Rangers stadium to cost Arlington taxpayers at least $500m, many questions remain unanswered

The Texas Rangers owners and the city of Arlington unveiled their proposal for a new retractable-roofed stadium on Friday, sketching in some more of the details that had been left out of that morning’s leak:

  • The stadium would now cost $1 billion, with Arlington taxpayers’ share at $500 million. No idea why the price tag is $100 million higher than it was on Friday morning, though the conspiracy-minded will note that even if the actual cost estimate is the same, upping the target price means the Rangers owners’ responsibility to pay for all cost overruns won’t kick in as soon now.
  • For the Rangers owners’ share, they would get to use personal seat license fees plus parking and ticket tax money, which would pay off bonds sold by the city — meaning if PSL sales fell short, say, the city could end up on the hook for more than $500 million. This, you’ll recall, was the initial concern with the San Francisco 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, and though that worked out okay in the end when the PSLs sold out, it’s still an added risk for Arlington.
  • The public’s base $500 million will come from the 0.5% sales tax surcharge, 2% hotel tax surcharge, and 5% car rental tax surcharge currently being used to pay off the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium, which the Dallas Star-Telegram calls “no new taxes.” Except that the Cowboys stadium was set to be paid off in 2021, at which point those taxes could either have been eliminated or redirected toward something else — so really this is a new extension of existing taxes for as much as an additional 30 years.
  • The Rangers will continue to pay the same $2 million a year rent to the city that they pay on their current stadium.
  • The city council will vote on a stadium agreement tomorrow — apparently Texas doesn’t believe in things like public hearings — and if approved, the project will then go before voters in November, something that the Dallas Morning News entirely left out of its ten-point rundown of the proposal, which stated the stadium plans entirely in the simple future tense (“It will be open by April 2021”). Way to go, writers on the fait accompli beat.
  • While most of the existing Globe Life Park would be torn down to make way for parking lots (the new stadium would be built on existing parking lots), there could be attempts to save “parts of the facade and other historic features” at the ballpark, which is younger than all but one player on the Rangers’ current roster.

That tells us a lot more than we knew Friday morning, but there are still a bunch of unanswered questions:

  • Nobody knows how the first few years of construction bond payments will be paid off, since the taxes involved still need to keep being used for Cowboys stadium debt through 2021.
  • Will the Rangers owners pay any property taxes on the place? Who will pay maintenance and operations costs? Will Arlington get any share at all of stadium revenues like naming rights, or will the public have to pay off its share entirely from tax revenue while the Rangers get to use actual stadium income for theirs?
  • What do Arlington residents think of the deal? (The Star-Telegram ran an article headlined “What fans, Arlington officials are saying” but then apparently forgot to interview any actual fans, since the only quotes (aside from one local sports bar owner) were from current and former elected officials who supported the deal.)

But hey, there’s still time to work all that out in the next 24 hours before the council vote, right?

Here, just look at some renderings of what the final stadium design almost certainly won’t look like, instead of worrying about all that. It’s what the Rangers owners surely want you to do:

Rangers renderingRangers3

Arlington proposes giving Rangers $450m for new stadium because the old one isn’t air-conditioned

The city of Arlington has scheduled a press conference for 1:30 pm today to announce plans for a new $900 million stadium for the Texas Rangers, with the cost to be split evenly between the team owners and city taxpayers. The public money would come from extending an existing sales-tax surcharge that’s currently being used to pay off the Dallas Cowboys‘ stadium, and the stadium would reportedly open before the Rangers’ lease on their old stadium expires in 2024.

There had been some talk last fall about the Rangers wanting a new stadium, but still, this is pretty stunning for a couple of reasons. First off, the existing Arlington stadium is only 22 years old, and features almost all the bells and whistles that team owners typically want — yes, it’s “the 11th oldest facility in Major League Baseball” (tied with Cleveland), as WFAA notes, but that’s more a function of the flood of new stadiums that opened in the ’90s and ’00s than a sign of impending decrepitude. The truly amazing thing, though, is that the stated reason for the Rangers wanting a new stadium is that the old one isn’t air-conditioned:

The lack of a roof and accompanying air conditioning is considered one factor that can keep fans away from Globe Life Park, especially during the dog days of summer, when the temperature can stay in the mid-90s even during night games.

Okay, so it’s hot in Texas, yes. For the record, though, the Rangers currently rank 11th in the majors in attendance, ahead of every other team with a retractable roof other than Toronto. And last year they finished 16th, not terrible for a team coming off a season in which they lost 95 games (attendance invariably correlates better with record the previous year than the current year), and still better than three of the other five teams with retractable roofs. For $900 million, the Rangers could buy personal air conditioning hats for every man, woman, and child in the metro Dallas area, but instead they’re going to build a new stadium, because that’s what you do when you can.

Of course, the Rangers owners — a couple of rich guys you’ve probably never heard of named Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, plus a passel of minority partners — will undoubtedly get some other benefits from a new stadium, if they can pack it with steakhouses and get a honeymoon boost from curiosity seekers and lord knows what else. (We also don’t know yet, and probably won’t for a while, who’ll pay operating costs on the new place, property taxes, etc.) As for Arlington, meanwhile, what on earth is the city getting for its $450 million?

“We need to show love for the Rangers right now, y’all, ” Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams told the Rotary Club of Fort Worth last week, speaking generally about the city’s desire to keep its team. “The Rangers don’t want to leave, but there are other cities, and we know one that starts with a D that wants to take it. … Right now is a key time for us.”

So there you have it: Arlington taxpayers, assuming this is approved, would be shelling out $450 million to not to have to drive 20 miles to Dallas to see Rangers games. Plus to get air conditioning. I told you that fragmented metropolitan areas where team owners can play different localities off against each other (see: Atlanta) are the worst, but I didn’t even imagine.

In any event, coming on top of the Braves leaving their old stadium after just 20 years, the Rangers’ plan is almost certainly going to lead to a renewed flood of stadium demands by teams struggling by with stadiums that opened during the first Clinton Administration. The Arizona Diamondbacks have already started rattling their new-stadium saber, and the Cleveland Indians are last in the league in attendance with a stadium that opened the same year as Arlington’s, and hey, wouldn’t this be a great time for the Colorado Rockies to finally build that argon-filled pressurized dome they’ve always wanted? The sky’s the limit, and the same is true, apparently, for the numbers on local governments’ checkbooks. Keep this site bookmarked, because we’re going to be here a while.

MLB commissioner hints at Montreal, Mexico City expansion teams, someday

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was asked about baseball expansion on Thursday (on a White Sox broadcast, for some reason), and said “growth businesses tend to expand” but that “I would love to see us expand” and “my personal, sort of, frontrunner would be Montreal or Mexico City.” Which, naturally, got people in Montreal and Mexico City all excited.

Manfred did say he wanted to settle on a new labor agreement and resolve the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays stadium situations first (for those not following along: the situation is that the A’s and Rays owners want new stadiums, and nobody’s offering to pay for them/provide land for them yet), which all makes sense. Still, you’d normally think that a league commissioner would be more hesitant to identify frontrunners without demanding that stadium deals be in place first. Possible explanations are: Things are so preliminary around expansion that Montreal and Mexico City need carrots more than sticks at the moment; MLB is more excited about potential expansion fees (and/or wooing TV partners with the possibility of expanding into new markets) than about shaking down cities for maximum stadium money; or Manfred just isn’t very good at this whole extortion racket.

Atlanta Braves now officially a “real estate business,” because they’re sure not a baseball team

Bloomberg Businessweek has a long article up this week on the Atlanta Braves‘ success at getting half a billion dollars in public subsidies for stadiums for their entire major- and minor-league chain of teams, which includes these memorable lines:

Says Joel Maxcy, a sports economist at Drexel University: “If there’s one thing the Braves know how to do, it’s how to get money out of taxpayers.”…

“The whole deal was very much behind closed doors,” says Michael Hotchkiss, a Pearl native, then an editor at the Clarion-Ledger [of the team’s deal for $28 million in public funds for a Double-A ballpark in Pearl, Mississippi]. “By the time it was public, the whole thing was done.”…

“There was no transparency,” says Lisa Cupid, one of [Cobb] county’s five commissioners [of the Atlanta Braves stadium deal]. By the time the commission got the chance to see the documents, the details had already been negotiated. Her fellow commissioners, she says, “were all just excited to be asked to the dance.”

Sense a theme here? The Braves owners may be spectacularly bad at putting together a winning baseball team (though you can make an argument that they’re following the model set by the bust-to-boom Houston Astros, though the Astros are currently in last place now as well), but they’re expert in getting stadium money approved before anyone can notice what’s going on. That’s a real skill, especially in a subsidy world where public attention only gets lawmakers thinking about what they’re doing before voting on it, and you don’t want that.

All of which leads up to the article’s impeccable last paragraph:

During a question-and-answer with shareholders in April, [team owner John] Malone shrugged off the Braves’ slow start. “Keep in mind,” he said, “the Braves now are a fairly major real estate business as opposed to just a baseball club.”

And it’s way easier and more predictable to run a baseball club as a real estate business. Plots of land never blow out their elbows.

Taxpayer cost of Braves stadium passes $350m, heads for $400m

Atlanta Braves fans worried about having to get to the new stadium by running across a six-lane highway, rejoice! The Cobb County Commission yesterday approved $10 million for a new pedestrian bridge from the planned parking lots to the stadium, which will surely — wait, what’s that, Atlanta Journal Constitution report from two months ago?

Oh, right, the land — the county still needs to acquire that from its private owners, which may require eminent domain. (A county spokesperson told reporters of land costs, “The right of way is still in negotiations so we can’t release any figures.”) Also money needs to be found for an upgraded parking deck to connect to the bridge. Also also, nobody is really convinced that the bridge can be built for $10 million, so this could easily be one of those Robert Moses-esque schemes to build half of a bridge and then find the rest of the money later — as Moses liked to say, “‘Once you sink that first stake, they’ll never make you pull it up.”

The commission also approved another $13 million to widen a highway and create a new pedestrian plaza (not the one eliminated last month, I don’t think, but on the other side of the interstate). So add that to the known costs that the public is already on the hook for, and we’re at a minimum of $355 million in taxpayer subsidies, plus whatever the land and parking deck upgrades will go for. If it hits $400 million, don’t be surprised — this is what happens when you sign a deal to build a stadium project before you figure out how much it’s going to cost.

County to D-Backs: Most of $187m in upgrade demands is items team agreed to pay for

Maricopa County responded to the Arizona Diamondbacks owners’ demands for at least $187 million in improvements to Chase Field plus maybe additional tax subsidies with a letter of their own this week, which you can read in its entirety here. The key bit, though, is this:

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 3.17.25 PMTranslated, this means: Okay, you keep saying our 2013 study of possible repairs/improvements to Chase Field lists $187 million in needed work. But $55 million of that is your own operations and maintenance expenses, and another $90 million is wish-list stuff that is explicitly excluded from the county’s obligations. So, WTF?

I also asked a county representative about that “Non-Obsolescence Fund” that the Diamondbacks can draw on if they agree to extend their lease: Right now it has a whopping $460,000 in it, so that’s not really worth worrying about.

To my knowledge, D-Backs execs haven’t yet responded to this letter — but then, they wouldn’t need to, if their concern is less legal niceties than trying to drum up an urgency to fix their stadium situation out of thin air. Whether Maricopa County stadium officials see this as a crisis or not, the media certainly does, which means elected officials are likely to as well, and that can be enough to set the ball rolling on hundreds of millions of dollars shifting pockets. A contract may be a contract, but when you’re seen as a 700-pound gorilla, you don’t need to sweat the fine print.

Tampa proposes $30m subsidy for Yankees’ spring stadium, this passes for getting off cheap these days

The New York Yankees, a team that will be paying $225 million in player payroll this season (just thought I’d mention that, no reason), have agreed to a lease extension with the city of Tampa on their spring-training stadium that will include $30 million in city- and state-financed upgrades. (The Yankees will chip in $4.1 million for improvements to their training complex, and $6.2 million that they’ve already spent on the stadium since 2010, which is a new meaning of “will chip in.”) Planned improvements include new concessions concourses, new sun roofs, and a new “grand entrance” for fans fleeing the watchful gaze of bronze George Steinbrenner.

In exchange, Tampa gets to ensure the presence of the Yankees for another 21 years: The lease currently ends in 2025, and will be extended through 2046. That’s not a horrific tradeoff, though it’s worth noting that entire new minor-league stadiums have recently been built for this price. And the assessment of Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, aka the guy who thinks a single college football game can create 2,000 permanent jobs, remains, um:

[Hagan] said the deal is a good one for taxpayers. The county, which owns Steinbrenner Field, will receive an additional $8.4 million in lease payments for the extra 20 years of the contract. The improvements to the Yankees’ practice complex will raise its taxable value resulting in more property taxes.

And, Hagan said, the continued presence of baseball’s biggest name for spring training will continue to fill local hotels, bars and restaurants with out-of-state visitors.

“When you consider all the additional revenue, this is an extremely attractive return on investment, which makes this deal a no-brainer,” Hagan said.

First off, $8.4 million over the years 2026 through 2046 is never going to make a dent in $30 million in construction costs right now. The property-tax bump is likewise going to be small; as for the throngs of “out-of-state visitors” allegedly drawn to Tampa in March just to see Yankees spring training games, haven’t we killed that urban legend dead yet?

If there are two reasons to care about this, other than just enjoying hating the Steinbrenners for being rich and still being able to get public subsidies whenever they want (assuming the city and county approve the deal, which they haven’t yet), it’s because it’s likely to give another boost to the trend of MLB teams making demands for public upgrades or replacement of not-that-old spring training facilities (Steinbrenner Field was built in 1996), and because it gives us another hint of what Ken Hagan is likely to be like in negotiations for a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s almost certainly going to cost Tampa taxpayers a heck of a lot more than $30 million if it happens, especially if Hagan hauls out rationalizations like these.

D-Backs CEO: Give us rent breaks and other goodies, and maybe we’ll consider staying till 2027

Arizona Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall issued a new set of demands yesterday in the team’s attempt to break its stadium lease, and they are simultaneously convoluted and pretty clear in their intent to fund Chase Field improvements and/or replacement with somebody else’s money:

  • The Diamondbacks would get a “significantly” reduced rent from the $4 million a year it currently pays to Maricopa County, plus take over booking all non-baseball events at Chase Field (and keep the revenues from those).
  • In exchange, the team would take over responsibility for projected “repairs and enhancements” at the stadium, which Hall has estimated at $187 million, though it’s not like he’s provided an itemized receipt.
  • The county would hand over the stadium to the city of Phoenix, which unlike the county stadium district has the power to raise taxes and sell bonds to either renovate or replace the 18-year-old stadium.

The rent-for-upgrades swap is clearly meant to be a way of distracting attention from team ownership’s demands: Oh, we don’t really want public money, in fact we’ll relieve you of this $187 million obligation we decided you had in exchange for us not giving you rent payments and a share of non-baseball revenues, like we promised when taxpayers built this thing for us in the first place. The county-to-city shift, though, is potentially even more dangerous, since it raises the specter of more subsidy demands to come, probably as the D-backs’ 30-year lease draws to a close in 2027. (Hall did not suggest that he’d agree to a lease extension in exchange for these concessions, because why would he?)

As I detailed at Vice Sports last week, the Diamondbacks’ lease doesn’t actually have a state-of-the-art clause requiring the county to provide upgrades or let them walk — the closest it comes is a clause that the county must provide any capital repairs necessary “so that [the stadium] is safe and can readily be made available for the playing of Home Games,” which probably wouldn’t require $187 million. This latest missive from Hall makes it all the more likely that the team’s nastygram to the county is less legal missive than, you know what, let me just quote myself:

For most team owners, though, the point of state-of-the-art clauses isn’t even so much about legal language as it is about shifting the debate around replacing nearly new stadiums from “What the hell are you talking about?” to “I suppose we’ll need to address it sooner or later.” Looked at that way, the Diamondbacks’ letter makes a lot more sense: though the team owners included the requisite threat of legal action (“If permission is not granted [for the team to move if it decides upgrading Chase Field isn’t feasible], we will ask the Court for all appropriate relief”), the real goal was to start the conversation about replacing Chase Field at public expense, to ensure there would be no danger of having to play in a stadium that’s past its Carrousel age.

“What can the government do about the crisis that the Diamondbacks are stuck in an 18-year-old stadium?” is now a thing that the public and media are expected to debate like it’s sane. Be afraid, be very afraid, for there are a hell of a lot of other stadiums that were built in that late-’90s sweet spot, and it’s not just the D-Backs and Cleveland Cavaliers owners who are going to be sniffing around for ways to ways to get back on line at the trough.

John Oliver’s “dress like you don’t belong there” Yankees stunt ends sadly hobo-free

John Oliver’s stunt to put fans in premium New York Yankees seats who promise to dress like they’ve never been there before — a dig at team COO Lonn Trost, who defended the team’s ticket resale restrictions because sitting next to non-rich folks would be a “frustration to our existing fan base” — ended up more of a costume party, with fans dressed as Ninja Turtles, sharks, unicorns, and dinosaurs ending up seated behind home plate.

john-oliver-ninja-turtlesAP_16098111550650bronx-unicornsoliverfansAll things considered, I’ve got to say that this is kind of disappointing. The ostensible goal of this gimmick was to point out the classism behind Trost’s statement: He was implying that if fans could buy good seats for below face value, the ones who’d paid full price would be offended by having to sit next to the hoi polloi. (It’s probable that Trost doesn’t actually believe this, of course; he’s more concerned that if fans can buy seats for below face value, he’ll have a harder time selling them for thousands of dollars a pop.) Instead, it turned into two frat brothers from Villanova putting on cheap dinosaur outfits and sitting behind home plate, which is pretty much like every day at Yankee Stadium, only the dinosaurs the fans are dressing as aren’t wearing number 13.

If Oliver’s staff really wanted to drive home the point, they’d have given the tickets to somebody dressed like this: Emmett_Kelly_1953If nothing else, I’d have loved to have seen what happened when they went to sign up for the fingerprint scanning to get a fast pass through security.

Unpaid Forbes writer says Oakland stadium deal imminent, then hurriedly backspaces over it

So this is weird: Last Saturday, according to a report on SBNation’s Oakland Raiders blog, sports agent Leigh Steinberg wrote on Forbes’ we’ll-let-just-about-anyone-post-here-for-free site that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf was close to announcing a deal for new stadiums for the Raiders and A’s:

The A’s have threatened to go to San Jose, the Warriors to San Francisco, and the Raiders to multiple locals. This would have a devastating impact on the morale and economic climate of Oakland. Now, there appears to be an opening, under the leadership of Mayor Libby Schaaf, to innovatively revitalize Oakland and solve the needs of all three teams. Mayor Schaaf is expected to make a dramatic announcement regarding the Raiders situation early next week.​

That’s not what it says now if you go to the actual Forbes site, though, where that last sentence about the “dramatic announcement” has been deleted.

No explanation or acknowledgment of the change appears on either Forbes or SBNation, not even in comments (yes, I read through an SBNation comments section, this is what I do for you folks), so no way to tell whether somebody at Schaaf’s office called up Steinberg (or Forbes, if they bother editing their unpaid contributors) to say “knock that off” or if he just thought better of alleging things that weren’t going to happen. There are still two days left in the week, so I suppose Schaaf might yet surprise us all with news that Mark Davis has found $500 million under the sofa cushions and Lew Wolff has agreed to build a stadium elsewhere than the Coliseum site. I wouldn’t be holding your breath, though.