes, which tends to underestimate team values, has the Rays worth $485 million, which would be a nifty 142% profit on what Sternberg bought them for in 2002. But presumably the Rays would be worth an awful lot more if they had a shiny new stadium to play in (especially if the shiny new stadium debt could be fobbed off on taxpayers), so Sternberg would be leaving a lot of hypothetical money on the hypothetical table if he took this route.
  • Call Bud Selig and ask him to threaten to blow up the team on his way out the door, and hope that the courts will protect them from the inevitable antitrust lawsuit that would result.

So far, the Rays have just responded with a generic “You’re a bunch of poopyheads” statement:

There’s still plenty of time — until 2027, really — for a deal to be worked out, so there’s no reason to start freaking out about the Rays moving to Montréal (unless you’re the Tampa Bay Times editorial board). The St. Peterburg council did send a message, though, that they’re at least aware that, as Jonah Keri puts it:

Public officials trying to negotiate better deals in the public interest. What’ll they think of next?

Vegas approves $122m for nonexistent soccer team, in second-largest MLS stadium subsidy ever

D.C. United wasn’t the only MLS franchise to win a big public stadium subsidy yesterday — or at least, not if you count wannabe MLS franchises as well: The Las Vegas city council voted 4-3 yesterday to approve $56.5 million in stadium subsidies and related infrastructure costs for a new stadium to host an as-yet-unnamed, as-yet-nonexistent MLS team that would begin play at an unspecified time. Add in $20 million for a parking garage that will be used by stadiumgoers (for which the team will get to keep parking fees for soccer matches), free land appraised at $38 million to $48 million, plus a full property tax abatement worth between $8 million and $16 million in present value, and you’re talking between $122 million and $140 million in public subsidies, or enough to be the biggest soccer stadium subsidy in U.S. history, if only D.C. United hadn’t set a new record the same day.

It’s absolutely the biggest subsidy ever for an MLS team that doesn’t exist yet, though, so Las Vegas, take a bow!

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that though the Las Vegas Review-Journal has done some excellent reporting on this deal, it’s still prone to the kind of misunderstanding of basic financial math that plagues too much development reporting. Check this out:

To pay off a $50 million bond, the city would have to borrow $90 million to pay the interest on the loan.

If anyone can identify what that’s supposed to mean, please let me know.

NY Times real estate section says exactly what it always says about everything, everywhere

The New York Times real estate section has a long piece up today about plans for a new D.C. United stadium, because … actually, I’m not sure why. The New York Times real estate section usually focuses on, you know, New York, and even if the D.C. council is voting on the United stadium plan today, it seems a bit outside the usual bounds, but, you know, whatever.

The article itself interviews the owner of D.C. United, the owner of the development company that owns the stadium land, D.C.’s planning director, D.C.’s incoming mayor, and one woman who lives in the planned stadium neighborhood, presumably for local color. My Vice Sports colleague Aaron Gordon has put together a Storify detailing all the flaws in this piece, but seriously, people, it’s a New York Times real estate section article. This is not, and never has been, journalism; it’s a service provided to realtor advertisers that dutifully identifies which neighborhoods real estate professionals are trying to hype as up-and-coming, enabling them to sell more housing there at inflated prices, and thus plow more money back into ads in the Times real estate section. It’s a win-win! Unless you 1) rent in a neighborhood thus targeted or 2) prefer to have news in your newspaper, but those people will be crushed like grapes by the tide of history, right?

Anyway, if you insist on reading the article beyond the “Real Estate” slug at the top, Gordon’s Storify is a worthwhile corrective. But really, you have better uses for your time. How about this article on how economic inequality is helping to drive the Uber economy? Or one about how ground squirrels are accelerating global warming? I never did like the look of those guys.

Become an FoS Supporter, get cool swag, enough karma points to last till 2016!

It’s that time again! If you love, or even like, or even find yourself enraged by but can’t live without what you’ve read on Field of Schemes this past year, please consider becoming an FoS Supporter. In addition to the satisfaction of knowing you’ve helped allow me to devote multiple hours to this site every day and at least approach minimum wage in return, you get stuff!

  • Full-Year Supporters ($100) receive an ad of their choice in the top right corner of this space, on a rotating basis, for 12 months. They also get all the premiums listed below.
  • Half-Year Supporters ($50) receive the same premiums and the ad, but only for (wait for it) six months.
  • Mini-Supporters ($25) receive just the premiums.

Premiums: In addition to the FoS Supporter pins that we debuted last year, you’ll receive a limited-edition set of 12 stadium and arena trading cards, with photos taken by myself and FoS correspondent David Dyte (photographer/author of As Seen In Brooklyn — see more of his photos here), and all your favorite stadium swindle stats and trivia on the back. Design isn’t completely finalized yet, but they’ll look something like this:


You’ll also get access to live chats with myself (and, I’m hoping, some other stadium experts as well) throughout the year. Although, after the initial round of chats this year, I’ve concluded that these work better if they’re open to questions from all, not just Supporters, so most 2015 chats won’t be subscription-only. Your donations will still help me afford the time to organize and conduct the chats, though, so if you think that’s worth some of your hard-earned cash, please consider Supportership. To sign up, click here! That’s here! (Or the button below, which works the same.)

Any questions, drop me an email, or just ask in comments below. And as always, huge thanks to those who have contributed over the last year and a half of the Supporter program: I’ve been able to provide far more comprehensive coverage of the ever-expanding world of sports (and sometimes non-sports) subsidies as a result, and both I and the rest of the readers of this site are eternally grateful.


Vegas councilmember explains MLS stadium flip-flop: “TESLAAAAAAAAAAA!”

There’s a long article in today’s Las Vegas Review-Journal profiling the “two Bobs” on either side of the city’s MLS stadium proposal: Bob Beers, the councilmember who’s been savaging the proposal on his blog, and Bob Coffin, the councilmember who was agin the stadium plan until it was amended to include $25 million in parks for his district, after which he was fer it. (Coffin says he finds accusations that he was “bribed” to support the deal “amusing.”)

The most notable bit, possibly, comes at the very end, where Coffin has this to say about how throwing public dollars at private enterprises can be good sometimes:

“I’m used to dealing with competing interests … People who want zero public dollars haven’t seen how things are built in this state. Tesla. Can I say Tesla? Can say I say that five or six times?”

You can say it all you want, but it might not mean what you think it means.

Vegas swing vote could be swinging back to support MLS stadium, because parks!

Remember how yesterday I wrote this about the proposed Las Vegas MLS stadium deal?

The please-let-it-actually-be-final council vote is set for next Wednesday; if past history is any guide, we won’t get much of a hint of the outcome before then, unless Bob Coffin tips his hand before then.

Bob Coffin has now tipped his hand, and it looks like he may be swinging back to the “yes, let’s give $90 million to a soccer stadium for a team that doesn’t exist yet” side:

Councilman Bob Coffin, a consistent opponent to using public money for the stadium, has softened his stance and appears ready to support a new financing plan that includes $25 million in city money to build the stadium. The key to Coffin’s shift is a new wrinkle in the plan that would guarantee about $25 million for improvements to city parks, something Coffin says is especially needed in older neighborhoods like the ones he represents.

“It’s not the same deal as it was. They’ve improved it a great deal,” Coffin said. “The debt potential is really minimized now. The raid on the revenues for the parks has stopped … It’s going to really help us.”

The Las Vegas Sun isn’t clear on exactly when Coffin said this, but given other quotes from Coffin included in their article, it’s pretty clear that his main concern was getting more money for parks, and now that the stadium deal includes some more money for parks on top of the $90 million for the stadium, he’s all, “Cool, more money for parks!” Which helps explain why the only revision the stadium proponents made in the deal since the council voted in October to “reduce or eliminate” public subsidies for the project was to throw some money at parks, because why worry about making the whole council happy when you can just placate the one swing vote?

All of which should be a lesson: If you’re an elected representative body and want to eliminate public subsidies for a sports stadium, you might want to actually vote down the public subsidies, rather than voting for “Here’s another two months, see if you can come up with something that will get one councilmember to defect from our narrow majority.” Just a suggestion.

Warriors redesign arena to stop jokes that it looks like a toilet seat

Renderings! The people have spoken, and the Golden State Warriors have listened, redesigning their planned San Francisco arena to look less like a toilet seat:

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier and Ross say it now looks more like a Sony Discman, which is both true and also a more pleasant image for your $1 billion arena. (It’s about time for portable CD players to be retro now, right?)

The whole thing doesn’t look too bad, though unless I’m mistaken it includes a whole bunch of mid-sized buildings that don’t actually exist now, in order to make the arena look less hulking by comparison. And, as always, don’t expect that any of it will actually look like this when it’s built, assuming it gets built — though I think we can safely predict that whatever it ends up looking like, it will definitively not be a toilet seat.

Braves stadium development to feature lens flare, violations of space-time continuum

Renderings! The Atlanta Braves have ‘em, showing what the new pretend urban neighborhood around their new Cobb County stadium will look like when complete! Look, here’s one now:


  • There will be a mix of modern buildings and retroish buildings, because that’s what people want in their fake urban neighborhoods.
  • The surrounding development will include some small parking lots, with nobody much parking in them, despite a game going on at the time.
  • Some cars are clearly visible on the roads while others are just a blur of head- and taillights, presumably because the architects are those aliens who slipped something in Kirk’s coffee to accelerate him to multiple times normal human speed.
  • The near future will include a really awful Jack & Jones ad campaign.
  • Enough lens flare to kill J.J. Abrams.

Really, though, none of this matters, because these are just sketches meant as a sales pitch for businesses to locate in the project (or as the Atlanta Journal Constitution paraphrased Braves VP Derek Schiller’s explanation, “the concept of project’s look, not the final design”). The eventual development could look like this, or it could look like something else, or it could never get built. It’s important to remember that you’re looking at an ad here, even if it’s a slightly more attractive one than that fake Jack & Jones thing.

Vegas’ final offer on MLS stadium: $76.5m, plus free land and tax breaks and … we’ll get back to you

There is yet another MLS stadium financing plan in Las Vegas, and it goes like this: The city would provide $31.5 million in infrastructure spending, plus $25 million in stadium bonds to be paid off via hotel taxes, plus a $20 million parking garage that would be used by stadium patrons among others (and would be paid for by a TIF district). Plus free land and a property tax break, which the city doesn’t know how much they’d be worth, because they’ve only been working on this for half the year.

That’s marginally better than the $90 million-ish in subsidies that was proposed back in August, maybe, depending on how much of the free land/property tax rebates/garage was included in that deal back then and similarly left off the balance sheet.

It’s not anything like the promise to “reduce or eliminate” public subsidies that the council demanded back in October as a condition of reconsidering the deal, but maybe they’ll figure that getting $25 million shunted from the stadium to public parks will be enough of a fig leaf that they can move ahead? Or maybe they’ll say screw it, we said no then, we meant it. The please-let-it-actually-be-final council vote is set for next Wednesday; if past history is any guide, we won’t get much of a hint of the outcome before then, unless Bob Coffin tips his hand before then.

Las Vegas council extends deadline on MLS stadium deal, figuring maybe it’ll look better in the morning

Two months after giving developers Cordish Cos. another two months to “reduce or eliminate” public subsidies for their MLS soccer stadium plan, the Las Vegas city council voted yesterday to give them another 16 days. Not that the subsidies have been significantly reduced or eliminated — though the council has proposed redirecting some of the stadium money to build public parks — but who knows, maybe there will be a breakthrough?

The swing vote at this point, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears to be councilmember Bob Coffin, who is now saying things like “Give and take are part of politics. Nothing is perfect.” That sure sounds like just haggling over the price, but I guess we’ll find out by December 17. Maybe.