Cobb County spending $14m on traffic cops because they forgot to ask Braves to pay for them

My sincere apologies for neglecting to inform you last week of this excellent article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in which reporter Dan Klepal revealed that Cobb County is going to be on the hook for $900,000 a year for traffic police around the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium. And before you say, “But isn’t free policing one of the services that government typically provides to sports teams and others alike?”, nuh-uh:

The Braves paid for traffic control during the team’s last eight seasons at Turner Field. At Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Falcons will reimburse the Georgia World Congress Center an estimated $2.5 million a year for traffic management during football games, soccer matches and other events…

An AJC survey of 11 cities with professional sports stadiums found only two other instances where taxpayers funded all or a portion of traffic control…

“The Falcons outcome is the norm. The Braves outcome is a throwback to the 1990s” when those kinds of subsidies were more common, [Stanford economist Roger Noll] said.

This free-traffic-cops clause apparently wasn’t part of the original Braves deal with Cobb County — traffic control costs weren’t addressed at the time, along with a lot else having to do with transportation — which left the county stuck with the costs by default. (Though it would be kind of fun to think of what would happen if the county said to the Braves, “Go get your players to direct traffic, it’s clear they’re not occupied by actually playing baseball.”) If we figure that the free patrolling is worth around $14 million in present value, adding that to the $355 million in existing public costs gets us to $369 million in subsidies to move the Braves from downtown Atlanta to the suburbs, totally not because any Braves fans think all urban black people are violent criminals. But hey, who can put a price on burgerizzas?

Braves fans over shiny new stadium after just 13 home games, would like good baseball now

If there’s one sure truism in the sports stadium world, it’s that the honeymoon effect drawing fans to a new building varies depending on the quality of the product on the field: Put together a winning team and you can get something like the Cleveland Indians‘ six-year sellout streak; a losing one, and you’re more likely to be the Miami Marlins.

The Atlanta Braves have a brand-new stadium, and are in last place with an 11-19 record. Fans aren’t exactly turning out in droves:

After a couple initial sellouts, the Braves have settled into 12th in major league attendance. They were averaging a bit more than 30,000 (tickets sold), a good number considering that the team hasn’t averaged that high for a season since 2013. But not exactly the eye-popping boost you’d expect from the lure of a new ballpark.

Okay, maybe it’s just that it’s early in the season, and more fans turn up once it’s summertime? We can check that by looking at Baseball Reference’s year-over-year attendance chart, which shows how teams are doing in attendance compared to the same number of games the previous year. The numbers show that Braves attendance is up an average of 4,980 a game from 2016 at Turner Field — the third-largest jump in baseball, but still nothing to write home about. It looks like any honeymoon effect from the Braves move from downtown to suburban Cobb County will be marginal at best, at least unless the team gets good in a hurry, in which case it’s less “build it and they will come” and more “build Dansby Swanson and they will come.”

Bronx residents asked to give up replacement Yankees parkland to build affordable housing

If you’ve been reading this site for long enough, you may remember the battles over the public parkland destroyed to make way for the new New York Yankees stadium, and whether the new parkland belatedly created was of equal size and usability. (Short version: not so much.) According to today’s New York Post, however, the subject is about to rear its ugly head again, as the city is preparing to take four acres of promised Yankees-related parkland and instead use it for affordable housing:

The area lost more than 25 acres of parkland after the Bronx Bombers in 2005 were greenlighted to build their new ballpark.

At the time, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. George Pataki and the Yankees promised to eventually create more parkland than was lost. But only about 21 acres of new green space has been delivered.

Killian Jordan, a member of Bronx Community Board 4, called it “spectacularly inappropriate” that the city would be dangling the hope of bringing the neighborhood much-needed affordable housing at the expense of losing promised parkland…

The [city-run Economic Development Corporation] said it is considering acquiring a 2.5-acre lot, five blocks south of Mill Pond Park on East 144th Street, to build another park there.

There is a slim chance that all this would be illegal, thanks to the fact that the old parkland was decommissioned on the condition that equal new park space be created. As we’ve seen before, though, the laws surrounding parks alienation are pretty weak beyond “enh, whatever the city council and legislature decides is probably fine,” so this is likely to come down to how big a fight council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito wants to pick with Mayor Bill de Blasio. And either way, all the parkland still hasn’t been replaced, 11 years after it was obliterated. It’s just a win-win for everybody!

Detroit’s “renaissance” has enriched its billionaire sports owners while rest of city suffers

If you want a depressing read about the impact of Dan Gilbert, the billionaire Quicken Loans baron, Cleveland Cavaliers owner, and would-be Detroit MLS owner, on his hometown of Detroit, there’s a great one by Shikha Dalmia in The Week. Among the highlights:

  • Gilbert is pushing for the state legislature to approve a super-TIF bill that would kick back property, sales, and income taxes from environmentally contaminated “brownfields” sites to help pay for the project. It would only apply to projects costing over $500 million in cities of more than 600,000, so the only eligible developer is Gilbert, who is proposing a giant project on the former site of the Hudson’s department store in downtown Detroit.
  • Gilbert got $50 million in tax breaks to move his Quicken headquarters from the suburbs to Detroit.
  • He and his partner, Pistons owner Tom Gores, are seeking $300 million in cash and land in exchange for building a new soccer complex on a half-finished jail site (and a new jail elsewhere).
  • Detroit is about to open a new $187.3 million light rail system that will link “Detroit’s downtown, dubbed Gilbertville because it houses the Quicken office and other buildings where Gilbert’s employees live, with the midtown area, where the entertainment district [built by Gilbert’s fellow sports billionaire, the late Tigers and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch] is. Never mind that Detroit’s jobless and carless residents would have much more use for bus lines transporting them to jobs outside the city.”

Okay, maybe it’s a high price to pay, but at least Detroit is finally undergoing a long-awaited renaissance as a result, right? Well, actually:

The whole argument for pouring taxpayer dollars into this area is that its growth will spill over to the rest of the city, opening up jobs and business opportunities for all Detroiters. But research by Michigan State University’s Laura Reese and Wayne State University’s Gary Sands published earlier this year suggests that on virtually every metric, life outside the targeted zone is worse than it was even in 2010, when the alleged renaissance began.

Detroit’s overall population actually declined by 2.6 percent between 2010 and 2014. The unemployment rate among Detroiters increased by 2.4 percentage points between 2010 and 2013. This may have been because of the bankruptcy-induced layoffs of city employees, but Sands maintains that the trends don’t seem to have changed much in 2015. “About half of the neighborhoods in the periphery saw employment and payroll declines,” he notes. What’s more, although the overall number of Detroit businesses remained unchanged between 2014 and 2015, 13 of the more peripheral city zipcodes saw a decline.

In other words, far from the city core leading a comeback, it is at best siphoning — and at worst destroying — business and employment in the rest of Detroit, perhaps because smaller enterprises are having trouble competing with powerful billionaires who can dip into taxpayer pockets and divert other public resources toward their grand designs.

The whole thing is a terrific read, if you like to be depressed about how our cities are increasingly being run as engines for boosting the profits of their richest citizens. But you almost certainly do, since you read this website, so by all means go check it out.

Bush-Jeter $1.3b Marlins bid probably isn’t due to subsidies, but go hate Jeff Loria anyway

So it looks like this is probably happening:

A group including [Derek] Jeter and Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and presidential candidate, has reached a tentative agreement to buy the Miami Marlins, according to two people briefed on the situation who requested anonymity because the deal is not official…

Bloomberg first reported that the Jeter-Bush group was within reach of buying the team. The Miami Herald reported that the sale price would be $1.3 billion.

Aside from all the obvious jokes — Jeter and Bush will get along great, neither can go to his left — the interesting thing for stadium-subsidy watchers is: How much of this $1.3 billion windfall for Jeffrey Loria, who bought the Marlins for $158 million (most of which was funded by his simultaneous sale of the Montreal Expos to MLB) in 2002, is attributable to the nearly billion-dollar public subsidy Loria received for his new stadium, and how much is just that baseball franchises keep appreciating like Brooklyn real estate?

A quick look at the Forbes team value page for the Marlins shows that year-to-year operating income has actually gone down since Marlins Park opened in 2012, which makes sense, since the team has spent (somewhat) more on player payroll since then and Marlins attendance is still pretty lousy. Forbes estimates that the team’s overall value has soared regardless, from $256 million in 2008 to $940 million in 2017 (Forbes values tend to lag a bit behind actual sale prices), but then, the Tampa Bay Rays‘ estimated value leaped from $290 million to $825 million over the same time period without the benefit of a new stadium, so maybe the stadium dough wasn’t that big a help after all, though you can see where you might get a small sale price premium for playing in a new stadium nobody wants to go to instead of an old stadium nobody wants to go to.

If Loria does walk away with $1.3 billion — and Forbes’ Mike Ozanian, citing his own unspecified “sources,” claims that the Jeter-Bush group’s bid is far from formal or finalized, and the Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Futterman and Jared Diamond concur — it might be fair to gripe that he’s walking away with a taxpayer-backed windfall. But it’s an equally valid assessment to say that after spending ten years shaking down Florida taxpayers for an $800-million-or-so subsidy for a stadium that didn’t help him or his team at all, Loria is throwing up his hands and selling the Marlins to a new set of suckers — who will probably re-enact this whole scenario in another decade or two. The nice thing about being a rich dude is you don’t have to learn from your mistakes, you can just cash out and walk away.

Baltimore Sun claims Camden Yards pays own way, can’t even keep up pretense for whole article

And hey, look, another major media article that can’t do basic math! Let’s start with the headline:

Orioles payments to stadium authority exceed original cost of Camden Yards

Wow, that would indeed be impressive. Is perhaps Camden Yards one of those rare examples like the Minneapolis Metrodome, of a stadium where the public put up a bunch of money up front but then was repaid in full and more by lease payments over time? Spoiler: no.

Documents show the authority has received an average of $6.4 million in annual rent from the team, plus $4.1 million a year as its share of state admissions taxes. The total, through the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, is $255 million.

That compares favorably with the stadium’s original $225 million price tag, including $100 million for land acquisition and $125 million for the stadium.

Yeah, no, that’s not how money works. Even if you count state admissions taxes as new state revenues (the Orioles would have been paying them if they’d stayed at Memorial Stadium, too), $10.5 million a year over 25 years is only worth about $140 million in present value, still far less than the $225 million price tag. Or if it helps, you could flip it around the other way and see if $10.5 million a year is enough to pay off the state’s annual debt payments — oh, look, the Sun actually did that:

The stadium authority said it pays about $15 million a year in debt service — principal plus interest — on the 30-year bonds issued to pay for Camden Yards.

So by the Sun’s own calculations, Maryland is actually losing money on Camden Yards. Anything else?

The debt service, however, is paid with Maryland Lottery proceeds appropriated each year by the General Assembly. The authority uses the team’s rent money for ballpark operations.

Oh, right, ballpark operations costs. So really the Orioles’ rent payments pay nothing towards the public’s debt on Camden Yards. Lovely headline, though — beautiful plumage.

Top Florida economic advisor lacks econ degree, avoided using real data because it’d look bad

I’ve made fun of Florida’s propensity for giving its sports teams lots of money based on doofy economic impact studies before, such as when Pinellas County moved forward with a plan for giving the Toronto Blue Jays $65 million for a new spring training facility in Dunedin based on an economic report that assumed that every single ticket sold went to a different person who traveled to Florida just for that game. But this, this, from WTSP’s Noah Pransky, takes the damn cake:

10Investigates found the author of so many economic impact reports that support public sports subsidies may not be the expert economist state leaders believe he is.

The resume of Mark Bonn, Ph.D., a professor at Florida State University’s Dedman School of Hospitality, boasts of dozens of reports compiled for municipalities all across Florida, including some statewide organizations.

Bonn’s side company, Bonn Marketing Inc., recently received $23,000 from just one study, commissioned by the Toronto Blue Jays and city of Dunedin to show the economic impact of spring training…

Nobody on the committee questioned Bonn’s qualifications.

But 10Investigates did, asking if Bonn considered himself an economist.

Braves’ new home seeks to add new circle of hell to the stadium business model

The Atlanta Braves held their official opening day for their new stadium on Friday, two weeks after holding their unofficial opening day, and all was mostly uneventful, unless you count the massive traffic tieup from a foam tomahawk spill two days earlier.

While most of the media coverage focused on the new stadium’s food options and other amenities (1,300 televisions! blackened catfish po’ boy tacos! beer aged from bat shavings!), ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle took a harder look at what makes the new Cobb County stadium different. And, as you might imagine, much of it has to do with being in Cobb County, far from the city center:

The last time I saw so many people slow-walking on bridges over an Atlanta highway it was on “The Walking Dead.”

They spilled in from everywhere Friday, on concrete bridges slung over highways they had successfully traversed to get to SunTrust Park. They crowded in a wide line, on concrete suspensions, above a morass of multilaned freeways. They found their way into the New Urbanist neighborhood. Then they crowded into the brand-new stadium for the first regular-season game.

Yes, the bridge to nowhere opened just in time for Friday’s game, though I haven’t been able to find any photos of what it actually looked like with people on it. (Here it is with no people on it.) But the more interesting aspect of the stadium, and of Doolittle’s article, is that New Urbanist neighborhood:

Any reviews of the new park wouldn’t be complete without mentioning The Battery, a mixed-used development that combines a yet-to-open hotel that looms over center field, bars, restaurants, office buildings and apartments, of which some are still vacant.

The Battery’s hotel will have high-dollar rooms on its stadium side, where guests can chill on a balcony and take in the ballgame. Really, The Battery is what marks this particular stadium project as distinct as any that came before it, and the success of it will likely determine the success of the entire endeavor…

It’s more than a park. It’s an experiment, one where a sports franchise attempts to create a bubble. And once a fan enters it, there is no reason for him or her to spend money outside of it. And if it works, the ramifications will be noticed by baseball owners from coast to coast. If it works, it could change a lot of things. But we won’t know if it works for a long time.

Creating a bubble in which sports fans spend all their money isn’t new, of course — it’s the same reason the Baltimore Orioles have the Eutaw Street shopping strip inside the Camden Yards gates, and the Boston Red Sox insisted on the right to close off Yawkey Way on game days, and the New York Yankees built their “five-star hotel with a ballfield in the middle.” But no one has gone as far as the Braves in building an entire faux neighborhood around their new stadium, hoping that fans will want to spend enough money there before and after games that they can build a booming shopping district — one where the team owners control all the revenue.

Color me skeptical, at least for now: “Ballpark villages” haven’t tended to be huge successes, in part because ballparks are closed most of the year, making running a restaurant based on ballpark clientele a tricky matter; and in part because when you’re already sitting through a three-hour ballgame that you have to fight your way through Atlanta traffic to get to, going out for dinner before or after the game isn’t always the first thing on your mind. If the Braves owners do beat the odds, though, it’s potentially a game changer for the stadium business, in that team owners will no longer be satisfied merely with a new stadium jammed with bells and whistles and steakhouses, but will want to get to run their own pretend urban neighborhood around it. That’s not something that’d necessarily be limited to suburban areas, and I really hope it’s a demand we never see becoming standard business practice — but who am I kidding, somebody’s going to ask for it regardless, because you can’t get if you don’t ask, right?

If Braves’ new stadium is the future of baseball, we’re in for a weird ride

The Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium in Cobb County opened for its first exhibition game on Friday, and from what was shown on TV, it’s somewhat … odd. First off, for a stadium whose architect promised “intimacy” and which team owners promised would feature cantilevering of the middle and upper decks to bring fans closer to the action, holy crap is that a lot of not-especially-cantilevered decks:

You’ll notice no one is sitting in the top deck, which is probably a good move as you’d need bottled oxygen to ascend that high. (The Braves actually limited attendance to season-ticket holders and people who worked on the stadium project, so only 21,392 showed up.) Not to mention that, judging from on-field photos, fans up there may have a hard time seeing the field over their fellow fans heads, thanks to some curious decisions about the rake of the upper deck:

Then there’s — holy crap, what is that?

No, not Bartolo Colon, I’m used to seeing him on a ballfield. But what are those seats in right field, where fans appear to be sitting behind desks or flat-panel TV screens or something? According to the Braves seating chart, those are the “Chophouse Terrace” seats — because in the year 2017, it’s never a bad time to employ a play on words combining a term for a steakhouse with a reference to your team’s embarrassingly racist chant — so maybe those are just tables to help you better wolf down your $26 burgerizza? (Though actually, starting at $36 a person and coming with $15 in concessions credits, the prices on those seats aren’t too hideous, though it does seem a shame to eliminate several rows of not-bad seating so that fans don’t have to put their beers in cupholders.)

What else? There were some problems with the scoreboard and the LED outfield lights that the team promised to fix, and one New Jersey sportswriter said it was missing a “wow factor” and reminded him of Turner Field, which isn’t especially damning except that the Braves and Cobb County taxpayers just spent more than $600 million to replace Turner Field just 20 years after it opened, so “hey, this looks just like the old place” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. And the team has relented and allowed fans to bring in outside food, which is good, so long as it fits inside a one-gallon plastic baggie, which is less good. (The most sensible outside food policy to me remains the New York Mets‘, which a team rep memorably explained to me when their new stadium opened back in 2009 as “you can bring a turkey sandwich, but you can’t bring a whole turkey.”)

Oh, and the pedestrian bridge to get fans from their cars to their seats still isn’t open, but is promised to be by opening day in two weeks. Though “open” doesn’t mean “finished,” which apparently means you’ll be able to walk across it and it won’t fall down or anything, but it may still resemble a construction site.

Any Braves season ticket holders out there who actually attended this game? Very curious to hear your impressions, so please chime in in comments. (As should anyone who watched the game on TV and has thoughts.)

Rockies get land rights for lease extension, nobody actually seems to be scammed this time

The Colorado Rockies owners have succeeded in using a threat to demand upgrades to Coors Field to get the state of Colorado to sell them a large plot of land for development, as first reported last week:

The Rockies agreed to a $200 million, 30-year lease with the Metropolitan Baseball Stadium District, the state division that owns Coors Field. In trade, the Rockies will be allowed to lease and develop a valuable plot of land directly south of the stadium for 99 years. For that, the team will pay the district $125 million.

Those numbers are a bit confusing, because part of the “lease payments” is actually the price for right to the land: The Rockies owners will pay $2.5 million a year in stadium rent for 30 years (up from $1 million a year under their old lease), plus $125 million over the next 30 years but “front-loaded.” If we guesstimate that that’s, say, $100 million in actual present value, then since an additional $1.5 million a year over 30 years is worth about $25 million in present value … let’s see, carry the two … if the land rights are worth significantly more than $125 million, the Rockies got a steal here, and if less than $125 million, then Colorado taxpayers are making out. Based on Google Maps eyeballing, it looks like about 400 by 250 feet, which is … let’s see, carry the two … 100,000 square feet, or about 2.3 acres. A couple of years ago a nearby 15,000-square-foot parcel sold for $10 million, so it actually looks like the state got a reasonable price. Wait, a stadium deal where potentially everybody’s happy? I must have woken up in Bizarro World this morning.