Orioles consider asking for public money to upgrade Camden Yards, apocalypse threat level raised to “nigh”

So four years and change ago, I wrote this:

If current trends are going to continue, circa-1990 stadiums like SkyDome/Rogers Centre, New Comiskey Park/U.S. Cellular Field, and even Camden Yards would have to be replaced by the end of this decade. Okay, probably not Camden Yards — though I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Baltimore Orioles ask for “improvements.” But it’s going to be very interesting to see whether teams start demanding new stadiums, and if so how they justify them, as the first wave of “retro” parks start going out of warranty.

As it turns out, whoever had 2015 in the “When will the Orioles owners ask for upgrades to Camden Yards?” pool, you’re a winner!

The Baltimore Orioles are considering updates to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the 23-year-old stadium still celebrated for its red-brick hominess and retro charm…

The latest stadiums incorporate design elements — such as open concourses commanding views of the game — that Camden Yards lacks. Many also include stadium clubs for VIPs that offer prime, low-level field views.

Now, this isn’t totally crazy, depending on what the Orioles want to do with the stadium (and even team officials say they’re not sure yet). Doing some minor improvements a couple of decades down the road certainly makes a lot more sense than tearing a stadium down and building a whole new one, and shouldn’t be a problem so long as the public isn’t expected to—

The state holds a capital expenditure account that might be used. And since there is some retired debt on Camden Yards, new bonds could be issued to finance improvements.

Guh? I’d ask on what planet it would make sense for the state to finance upgrades that will benefit solely the Orioles, but the Baltimore Sun website never answers when I shout at my computer screen.

The one possible silver lining is that the state might ask the Orioles owners to extend their lease beyond 2021 in exchange — “Typically, when you see a very large amount of capital expenditure, it comes with a new lease negotiation,” Maryland Stadium Authority Michael Frenz told the Sun — though given that they have a decent sized market and a popular stadium and are making money hand over fist, it’s not like they could reasonably threaten to leave with or without a lease. Maybe the MSA will offer to float some bonds for stadium construction in exchange for the Orioles offsetting the bond costs by paying more in rent — ha ha, we all know that’s not likely to happen. But we can dream, can’t we?

New radio series explores WTF is up with all those new Atlanta stadiums

WABE radio in Atlanta kicked off a week-long series yesterday on the metro area’s multiple new stadium and arena deals for the Falcons, Braves, and possibly Hawks, and I had the honor of being one of the first guests, pointing out that while there are certainly cities that got worse deals (hello, Indianapolis!), that’s not really something to brag about. You can listen to the whole interview here.

More interesting to me (since I know what I was going to say already) is Thursday’s upcoming appearance by Cobb County Commission chair Tim Lee, who will try to explain why it made sense to throw $300 million at the Braves to get them to move to a new stadium in the suburbs, plus maybe what’s up with that pedestrian bridge that won’t be ready in time to get fans from their cars to games, plus maybe the soaring ticket prices planned for the new place, plus even maybe why he secretly hired a lawyer with county funds to negotiate the Braves deal without even telling his fellow commission members, then lied about having done so. Come to think of it, I would have rather skipped my appearance yesterday and instead gotten to interview Lee. Now that would be some must-see radio.

Everybody in Miami has given up hope of economic boom from stadiums, except guy paid to say so

With Miami officials talking about helping David Beckham build a new soccer venue, thoughts naturally turn to the possible economic impact on the surrounding neighborhood. Unfortunately, there’s a perfect case study right next door in the Marlins‘ stadium, and it is a uniformly dismal one, as the Miami Herald’s David Smiley points out:

The 26,000 fans leaving in streams large enough to snarl traffic are mostly walking into the surrounding neighborhood toward their cars — not the businesses that Miami’s politicians and the team said would thrive in the Marlins’ shadow.

“The Marlins …” says [Ysbel] Medina, whose bar is mostly empty, save a few stragglers drinking draft beers and eating cheeseburgers. “Man, the Marlins. I don’t know what to say about them.”

Well into a fourth disappointing season in the new stadium, little has changed in the surrounding neighborhood. Predictions that restaurants, cafeterias and hotels would open around the publicly funded park have proved false. The area surrounding the stadium is still pocked with small strip malls, empty lots, vacant buildings and affordable housing. Even the city-owned retail stores in the parking garages surrounding the stadium remain mostly empty.

It doesn’t help, obviously, that the Marlins are the Marlins, still among the bottom five teams in attendance despite a new stadium that offers protection from the elements. (Pro tip: Baseball fans are more interested in protection from having to watch teams that lose 60% of their games.) But even the 1.7 million fans that the Marlins drew last year would have been more than double that of any team in MLS (thanks to the longer baseball season), making it dubious whether any “restaurants, cafeterias, and hotels” will be any more excited about siting nearby just because a couple dozen soccer dates are on the menu.

Hope springs eternal, though, if you’re the economic consulting firm chief who was hired by the city of Miami to project a huge windfall for the local economy from the new Marlins’ stadium:

Tony Villamil, the economist who said the Marlins would pump $300 million in annual business into the local economy once the team began playing ball, says there are local businesses that do make good money providing services to the stadium, and it’s too early to claim failure on sports’ promised impact to Little Havana. He said the idea that an entertainment district would pop up around the stadium was always a long-term vision, and one that required zoning changes in the area around the stadium, which never happened.

“If you do soccer, now you’ve got almost year-round entertainment,” he said.

Actually, 81 baseball home games plus 17 soccer home games is way, way short of year-round. But given that Villamil’s actual study came up with that $300 million in annual impact figure just by adding up all the money projected to be spent at Marlins games and then applying a multiplier — without attempting to account for, say, money that now wouldn’t be spent at Marlins games at the old stadium, let alone how much would substitute for money that would otherwise have been spent on other entertainment options — maybe we shouldn’t expect much here in the way of math.

Oh good god, now Kansas City might try to build a new downtown stadium for the Royals

Kansas City Star columnist Yale Abouhalkah takes advantage of the St. Louis Rams stadium kerfuffle (new article on this from me at Vice later this morning, btw) to rail against the idea of building a new downtown baseball stadium for the Royals. I’m not going to get into the details of his argument here, beyond noting: Apparently it’s necessary to rail against building a new downtown stadium for the Royals, because that’s a thing people are actually talking about:

The leases for the Truman Sports Complex extend into 2031, but some downtown boosters hope to start planning for a new baseball park in the next decade.

Not only do the leases for the Royals and Chiefs go another 16 years, but Jackson County voters just approved a sales tax hike nine years ago for $425 million in renovations to the two stadiums that were supposed to keep the teams happy. Though given that the Royals used a bunch of the money to buy their players iPods and pay their payroll taxes, maybe they skimped on the actual stadium upgrades a bit.
Now, this downtown stadium idea has been around for a while — since before the 2006 renovation vote, in fact — and it’s downtown development interests pushing it, not necessarily the Royals ownership. (And K.C. voters hate the idea, if that counts for anything.) Still, it’s pretty remarkable that spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a new stadium when the old one is both beloved and recently renovated at taxpayer expense is being discussed seriously, just so that baseball fans can mill around downtown a bit before getting in their cars and heading home. Old myths die hard.

Miami’s deal with Marlins gives Loria right to dictate terms for Beckham’s soccer stadium

So it turns out there are some problems with the Miami soccer stadium site next to Marlins Park, beyond any possible need for public subsidies and evicting old people from their homes. And, surprise, surprise, these stem from the horrible Marlins stadium deal, which keeps on being horrible. As uncovered this week by Miami Today’s Michael Lewis:

  • A soccer team in a stadium next door to the Marlins facility wouldn’t be allowed to sell naming rights until the Marlins had done so first. And Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria hasn’t sold naming rights to his building yet because it is a monument to waste with a hideous sculpture and gets rain delays despite a costly retractable roof.
  • If allowed to sell naming rights, the soccer team wouldn’t be allowed to conflict with the Marlins’ sponsor — so, no two competing banks or airlines or what have you.
  • “No soccer exterior ads may conflict with a major Marlins sponsor. But if soccer sells an exterior ad that doesn’t conflict, the Marlins can then sign a conflicting sponsor and the soccer sponsor can’t renew.”
  • Neither soccer games nor soccer stadium construction can take place before, during, or after Marlins games, and the Marlins can set their own schedule as they see fit. And can change it at will, and the soccer team has to lump it.

Clearly, somebody in the Marlins’ lease-writing division was thinking ahead to having a soccer team as a neighbor, and the city and county lease negotiators decided to sign off on whatever the baseball team wanted. Which should come as no surprise, since it’s pretty much what they did with the entire stadium deal, but it’s going to create some headaches for David Beckham’s stadium plans. One can only hope that Miami isn’t asked to kick in public money to make up for some of these obstacles, but I wouldn’t hope too hard, given Miami’s track record here.

A’s owner now says MLB wouldn’t actually help pay for new stadium, world makes sense again

So that San Jose Mercury News report that Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff said MLB would help him fund a new stadium? Now the San Francisco Chronicle says Wolff says it’s not so:

Just this week, Wolff let it be known that new Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred was fully behind the A’s effort. However, he dismissed reports that MLB would kick in some money to get it done in Oakland.

“Dismissed reports”? But the reports came from you, according to the Merc News? Why … oh, never mind.

Meanwhile, Wolff is continuing to explore parts of the Oakland Coliseum site where a new stadium could be built while the A’s play in the old one. As for the Raiders, their execs continue to talk with the city of Oakland and Alameda County, though county officials would rather just the city buy them out of the Coliseum entirely so they don’t have to deal with it. The general assumption seems to be that the A’s are closer to a deal than the Raiders are, but that could just be social media getting ahead of itself; anyway, it’s always better to wait until we see actual funding plans, not just site preferences, before declaring anything set in even wet concrete.

Braves bridge may go way over budget, leave fans stranded on wrong side of highway for five months

Hey, how’s everybody’s favorite pedestrian-and-bus bridge that no one knows how much it will cost but that without which Atlanta Braves fans won’t be able to get to games? The good news is that the Cobb County Commission approved a preliminary design last night, one that involves side-by-side lanes for pedestrians and shuttle buses. The bad news is, as Dan Klepal of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, everything else:

The 1,100-foot bridge, which is meant to help fans walking or riding a circulator bus to the games from remote parking areas, likely won’t be completed until September 2017 — five months later than county officials originally planned, according to a document obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through Georgia’s Open Records Act.

Okay, that’s not good, considering that the stadium is supposed to open in April 2017 — five months is a long time to be late for the game.

And any news on how much this bridge is going to cost, and who’ll pay for it and how?

The county has not updated its $9 million cost estimate, despite its contractor working on the project since April. The AJC has previously reported that the county’s estimate is for construction costs only and does not include things such as moving utilities, buying land for right-of-way, or the $804,000 being paid to the contractor.

So that would be a lot more than $9 million, in all likelihood—

Outside bridge experts have previously expressed skepticism to the newspaper that the county can even construct the bridge for $9 million.

Okay, a whole lot more than $9 mil—

And now there’s a new expense: the top level of the parking garage, to which the bridge will connect, will have to be reinforced to support the circulator bus, according to documents reviewed by the newspaper.

The deck needs to be strengthened to support the buses that will drive across it to access the bridge, the document says. It does not specify what materials will be used or how much it will cost, but it is clearly an unexpected development.

Okay, clearly nobody has any idea how much this bridge will cost, or when it will be open, but they’ve gotta build it or half the fans attending every game will end up standing on the wrong side of a highway, because they went ahead and approved the stadium before finalizing the transportation plan. I’m going out on a limb here and saying maybe that wasn’t the greatest idea, guys?

Wolff says MLB would help pay for Oakland stadium if public unwilling, film of sky falling at 11

The San Jose Mercury News dropped a weird little bombshell into its report on the Oakland A’s trade deadline moves:

A’s owner [Lew Wolff] said Major League Baseball would likely kick in some money to help the A’s get a stadium done at the Oakland site, public money not being available.

Really? That’s not something MLB has done for any other team — aside from allowing teams to deduct stadium costs from income for purposes of revenue-sharing, which has been standard operating procedure for a while now. But if MLB actually gives in and throws additional cash the A’s way, that would be a huge departure for a league that so far has depended on the kindness of taxpayers for new construction.

Newballpark.org, meanwhile, speculates that the easiest way for MLB to funnel some money to Wolff would be to allow the A’s to keep receiving revenue sharing money once they move into a new stadium. (MLB changed its revenue sharing rules a few years back to prohibit teams in big markets from getting checks, but exempted Oakland from this prohibition until a new stadium is built.) It’s certainly something that the league could do, though you have to wonder if MLB commissioner Rob Manfred would have to twist some  arms to get other owners to agree to kick in to dispense with the Coliseum. He doesn’t seem a very arm-twisty guy, but we’ll see.

A’s owner Wolff almost sorta kinda says R-word about Oakland Coliseum

Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff is interviewed in the new Athletics Magazine — man, wonder how they got that scoop, huh? — and had this to say about the team’s stadium demands:

We continue to respect the desire of the Raiders for a new football-only venue, while we of course would like to play in a new or vastly improved baseball-only venue.

That’s tantalizingly close to saying he’d consider a renovated Oakland Coliseum, though he doesn’t actually say the word “renovated.” But you don’t say “or vastly improved” to your own house organ if you don’t want to at least leave a door open.

What could possibly be done to the Coliseum to improve it? Newballpark.org proprietor Marine Layer has some ideas, including either tearing down the Mount Davis seats installed for the Raiders or incorporating them into a new seating bowl. (I think ML has neglected the setting sun being in batters’ eyes in that plan, but maybe the geography isn’t quite what I think it is.) I’ve previously noted that I’m an unabashed fan of the Coliseum, particularly if Mount Davis were removed, so it’d be interesting to see what, if anything, Wolff has in mind here. Mayor Libby Schaaf, can you ask him next time you see him and report back? Thanks, we’d all appreciate it.

The punchline missing from last night’s great John Oliver segment on stadium scams

I don’t want to in any way criticize Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’s outstanding segment last night, which did a terrific job hitting all the highlights of the stadium subsidy game. But I did want to add a side note to one of Oliver’s examples:

Teams are shameless in manipulating cities’ fears. In 1997, the Minnesota Twins even ran an ad showing a player visiting a child in hospital with cancer, and the tagline: ‘If the Twins leave Minnesota, an 8-year-old in Wilmar undergoing chemotherapy will never get a visit from Marty Cordova. Which is less like the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and more like the Make-A-Threat Foundation.

All true! But it actually turned out to be even worse than that, as the Minneapolis City Pages reported at the time:

Then there was the TV ad aimed at prodding fans to rally the legislature, which depicted Twins outfielder Marty Cordova going to see a sick child at the Minneapolis Ronald McDonald House. “If the Twins leave Minnesota, an 8-year-old from Willmar undergoing chemotherapy will never get a visit from Marty Cordova,” the announcer intoned, as the screen faded to black. To make matters even more repulsive, it turned out that by the time the ad aired, the patient had died.

Also, nobody had bothered consulting Twins outfielder Cordova, whose charity had sponsored the hospital visits, and who objected vociferously to being used for owner Carl Pohlad’s stadium shakedown. The ad was quickly pulled, the Minnesota state legislature declined to fund a new Twins stadium, and the team moved to — er, that is, kept on plugging away at getting public stadium money out of Minnesota, until finally the legislature gave in. That’ll show those lousy dead-cancer-kid-mongers, right?