Friday roundup: Tampa official stonewalls, Falcons get sued, Amazon is the new Olympics

Okay, let’s do this thing:

Orlando officials hate bill to halt land giveaways to sports teams, for all the wrong reasons

From the Department of Maybe Well-Meaning Ideas That Probably Should’ve Been Thought Through a Little More, we have Florida House bill HB 13, which, as the Orlando Sentinel notes, would “ban teams from building or renovating stadiums on publicly owned land and also bar governments from leasing existing facilities to teams below ‘fair market value.'” The bill’s sponsor, Broward/Miami-Dade state rep Manny Diaz Jr., says he introduced it because of anger over the Miami Marlins stadium deal, and that it “aims to do is to try to curtail abuses that have gone on, where cities … are being held hostage.”

Orlando city officials are griping that the Diaz bill would make it harder for his city to lure or retain sports teams by gifting them with generous lease terms to hide from the public how big the subsidies are offering competitive deals, and that this is an unforgivable intrusion by the state on cities’ right to throw money away for no good economic reason determine their own development policies. But to note that the objections to the bill are dumb does not preclude acknowledging that the bill itself is pretty dumb, too.

As I told the Sentinel (it didn’t make the cut, though other of my quotes did), the “no leasing land below market value” bit is reasonable enough, though it’s going to be tough to enforce: If you determine “market value” by what other sports teams are paying in rent, you get into the problem that most franchises have sweetheart lease deals. And in any event, there’s nothing that I can tell in the bill that would stop a city from charging “market rent” and then handing the money back under the table through “operating subsidies” or somesuch.

The bigger problem is with the first half of the bill, which sets out to solve a problem that doesn’t exist: the unwarranted use of public land for sports facilities. Unless you’re the hardest of hard-core libertarians, there’s nothing wrong per se with government land being used for sports stadiums any more with it being used for housing developments or libraries or whatever — the public just should get some benefit from the deal, whether it’s lease payments or a cut of stadium revenues or discounted tickets or something. If “can’t renovate buildings on public land” means that the Magic, say, are restricted from paying for improvements to their arena on government property and end up using that as an excuse to demand public funds or tax breaks (which aren’t addressed at all in this bill) to build a new arena on private land, that’s not exactly a step in the right direction.

A well-written bill would have provided an ironclad prohibition on deals that directly or indirectly gift public land to teams, and maybe ruled that sports facilities run for private profits should be subject to property tax even if they’re owned by the public or on public land, to get around that subsidy loophole as well. I don’t know enough about Diaz to know whether he wrote his bill this way because of his own ideological beliefs (there are a surprising number of conservatives who consider government cash a subsidy but not government tax breaks, on the Casino Night Principle) or just because he has sloppy bill-drafters in his office. Or maybe he’s just tired of being confused with the other Manny Diaz, who was mayor of Miami when the Marlins deal was approved. Either way, before this sails through the state legislature on “sounds good enough to me!” grounds, let’s hope somebody goes in there with a red pen and does some judicious editing.

Friday roundup: A’s pollution woes, Falcons roof woes, Hansen email woes, and more!

Whole lot of news leftovers this week, so let’s get right to it:

  • It’s not certain yet how serious the environmental cleanup issues at the Oakland A’s proposed Peralta Community College stadium site are, but anytime you have the phrases “the amount of hazardous materials in the ground is unclear” and “two possible groundwater plumes impacted by carcinogens” in one article, that’s not a good sign. Meanwhile, local residents are concerned about gentrification and traffic and all the other things that local residents would be concerned about.
  • There’s another new poll in Calgary, and this time it’s Naheed Nenshi who’s leading Bill Smith by double digits, instead of the other way around. This poll’s methodology is even dodgier than the last one — it was of people who signed up for an online survey — so pretty much all we can say definitely at this point is no one knows. Though it does seem pretty clear from yet another poll that whoever Calgarians are voting for on Monday, it won’t be because of their position on a Flames arena.
  • The Atlanta Falcons‘ retractable roof won’t be retracting this season, and may even not be ready for the start of next season. These things are hard, man.
  • Nevada is preparing to sell $200 million in bonds (to be repaid by a state gas tax) to fund highway improvements for the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium, though Gov. Brian Sandoval says the state would have to make the improvements anyway. Eventually. But then he said, “I just don’t want us to do work that has to be undone,” so your guess is as good as mine here.
  • Pawtucket is preparing to scrape off future increases in property tax receipts for a 60- to 70-acre swath of downtown and hand them over to the Pawtucket Red Sox for a new stadium, an amount they expect to total at least $890,000 a year. Because downtown Pawtucket would never grow without a new baseball stadium, and there’s no chance of a shortfall that would cause Pawtucket to dip into its general fund, and nobody should think too hard about whether if minor-league baseball stadiums are really so great for development, this wouldn’t mean that property tax revenues should be expected to fall in the part of the city that the PawSox would be abandoning. Really, it’ll all be cool, man, you’ll see.
  • Somebody asked Tim Leiweke what he thinks of building a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays for some reason, and given that he’s a guy that is in the business of building new stadiums, it’s unsurprising that he thinks it’s a great idea. Though I am somewhat surprised that he employed the phrase “Every snowbird in Canada will want to watch the Toronto Blue Jays when they come and play,” given that having to depend on fans of road teams to fill the seats is already kind of a problem.
  • The study showing that spending $30 million in city money on a $30-million-or-so Louisville City F.C. stadium would pay off for the city turns out to have been funded by the soccer team, and city councilmembers are not happy. “There’s something there that someone doesn’t want us to find,” said councilmember Kevin Kramer. “I just don’t know what it is.” And College of the Holy Cross economics professor Victor Matheson chimed in, “I expect for-profit sports team owners to generate absurdly high economic estimate numbers in order to con gullible city council members into granting subsidies.” I don’t know where you could possibly be getting that idea, Victor!
  • Congress is considering a bill to eliminate the use of federally tax-exempt bonds for sports facilities, and … oh, wait, it’s the same bill that Cory Booker and James Lankford introduced back in June, and which hasn’t gotten a committee hearing yet in either the House or the Senate. It has four sponsors in the House, though, and two in the Senate, so only 263 more votes to go!
  • A Miami-Dade judge has dismissed a lawsuit charging that the sale of public land to David Beckham’s MLS franchise illegally evaded competitive bidding laws, then immediately suggested that the case will really be decided on appeal: “I found this to be an extremely challenging decision. Brighter minds than me will tell me whether I was right or wrong.” MLS maybe should be having backup plans for a different expansion franchise starting next season, just a thought.
  • The New York Times real estate section is doing what it does best, declaring the new Milwaukee Bucks arena to be “a pivotal point for a city that has struggled with a decline in industrial activity,” because cranes, dammit, okay? Maybe somebody should have called over to the Times sports section to fact-check this?
  • And last but not least, Chris Hansen is now saying that his SoDo arena plan missed a chance at reconsideration by the Seattle city council because the council’s emails requesting additional information got caught in his spam filter or something. If that’s not a sign that it’s time to knock off for the weekend, I don’t know what is.

KC studying $450m stadium for Royals, because old one was renovated eight whole years ago

I’m sorry, what?

The city of Kansas City is funding a study of at least four potential sites for a downtown baseball stadium for the Kansas City Royals, according to documents obtained by The Star…

[Kansas City Manager Troy] Schulte said the studies started after the Downtown Council approached City Hall about the feasibility of downtown baseball. Schulte added that he agreed to help fund a study to consider whether the four sites would work so that the city could plan ahead if the idea gained momentum…

Potential obstacles for downtown baseball include parking and how to pay for it. Schulte said initial estimates for a stadium were north of $450 million. Those details, he added, have not been studied in depth.

Any stadium, if it were built, wouldn’t be built until 2030, when the Royals‘ lease runs out at Kauffman Stadium. And sure, by then the stadium will be 57 years old. But it also just got $250 million in taxpayer-funded renovations that were completed in 2009, with new seating, scoreboards, and concessions areas, and generally scores near the top of best-stadium lists. So spending “north of $450 million” to replace it, especially when the team isn’t even demanding to, seems a bit, well, demented.

This whole thing appears to be driven by the Downtown Council, a council (duh) of downtown (duh) business and real estate interests, with a few nonprofits thrown in, who undoubtedly have figured out that the city building a baseball stadium on their doorstep could be good for business, or at least speculative property values. (They’ve already floated this idea before, in fact, though this is the first time it’s gotten an actual study.) Why the city is taking this seriously is beyond me — or rather, I’m sure it’s the idea that a stadium will “revitalize the downtown core” or something, a notion that’s so laughable among economists that the most recent studies are a decade old, because nobody can get funding to do new ones when the numbers just keep showing the same thing over and over and over.

As for Royals execs, they responded exactly how you’d think someone would if you offered to tear down their newly renovated home and build a completely new one:

“We’re perfectly content where we are, we think it works well,” [Royals VP Kevin] Uhlich said. “Thirteen years from now, who knows what the situation is going to be? I can’t hold anybody back from doing what they’re doing on their side. We would listen.”

There’s also a rendering of a potential new stadium, which looks like HOK architects drew it up in Minecraft:

On top of the obvious issue of Kansas City citizens maybe being on the hook for up to $450 million in stadium money in the not-too-distant future, I’m starting to get really concerned that there’s a notion going around that once a sports team’s lease expires, of course the public has to offer a new or renovated building in order to get them to extend it. As someone who was an apartment renter for 25 years, I can tell you that this is not how things normally work in the real world; but if team owners can succeed in getting city officials and the media to consider this “standard business practice,” then this website may have to be around forever. I better start taking my vitamins.

Arlington councilmembers upset that Rangers stadium design is too rectangular

Looks like we’re not the only ones complaining about the wacky renderings of the Texas Rangers‘ planned new publicly subsidized stadium, as some members of the Arlington City Council griped about them at their meeting last night. Specifically:

  • Councilmember Robert Shepard: “When I saw the slide of Lucas Oil Stadium [in Indianapolis], I thought, ‘Oh, no, that looks like a field house.”
  • Councilmember Charlie Parker: “This looks very much like our library that we’re building. There’s a lot of glass. It looks like you hit a home run with your design on the inside, but on the outside it seems that it is wanting for some other details.”
  • Councilmember Victoria Farrar-Myers: “It looks like a field house. If that’s what we’re going for, then perhaps we’ve hit it. I’ve just seen some of the other ballparks, and quite frankly, this looks like a cold place to me.”

I’m honestly not quite sure what they’re complaining about here — field houses are cold-looking compared to baseball stadiums? — and also don’t really think anyone cares much about what stadiums look like from the outside so much as what they look like when you’re inside watching a game. (Quick, what does the outside of Fenway Park look like?) Maybe by “shed” they just mean that it’s squared-off, but that’s going to be the case for just about any stadium with a retractable roof, and a retractable roof that allows for air-conditioning is the whole reason the Rangers are building this stadium, so what did they expect?

The Rangers also released a fan survey about the ballpark experience yesterday, and the Dallas Morning News noted that in included the finding that “the No.1 thing fans said they liked about Globe Life Park was the in-game entertainment. The game itself finished second.” Which either means that modern sports fans would rather watch Kiss Cams than the game on the field, or that they’d rather watch Kiss Cams than the Rangers finish 4th, which is maybe a more reasonable proposition.

Cincy may lack cash for MLS stadium because it has too many other sports venues to subsidize

About 100 F.C. Cincinnati fans attended a Hamilton County Commission meeting last night to urge the commission to spend $100 million on a new soccer stadium for the USL team, which is hoping to land an MLS expansion franchise. County Commission President Todd Portune, however, told them that “we have more projects than we have money,” with the county facing $1.5 billion in pending capital projects. Like, the county jail is overcrowded and needs expansion, and a new waterfront development project is still mostly undeveloped, and, um:

The city’s two current major league sports teams — the Reds and the Bengals — will eventually come knocking on the county’s door for a new deal. The Bengals stadium lease with the county expires in 2026 with the Reds’ lease expiring a few years after. Combined, the two stadiums could need more than $200 million in upgrades within the next decade.

“While no one is talking about demoing these stadiums, we know there will be substantial maintenance (needs),” [Hamilton County Administrator Jeff] Alutto said.

Those leases running out are worth planning ahead for, I suppose, but it’s still a little worrisome that Hamilton County is already budgeting for stadium renovation “needs” that the teams haven’t even asked for yet. Apparently either somebody hasn’t gotten the memo that it’s okay to demand that taxpayers not take a bath on stadium projects, or else Hamilton County leaders think that Cincinnati has less leverage to keep its teams without bribing them to stay, which, okay, maybe.

That said, the rest of the county’s wish list includes a $230 million convention center expansion and a $342 million rebuild of the city’s arena, neither of which exactly seems like a “need” per se. If the only choice for Hamilton County is which dumb project for private profit to sink public money into, I can sort of see why soccer fans would feel justified in saying, “Us first!” Too bad overcrowded prisoners don’t have fan clubs.

Friday roundup: Saskatoon soccer frenzy, Phoenix hotel sale to fund Suns, and more!

And more!

Latest Texas Rangers’ stadium renderings don’t like geometry any more than last batch

The Texas Rangers released their latest round of vaportecture renderings yesterday, and their new taxpayer-funded building will apparently feature a retractable roof and oh so many power chords. I can’t figure out how to embed the video that the Rangers put together, but please click here to enjoy it on the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s site. Then once you’re done with that, let’s spend some quality time with this particular rendering:

Several things about this:

  • Yup, it still looks an awful lot like the Houston Astros‘ stadium.
  • Whoever drew it either thinks stadiums are best viewed through a fish-eye lens or has some funny ideas about stadium geometry. Or maybe thinks the Rangers actually play pesäpallo?
  • For an image supposedly meant to illustrate how close fans will get to the game, “specifically in the upper deck,” this actually shows anything but: The players are tiny flyspecks from this vantage point, which if you look carefully is actually the middle deck — there are two more decks even farther from the action, which are both set back immensely far horizontally from the field and also cast up into the rafters by a big glass wall of luxury suites or restaurants or car dealerships or something.
  • The three levels of seating in left field unreachable by any human means have now been reduced to only one level suspended in midair. Improvement, I guess?
  • Somebody has just gotten their 3000th hit as a member of the Rangers, it looks like. Adrian Beltre already cleared that milestone, so it looks like next in line on the team roster is … Shin-Soo Choo, who is a mere 1656 hits away and on pace to reach 3000 at age 50, in 2033. No wonder beefy-arm dude is so excited!

I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on HKS architects’ illustrators, though. After all, it’s notoriously hard to draw air-conditioning.

A’s preferred stadium site criticized for causing gentrification, killing waterfowl

The Oakland A’s decision to pursue a new stadium on a site owned by public Laney College didn’t exactly get off to a gangbusters start, with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf saying she preferred other sites because there’s “less existing community to disrupt” and the councilmember for the district, Abel Guillen, saying two-thirds of residents were opposed to a stadium there. And now there’s criticism that a stadium near Lake Merritt won’t just produce gentrification and create public infrastructure costs, it’ll kill birds:

The [Golden Gate Audubon Society], which has more than 7,000 members in Oakland and nearby cities, said the proposed ballpark in the Eastlake neighborhood would be disastrous for nearly 200 species of ducks, herons, songbirds, nesting cormorants and fish that make their homes in Lake Merritt, the nation’s oldest wildlife refuge.

“We’re not antibaseball. We love the A’s, but we want them to stay where they are,” said Cindy Margulis, the executive director of Golden Gate Audubon. “When you put in a stadium and have all the additional cars and traffic, there will be additional contaminants coming into the lake. Oakland is a creative, imaginative city, and I think they can do better.”

This now makes a growing chorus of people who would like to see the A’s pursue a new stadium at the Oakland Coliseum site, which, as I’ve said before, isn’t a terrible idea from the city’s perspective. Sure, the A’s owners would no doubt rather be near Lake Merritt — everybody would rather be located in the cool part of town — but that wouldn’t necessarily be in the best interests of the city as a whole. I mean, maybe it would, but somebody would have to study whether a redevelopment of the Coliseum site would make more sense, and nobody’s done that yet.

This all raises another question, which is why everyone always sits around and waits for sports team owners to pick a site that they want, instead of a city saying, “Okay, you want a stadium site? Here’s what we have available, hope that works for you.” I guess doing it this way makes it seem like you’re being considerate of the team’s needs, but it also lets the team set the agenda instead of elected officials who were voted into office precisely to decide this things, which seems kinda problematic, to say the least.

This week in boondoggle vivisection: Plenty of good seats available in SF, Cleveland, Ottawa

We’ll get to the weekly news roundup in a minute, but first, I need to mention this editorial from yesterday’s Globe and Mail, which makes several eminently reasonable points about how Calgary shouldn’t capitulate to the Flames owners’ extortion attempts for arena cash (“using past bad decisions to justify terrible future decisions does not qualify as logic,” “arena financing is a hamster wheel, and here is an opportunity to jump off”), and then says this:

Everyone involved should take note of a remark this week by Neil deMause, renowned stadium boondoggle vivisectionist and creator of the fieldofschemes.com website: “The number of mayors who’ve been voted out of office for standing up to sports team subsidy demands remains zero.”

That’s right, I am a major-newspaper-certified renowned boondoggle vivisectionist, y’all. Clearly it’s time to order some new business cards.

Okay, the rest of the week’s news:

  • The Los Angeles Rams aren’t the only California team having trouble getting fans to turn out for games in the September heat: The San Francisco 49ers are seeing so many empty seats on the sunny side of their stadium that they’ve hired architects to see if it’d be possible to add a sun shade. One problem: The stadium can’t get any taller, as it’s in the flight path of San Jose’s airport. Until then, the 49ers are handing out free water bottles and sunscreen to fans on the hot side of the stadium, which is nice and all, but probably isn’t what you want for your big marketing push. This once again points up how smart the 49ers management was to stick fans with PSLs before the team got lousy and people noticed how crappy the new stadium was for actually watching football in.
  • And speaking of empty seats, the Cleveland Indians won their American League–record 22nd straight game yesterday, but they still can’t sell out their ballpark, which not that long ago saw a record sellout streak of 455 straight games. Indians GM Mike Chernoff blamed Cleveland’s small size, the start of the school year, and “weekdays,” three things that apparently didn’t exist in the ’90s. At least he didn’t blame the 23-year-old stadium or demand upgrades as a solution — yet, anyway.
  • And also speaking of empty seats, the Ottawa Senators have begun tarping over part of their upper deck for every game, because they can’t sell tickets there. The Senators owner is already blaming his 21-year-old arena for that one (apparently the last owner built it in the wrong place), so team president Tom Anselmi was left to say: “We just need more of us to come to more games more often.” Can’t argue with that!
  • And also also speaking of empty seats, the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics have only sold about 5% of available tickets so far to actual fans (ticket brokers have bought up another 18%), with less than five months to go before the games start. If you’re looking to snap up a bargain to watch curling, though, be forewarned: Not all the new hotels planned for the Olympics are finished yet.
  • And speaking of seats that a team hopes won’t be empty, the Oakland A’s will be letting in fans for free to a game next April against the White Sox. Make jokes all you want about how dismal an A’s-White Sox matchup will be, it’s still free baseball, and you never know what you might see that you’ve never seen before.
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman declared that that the scaled-down Nassau Coliseum is “not a viable option” for the New York Islanders, two weeks before the team is set to present plans to Nassau County for a new arena near Belmont Park. A total coincidence, I’m sure.
  • The Rhode Island state senate started hearings on a new Pawtucket Red Sox proposal yesterday, with the team owners and their allies noting that “the team’s 54-percent share of stadium costs is the highest portion of private investment in 14 AA and AAA ballparks built over the last decade,” according to the Providence Journal. What was that someone was just saying about using bad decisions to justify terrible future decisions?
  • Deadspin’s Drew Magary has come up with a new nickname for the Atlanta Falcons‘ new iris-roofed stadium: Megatron’s Butthole. Drew Magary needs to be put in charge of all stadium nicknames, starting immediately.