Oakland A’s co-owner to visit possible waterfront stadium site, everyone gets all excited

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf may be one of the Gang of Four mayors taking a hard line on stadium subsidies, but that doesn’t mean she can’t try to help the Oakland A’s owners by showing them properties they could buy with their own money. A’s co-owner John Fisher (and possibly co-owner Lew Wolff’s son and stadium point man Keith) will reportedly tour the Howard Terminal site today along with Port of Oakland officials to see if it can be made to work for a new A’s stadium.

This is only one of several sites the A’s owners are looking at, and they still prefer to stay at the Oakland Coliseum site, and really just going to kick the tires isn’t much of a commitment. But since Howard Terminal has been one of the alternate sites that has gotten more attention, this is getting lots of press attention today. Personally, wake me when somebody has a financial plan.

White Sox stadium actually getting even worse name than “U.S. Cellular Field”

Aw, jeez:

U.S. Cellular Field will change its name to Guaranteed Rate Field, the White Sox announced Wednesday afternoon.

The White Sox and Guaranteed Rate, a national mortgage lender, have signed 13-year naming rights deal, according to the Sox. But the name could last even longer — the Sox have an option of extending the deal past 2030.

There is nothing to say about this other than to make jokes. And the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal has already won that contest:

More seriously: You know, there’s nothing requiring any of us normal people (or even us abnormal people who are journalists) from using the corporate-assigned name for a stadium — we can still call it U.S. Cellular Field, or New Comiskey Park, or my preference, “the White Sox’ stadium” all we want. Which is no doubt why resold naming rights go for discount rates: Business owners know that there are plenty of other options for what to call the place, so they’re willing to pay less to slap their name on it. Which is also why you see so many smaller companies putting their name on used stadiums — American Airlines doesn’t need that kind of attention, but Monster Cables, sure.

Speaking of which, the White Sox and Guaranteed Rate didn’t reveal how much the new naming rights deal was for. I’m going with “not nearly enough to be worth the ridicule.”

County okays pursuing D-Backs stadium sale, lacks only all details about everything

Going into yesterday’s Maricopa County board meeting on the possible sale of the Arizona Diamondbacks‘ stadium to a private investment firm, two of the big questions were: Could the county craft a deal that the Diamondbacks owners, who have the right to block a sale, would approve? And would any public money be required?

Coming out of the meeting, the Arizona Republic reports:

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to move forward with negotiations to sell Chase Field, the downtown Phoenix home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, to private out-of-state investors…

But the county vote raised several key questions that went unanswered, including whether the team would support a sale and whether a taxpayer subsidy would be included.

Yeah, we’re cooking with gas now!

County supervisors told the Republic that the deal would extend the Diamondbacks’ lease through 2028, which sounds awfully presumptuous given that nobody’s actually talked to the team owners about this. The paper also reports that “the buyer would be required to reach a deal with the team within the first two years of the contract to pay for capital repairs over the life of the stadium,” which seems nuts — if the two sides just stare at each other saying, “You pay for it!” “No, you!”, what happens, do the buyers go back to the county for a refund?

On the subsidy front, supervisor Andy Kunasek, who you’ll remember from his profanity-laced “go to West Virginia” tirade in response to the D-Backs’ subsidy demands, raised the possibility of giving the private investors either a property tax exemption or a kickback of sales taxes, which apparently he doesn’t think would be “parasitic” if it’s someone other than the Diamondbacks owners getting it. (Maybe he’s still pissy over the Shelby Miller trade?)

Of course, all this is still in the very early stages, so it’s probably best not to think of anything as more than a harebrained scheme that somebody threw out there to see if it’ll stick. I mean, listen to this, from the Republic:

New shops, restaurants and hospitality services could spring up at the ballpark, as the buyer seeks to develop the site into a sports and entertainment “destination.” Among the ideas: Add retail and dining to the open plaza outside the stadium and within the stadium by reducing the seating capacity from 48,000 to 30,000.

This is for a stadium with a retractable roof, mind you, so it’s not like you can easily reduce the building’s footprint in order to jam in more steakhouses. I guess you could rip out all the seats down the left-field line and build a giant sushi bar or something, but that doesn’t seem like a much better idea. Besides, do you really want people eating raw fish before having to watch Shelby Miller?

County to D-Backs: If you’re going to be that way, maybe we’ll just sell your damn stadium

I learned long ago never to be surprised by anything that happens in the stadium world, but this is just bizarre:

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is contemplating selling Chase Field in downtown Phoenix to private, out-of-state investors, and will meet Wednesday to vote on initiating negotiations.

The starting point for the proposed deal, made public Tuesday, is a $60 million sales price. It would include keeping the Arizona Diamondbacks at the stadium through 2028 — the remainder of the team’s contract with the county — and potentially longer. A draft contract showed the county would retain a handful of perks like a stadium suite and premium parking, despite no longer owning the building.

Okay, let’s walk this back. Maricopa County, you may recall, is in the middle of a big-as fight over whether the public will pay for at least $187 million in improvements to the Diamondbacks‘ 18-year-old stadium, as the team owners want, or the team will pay for them if it wants them, as the county’s study that identified the wishlist spells out. Now, it appears, the county is preparing to wash its hands of the whole place and sell it to a shadowy investment group called Stadium Real Estate Partners II LLC, which has ties to investment banker Sorina Givelichian and Fannie Mae board chair Egbert Perry.

Givelichian and Perry don’t sound certifiably insane, so it’s hard to say why on earth they’d want to take on the stadium, since it’s unlikely they’d earn back even a $60 million investment, especially if the Diamondbacks make trouble with their lease, which they’re already doing. The investors issued a letter saying they hoped to create “a sports and entertainment district surrounding the facility [that] would further complement and enhance the downtown area and increase tax revenues within such sports and entertainment district,” which is a lot of nice verbiage but doesn’t exactly explain where the district would go or how big it would be — it’s a pretty tight squeeze around the ballpark, so does this mean them buying adjacent parcels or what? (The buyers’ letter of intent says the purchase would include stadium parking areas, but the page that’s supposed to show a map of the parcels is blank.) And does that “increase tax revenues” line presage a request for TIF tax kickbacks, or is it just a way to sweeten the pot for county board members voting on this?
It’s all extremely weird, and almost feels like a gambit by the county — keep threatening to sue us and we’ll just go ahead and sell your stadium — except then what’s in it for Givelichian and Perry? I really hope there’s more info after today’s county board meeting, because so far this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Hillsborough candidates agree: Tax somebody to pay for Rays stadium, just not sure who

The invaluable Noah Pransky of WTSP-TV (and the Shadow of the Stadium blog) has polled candidates for the Hillsborough County commission (that’s the county with Tampa in it) on where they stand on public funding for a new Rays stadium, and the survey says:

Sandy Murman (District 1 incumbent): Opposed to “a sales tax increase or use of general revenue” for a stadium, but not necessarily opposed to other forms of public funding.

Jeff Zampitella (District 1 challenger): Opposed to using general revenues, fine with hotel taxes, sales taxes, property tax breaks, or pretty much anything else.

Les Miller (District 3 incumbent, not being challenged): “We have to figure out a way to pay for it and not ask taxpayers to pay for a new stadium.”

Jim Norman (District 6 incumbent): Wouldn’t answer, but “has a long record of supporting stadium subsidies for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”

Tim Schock (District 6 challenger): Would likely support hotel taxes only for a stadium, wants the state to be on the hook for anything else.

John Dicks (District 6 challenger): Supports using both hotel taxes and a Community Redevelopment Area, which is essentially a TIF-style property tax kickback. Plus state money.

Pat Kemp (District 6 challenger): Would “likely oppose” general fund spending, but “might support” TIF money or parking revenues.

Tom Scott (District 6 challenger): Yes to using hotel taxes, no to anything else.

Brian Willis (District 6 challenger): Yes to hotel taxes, rental car fees, and state money, so long as it’s no more than half the total stadium cost.

Add it all up and hotel tax money sounds like a consensus pick — which would better news for Rays owner Stuart Sternberg if not for the fact that best estimates are that these would only be enough to pay off maybe $75 million in construction costs, which isn’t going to get very far toward building a whole new stadium. This sounds like it’s going to be one of those “collect pails of money from wherever you can find them” negotiations, which usually end up resorting to something totally crazy because it’s the only option that nobody outright hates.

It’s still very early, but all the “we have to get something done, we just need to figure out how to pay for it” talk is not a good starting point at all if you’re concerned about public subsidies. Add in that this is inevitably shaping up to be a Tampa-vs.-St. Petersburg bidding war — or at least a Hillsborough-vs.-Pinellas County bidding war — and it’s probably time to be very worried indeed. Winning the right to pit different localities against each other for the right to throw money at his team may have been the best deal that Sternberg ever made; St. Peterburg really should have asked for a bigger buyout, but they didn’t ask me, now did they?

Angels really truly not moving to Tustin, slink back to Anaheim to reopen lease talks

Hey, remember almost two years ago when the Los Angeles Angels were threatening to build a new stadium in the Orange County city of Tustin? Vaguely? I’d largely forgotten about the whole thing once Tustin officials said they wanted to receive fair market value for any stadium land, but apparently Angels owner Arte Moreno hadn’t given up on the plan. Until now:

The developer of the proposed Tustin site said his firm worked extensively in recent months on a ballpark project, but could not structure a deal that made economic sense for the development company, for Tustin and for the Angels…

The two sides are believed to have focused on a stadium that would have seated about 37,000 and cost about $700 million. Tustin officials had said they would not provide taxpayer funding for stadium construction.

“At this point, there’s not a path forward that’s economically viable for anyone,” Oliver said.

Instead, Moreno has now reopened talks with the city of Anaheim about a deal to renovate the team’s current stadium, which could get very interesting indeed. Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait is one of the more skeptical local officials on the subject of stadium subsidies, and has been insistent that he won’t give away valuable development rights to Moreno for nothing; a majority of the city council, though, still consists (until the November elections, at least) of members who approved the free-land deal that Tait later scuttled. Tait says he hopes to come to an agreement that’s a “win-win” for both the team and the people of Anaheim; if most mayors said that I’d expect it was just empty rhetoric, but Tait seems to actually mean it, so … yeah, very interesting times indeed.

Phoenix mayor: Don’t listen to county supervisor, we’ll “facilitate” stadium upgrade

To anyone still all excited about yesterday’s revelation that the lead elected official of Maricopa County told the Arizona Diamondbacks owners to take their subsidy demands and shove them, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton is here to let the world know that some Arizona politicians are still going to stand up for truth, justice, and the American way of offering whatever it takes to the local sports team owner if they please, please won’t even consider moving out of town:

Stanton said a letter to county officials from team president Derrick Hall, revealed Monday by The Arizona Republic, was a surprise and should not lead fans to believe Phoenix has lost interest in a compromise that does not cost taxpayer money…

“Any impression that was left that the City of Phoenix wasn’t interested in keeping the Diamondbacks in downtown Phoenix for the long haul is inaccurate,” Stanton said. “I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and get to work to keep the Diamondbacks.”…

Stanton said he reached out to the team Monday to offer assistance: “We stand ready now and into the future to facilitate a long-term solution to this situation if we can be helpful.”

That bit about “does not cost taxpayer money” sounds somewhat promising, though somewhat less promising when you consider that Stanton has previously said that building a new arena with tax money doesn’t count as tax money if it’s tax money that the city is already collecting. Mostly, it looks like Stanton was just reacting to D-Backs president Derrick Hall’s letter saying that the team would proceed on the assumption that neither the county nor city wanted to renegotiate the team’s stadium lease, with the mayor saying, “No, no, we’ll talk! Don’t listen to that crazy guy in county government!” Which totally undermines any attempts by the county to hold a hard line, yes, but in America that’s what we call statesmanship.

Rangers stadium heads for ballot, Arlington mayor grabs at phone of opponent videoing him

After voting unanimously to put a new Texas Rangers stadium funding measure on the November ballot in May and again last week, the Arlington city council did so a third time yesterday, which means the referendum will really truly happen now.

The stadium campaign promises to be more of a battle than it sounded at first — I haven’t seen any polls yet, but there’s an opposition group organized called Save Our Stadium (no website, only a Facebook page, because Zuckerberg owns our public commons) that recently confronted Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams over his support for the $500-million-plus public subsidy plan and his role in banning opposition comments from a Facebook page about the stadium. They then posted a video about it (shot in portrait mode, because the future will also be shot in portrait mode) that ends with the mayor getting steamed at a question about a stadium opponent being threatened with arrest, at which point he tries to grab the phone of one of his questioners, which isn’t something you see every day from a mayor:

I’ve also been sent video (no permission yet to post it, sorry) alleging to show a stadium supporter trying to smash the car window of some people handing out anti-subsidy flyers. With emotions running this high with three months to go, I’m honestly a little anxious about where this will go by November, this being Texas and all.

Rays start crowdsourcing stadium ideas, so long as they’re ideas they already want

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is clearly in the “building momentum” part of his new-stadium campaign: After making a nearly endless list of possible stadium sites (without discussing yet how any of them would be paid for, because that gets people thinking about price, and you always want to avoid that as long as possible), Rays execs have now launched a website called ballparkreimagined.com where fans can chime in on what they want to see in a new stadium.

The site offers two places to enter your comments, the first being the prompt “I imagine…” and room to write anything you want. Among the featured comments are “I Imagine An Intimate, Waterfront Ballpark That Will Be Here For Years To Come” and “I Imagine A Retractable Dome Because Of The Unpredictable Summer Weather,” which leads me to believe that the comments are being edited heavily, both to ensure that everyone uses proper initial-caps style and to edit out “I Imagine DEEZ NUTS.”

The second poll is a multiple-choice one: “What words describe the ballpark you imagine?” The options are:

  • Year-round
  • Intimate
  • Organic
  • Breathtaking
  • Welcoming
  • Cutting-edge
  • Icon
  • Seamless

Leaving aside that this sounds like a list of rejected Divergent factions, you’ll note that they’re all characteristics that a team owner would stress in their marketing materials — there’s no “Privately funded” or “Easy to get to” or “Affordable tickets” on the list. (Yeah, I know “Affordable tickets” isn’t an adjective, but neither is “Icon.”) And sorry, no write-in adjectives allowed.

Ultimately, this is a website-as-push-poll, where in the guise of soliciting fan opinion, the Rays ownership is selling how totally awesome it would be to have a new breathtaking, cutting-edge stadium. They might even eventually incorporate a couple of fan-submitted ideas — judging from the video on the site, something including a place to play catch on the beach, and a barbershop where you can get a Rays-colored mohawk — but the real point of this is what they’re selling you, not what you’re telling them.

Arizona official calls baseball “parasitic,” tells D-Backs owner “go to West Virginia”

To recap briefly the Arizona Diamondbacks‘ stadium squabble: In March, team execs sent a letter to Maricopa County, saying if they didn’t get $187 million (or maybe more) to upgrade (or maybe replace) their 18-year-old stadium, they’d sue to break their lease and move. In April, county officials wrote back that most of the $187 million in proposed upgrades in a 2013 county study was for things that the lease explicitly says the team should be paying for, so seriously, guys?

That should be enough epistolary bad blood for anyone, but the Arizona Republic just turned up another letter, this one from County Supervisor Andy Kunasek to Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall in April that included some remarkably pungent language for an official missive from a public landlord to its whiny tenant:

Your slanderous public comments and attempts to rewrite history demand a response. The false narrative you are trying to sell impugns the character and competence of many dedicated people who have worked diligently to protect the interested taxpayers who paid for and own the stadium…

My instinctive concern for the taxpayer is amplified by my belief that this facility should never have been built using taxpayer funds, and to turn the music up louder, THEY WERE NEVER GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE THAT DECISION AT THE BALLOT BOX. I have no intention of compounding that wrong by supporting your obscene demand that we provide another massive infusion of taxpayer money to the private business that currently employs you…

As for your business, profession baseball is evolving into a parasitic enterprise which is well on its way to destroying its host. … I suggest that you focus on your job, which should be the development of a success product (a winning team), which will improve the fan experience and in turn, will increase ticket sales and reignite a desire for people to attend and watch professional baseball in Arizona. Or, if you want, run for a seat on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. Maybe you can become the personal valet your owners want on the Board. Please quit trying to do both jobs.

Boom! And if that weren’t enough, the Republic reports that Kunasek hand-delivered the letter, and added a few more choice words at the time:

As Kunasek delivered the letter to the team, he directed a profanity-laced storm at Hall, calling on owner Ken Kendrick to “take your stupid baseball team and get out” and go back to “f–king West Virginia,” according to team notes that Kunasek does not dispute.

Kunasek, a fiscal-responsibility Republican who’s been in office since 1997, has already said he’s not running for re-election this year, so this was an opportune time for some venting. As for what it’ll mean for the Diamondbacks’ future, Hall wrote back with a long letter about what the Diamondbacks allegedly do for the local economy, and concluding:

Your candor with respect to this issue will cause us to move forward in a different direction from what we had anticipated and hoped, and where we had tried to find resolution in the past to no avail.

So that’s a threat, albeit probably an idle one unless Hall and Kendrick really think they can win a court case to break their lease, which seems questionable at best. More likely they’ll wait to see who’s on the county board after November, and see if they’re more willing to play ball. Kunasek certainly set the battle lines for any future stadium talks, though, which isn’t bad for a parting shot after 19 years on the job.