Detroit council approves plan to replace Tiger Stadium field with fake turf

As expected, last night the Detroit city council approved the redevelopment of the old Tiger Stadium site by the Detroit Police Athletic League, clearing the way for building housing, retail, and a new PAL headquarters on the old stadium site. The ballfield itself, which in recent years has been maintained by volunteers from the Navin Field Grounds Crew, will be retained, but redone in artificial turf, over the opposition of the Grounds Crew and others.

There’s still a chance that the PAL will change its mind and preserve the old field, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. So it looks like the last surviving piece of one of baseball’s most historic stadiums will soon vanish (except for the flagpole, maybe?). If you never visited the stadium when it was still there, you can get a taste by checking out David Gratt’s requiem for the ballpark from 2003, which might help give some sense why anyone cares about saving a bunch of grass.


Detroit council to vote tonight on ripping up Tiger Stadium field, replacing it with easier-to-maintain fake turf

The Detroit city council is set to decide tonight on whether to approve the city Police Athletic League’s plan to turn the old Tiger Stadium site into a youth sports facility — something that would likely be heralded by all sides as a great solution (previous plans would have had buildings on top of the old ballfield) if not for the fact that it would require ripping up the grass field meticulously maintained by the volunteer Navin Field Grounds Crew and replacing it with artificial turf. The PAL is proposing this because it’s a more modern, better surface for — aw, hell, it’s just because it’s cheaper, okay?

Prof. John N. “Trey” Rogers of Michigan State University’s School of Turf Management says he advised PAL to use synthetic turf only because PAL had an insufficient budget and a lack of the expertise needed to maintain a natural grass field.

PAL wanted to use the field six to ten hours daily, Rogers says, but presented a maintenance budget of “less than six figures” annually—which indicated they wouldn’t be able to hire anyone with the expertise needed to maintain a grass field at that level of usage.

Asked whether if PAL had a sufficient budget they could maintain real grass, Rogers says definitely yes—“it just takes a lot of care and know-how to do it.”

There’s actually a good case to be made that turf is more expensive than grass over the long term, because you have to replace it every few years, whereas grass just has to be maintained. I’m personally hoping that the Grounds Crew’s petition succeeds in getting the city to direct the PAL to come up with a plan to preserve the grass, if only because I haven’t made it out to play a pickup game on the old field yet; we’ll find out tonight whether I, and any other interested baseball fans, will get the chance.


Public’s Braves stadium tab nears $350m on road and transit costs

The invaluable Dan Klepal of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has done a new tally of all the additional infrastructure costs for the new Atlanta Braves stadium, and it includes:

  • $41 million in road projects, to be paid off using a combination of local, state and federal money
  • $3.4 million for new buses, plus $1.2 million a year (figure $15 million in present value) for a new tram running around the stadium area
  • At least $9 million for a new pedestrian bridge over I-285 to get people from the parking lot to the stadium, assuming it doesn’t cost much more than that, and also assuming it doesn’t get scrapped entirely.
  • A bunch of other projects that were already on the drawing board but may now get funded because of the stadium, including a $4.3 million firehouse in Cumberland and a possible $500 million bus rapid transit project.

Not all of that would be solely to benefit the Braves, of course, but we’re certainly looking at an additional $60-70 million in public costs just for stadium-related improvements, on top of $276 million in direct subsidies. (Klepal has the direct subsidy cost at closer to $400 million, but he then subtracts out the rent the Braves will be paying to Cobb County, whereas I’ve deducted it from the initial figure — same math, different way of writing the equation.) I know everyone likes to have one solid cost figure to throw out there, so let’s go with “almost $350 million” — but if you want to count everything that the county will be spending money on at least in part because of the Braves, the figure could end up way higher. Sure hope they’ll at least get to watch Freddie Freeman for that price.

New St. Pete councilmember could be deciding vote for Rays lease buyout

You can tell how blasé I’ve become about this whole electoral-process-making-any-difference thing when I didn’t even bother to check until late yesterday who’d won what in stadium-related races. (I knew about Ohio rejecting pot monopolies and Kentucky electing a crazy guy governor, because Facebook, duh.) So, a quick recap:

  • Glendale, Arizona voters recalled city councilmember Gary Sherwood, who’d been one of the prime supporters of the Arizona Coyotes and their sweetheart lease deal. Not that it matters all that much — Glendale’s council was already solidly against the Coyotes lease, and Sherwood has already said he’s planning to run for his old seat again next August — but Coyotes owner Anthony LeBlanc should probably give up on waiting for Glendale to come to what he thinks its senses should be.
  • The one open seat on the St. Peterburg city council has gone to Lisa Wheeler-Brown, who could give Mayor Rick Kriseman a pivotal fifth vote (out of eight) in support of his plan to let the Tampa Bay Rays buy their way out of their lease clause preventing them from moving elsewhere in the metropolitan area. That means that come January, Kriseman could presumably reintroduce his plan, which the old council rejected but Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is okay with, and have it approved, which could lead to the Rays stadium chase moving into the “see which local governments we can shake loose how much money from” phase.

And that may be it, so far as I can tell. It was a slow election day — I hear there’s something bigger at stake next year, so I’ll to try to pay more attention by then.


Rays reject St. Pete lease buyout plan, open to negotiating cheaper one

Oh right, so Tampa Bay Rays management rejected St. Petersburg’s stadium lease buyout offer on Thursday:

“Although we appreciate the time and attention that Mayor Kriseman and the City Council have dedicated to this issue, we do not agree to this proposal,” Rays President Brian Auld said in a statement released by the team. “We remain open to pursuing a cooperative path forward.”

Next up: more haggling! It’s not like there’s an exciting stadium offer out there that the Rays are dying to take advantage of, anyway, so they have some time to bat numbers back and forth. We’re talking at most $4 million a year as a buyout price — less than David DeJesus‘s salary, as Noah Pransky noted — so you have to figure at some point the two sides will meet in the middle. Why St. Pete is so eager to let the Rays out of a lease that still has 12 years to run, I’m still not sure, but this is one of the many reasons I’m not a big-city mayor.

That time the mayor of St. Petersburg tried to dis me on Twitter

So yesterday I wrote an item here about St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s plan to build a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays on the site of Tropicana Field, which comes down to “build a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays on the site of Tropicana Field, and pay for it somehow, and also let the Rays buy their way out of their lease so they can move elsewhere in the bay area.” I concluded:

I suppose if you’re mayor of St. Pete, you need to have a plan for a stadium in St. Pete, even if you’re in the middle of talks about how to let the Rays out of St. Pete, and St. Pete would arguably do better letting a new Rays stadium be somebody else’s problem and just redeveloping the Trop land without a stadium, and … you know what, I don’t know why Kriseman is bothering, but I guess we’ve now mentioned his name four times in this one item, so maybe he’s just trying to boost his PageRank.

And then this happened:

Sadly, at that point Mayor Kriseman stopped responding, so we may never know how he reconciles these two actions. (If I had to guess, it’d be something like “Letting them look at other cities is a gesture of good faith that will make them more likely to consider our offer,” which would completely misunderstand how sports negotiations work — but really I shouldn’t go putting nonsensical ideas in the mayor’s mouth when he has enough of his own.)

Anyway, the future is weird. I can hardly wait till 2027, when the then-mayor of St. Petersburg and I can argue this some more via our telepathic brain chips.

St. Pete mayor’s plan for new stadium on Trop site makes no damn sense, but that’s not stopping him

With St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman meeting with Tampa Bay Rays execs today to present the city council’s latest no-relocation-out-of-city-limits lease clause buyout proposal, Noah Pransky of WTSP-TV and the Shadow of the Stadium blog has analysis up of a lesser-discussed issue: Kriseman’s proposal to build a new stadium on the Tropicana Field site:

Kriseman has been steadfast in his city’s ability to put together the best package for a new stadium right on the current Tropicana Field site.

But even if St. Pete redevelops the Trop into a 15-acre stadium with 70 acres of residential, retail, and commercial space, it’s not quite sure where the funding would come from.  Did Kriseman support new city taxes going toward a new stadium when taxpayers have already paid for another decade’s worth of baseball in St. Pete?

The mayor said it wouldn’t have to be “new” taxes since bed taxes and private money from redeveloping the Trop could be enough.   But that’s quite a tall task…and some serious speculation.

Pransky goes on to calculate that even if St. Pete got access to all of the county’s tourist tax money for a new stadium, and the Rays kicked in $150-200 million, that would still leave around $100 million in funding still to be found in city coffers. And, of course, there’s also the issue that most people feel that the problem with the Trop (among those who think the problem is the Trop) is that it’s on the wrong side of the bay, which is the whole reason the Rays are seeking this lease buyout offer. But I suppose if you’re mayor of St. Pete, you need to have a plan for a stadium in St. Pete, even if you’re in the middle of talks about how to let the Rays out of St. Pete, and St. Pete would arguably do better letting a new Rays stadium be somebody else’s problem and just redeveloping the Trop land without a stadium, and … you know what, I don’t know why Kriseman is bothering, but I guess we’ve now mentioned his name four times in this one item, so maybe he’s just trying to boost his PageRank.

Cobb County to spend $1.2m a year on shuttle buses to Braves stadium, says this is mere coincidence

If you’re still wondering how the Atlanta Braves are going to get fans to their new stadium way out on the outskirts of town — no, not how to get fans from their cars to the ballpark across a forbidding highway, but how to get fans there who don’t use cars at all — a partial answer may come today, when the Cobb County Commission is set to vote on buying buses for a $1.2-million-a-year shuttle bus system that is totally not just for the Braves, how could you even think that?

One solution is what county officials call a circulator bus system. Rooted in the Cumberland Mall Area Transfer Station, buses would run routes connecting Cumberland area hotspots — and parking spots — and the new ballpark.

Critics say it’s plainly a taxpayer subsidy for the Braves. “And that’s not public transit. That’s a Braves shuttle. And we don’t feel the taxpayers should be paying for that,” said Kenneth Howell, a Cobb Community Transit bus driver and member of the Georgia Community Coalition. Howell says taxpayers are already likely to get hooked for the delayed pedestrian bridge across Interstate 285, connecting the ballpark and Cumberland.

But county officials say the bus circulator won’t just serve the Braves. It will also serve other major destinations in Cumberland, a dynamic and growing commercial area – at a reported operating cost of $1.2 million per year, paid by hotel taxes.

So should we count this new cost — present value of about $15 million, plus whatever it costs to buy the buses — as part of the county’s Braves subsidy? Probably, especially since the history of transit improvements built for stadiums being used by anybody else is not a long and gloried one. But at this point another $15 million or so is a relative drop in the bucket on top of the $300 million or so the county is already kicking in, so take your pick.

St. Pete council agrees on buyout of Rays’ no-new-stadiums lease clause, just haggling over the price

The St. Petersburg city council has again put a price on allowing Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg out of his no-talking-stadiums-with-other-cities lease provision, and the number is: It depends on when they leave, and where they go.

  • If the Rays leave for a new stadium in Hillsborough County, Sternberg would have to pay St. Pete a $5 million “redevelopment fee,” plus $4 million a year from the time of the move until the lease expires in 2027.
  • If they leave for elsewhere in Pinellas County, the annual fee would be reduced to $2.5 million per year.
  • Moving elsewhere in St. Pete itself would be free.

This would be a bit more than the proposal that Mayor Rick Kriseman and the Rays submitted to the council last year, which the council summarily rejected. Kriseman called this “going backward,” which I suppose it is if the goal is to get Sternberg out of his lease for the cheapest price, which, wait, what was Kriseman elected to do again?

Anyway, this relatively small buyout price gap doesn’t seem like it should be a major sticking point, but you know how rich guys are about their millions. The Tampa Bay Times has already decried the council’s decision for “jeopardizing the future of Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay,” which Noah Pransky’s Shadow of the Stadium notes amounts to the Times “essentially shaking down a local government over a $15 million difference in opinions when it’s the Rays who have asked for the financial concessions in the first place.” Wait, what was the Tampa Bay Times editorial board elected to do again?

Cubs players not all in favor of pending Wrigley bullpen move

With the NLCS moving to Wrigley Field tonight, it’s time for everyone to write up feature stories on the 101-year-old ballpark’s renovations, including one of the lesser-reported upcoming changes: the move of the bullpens from foul territory to under the bleachers, scheduled to take place for the 2017 season. And as it turns out, even though this is supposedly for the players’ benefit (relievers less exposed to the weather, no more tripping over bullpen mounds while chasing foul balls), some players aren’t too happy about the move:

“I kind of like it,” reliever Jason Motte said [of the current setup]. “It kind of adds to the old school feel at Wrigley. I’ve always liked that about it. Being down the line, it’s one of those things I’ve never really minded…

“Places like Houston, you’re in a dungeon,” Motte said. “This is one of the only places you can interact with the fans, whether it’s at home or on the visiting side. You get to know the people.”

The real reason for the shift — which will place relief pitchers behind the ivy-covered outfield wall, with only a 12-foot-wide chain mesh fence to see out and for fans to see in — is buried in a single sentence in the Tribune article:

[Cubs spokesman Julian] Green said the switch also will add four new rows of seats on each side of the field where the bullpens are currently located.

Meanwhile, the Trib has another article on how the changes to Wrigley, in particular a new hotel and office building the Cubs owners are building across the street, has the surrounding Wrigleyville neighborhood on “the brink of a new era,” though it’s mostly about how the area has changed itself since the 1980s, when it was “pretty rough and tumble,” according to one local business owner. (My first visit to Wrigley was in 1989, and I remember it being pretty similar to today, only with fewer sports-bar-type businesses, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.) Cubs management says the new public plaza adjacent to the hotel could make Wrigleyville more like New York’s Rockefeller Plaza, which seems both unlikely and a curious goal since Rockefeller Plaza is largely an overpriced tourist trap surrounded by office buildings, but I guess when you’re trying to justify how an office building will enhance the busiest ballpark neighborhood in the U.S., you’ve got to go with what you can.