Cubs’ battle with rooftop owners now headed to court, as God intended

As of early last week, the Chicago Cubs owners were reportedly making good progress in negotiations with rooftop owners over their planned Wrigley Field renovations, with “Cubs executives [saying] they have made significant progress in negotiating with rooftop owners in the past two weeks” and team president Crane Kenney saying, “I feel confident we’re working our way toward the finish line here.”

Then, this happened:

The Cubs privately declared their intention to apply for a city permit to put up a 650-square-foot, see-through sign in right field that, the rooftop owners claim, will block their bird’s-eye view of the century-old stadium.

The decision to take immediate advantage of a sign already authorized by the City Council was made after a stormy negotiating session Tuesday and after rooftop club owners filed a defamation lawsuit against a stadium financing consultant who once advised the Cubs’ prior owner, the Tribune Co.

“Everything fell apart” at that meeting, said a source close to the negotiations.

And then this:

In a statement reacting to today’s earlier news that the Chicago Cubs have applied for a permit to build a large right-field sign at Wrigley Field, the rooftops released a statement saying that they will sue.

“Rooftop owners believe a blockage of our views violates the contract we have with the owners of the Cubs,” said Ryan McLaughlin, spokesman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association. “We have instructed our legal team to proceed accordingly.”

At issue is this sign, which Cubs owner Tom Ricketts wants to erect behind the right-field bleachers, and which the rooftop owners say would be in violation of their contract to provide a cut of their revenues to the Cubs in exchange for unimpeded views of the game. The key clause in the contract, as reported by CSN Chicago’s David Kaplan, who got ahold of the actual language, is this:

6.6 The Cubs shall not erect windscreens or other barriers to obstruct the views of the Rooftops, provided however that temporary items such as banners, flags and decorations for special occasions, shall not be considered as having been erected to obstruct views of the Rooftops. Any expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities shall not be a violation of this agreement, including this section.

The big question is going to be whether a new ad sign counts as an “expansion of Wrigley Field” or not. Contract lawyers (all unnamed) quoted by Kaplan seem to think that Ricketts will likely be able to argue that it is — “I think it is probably going to go the Cubs’ way, but it is not a slam dunk,” said one — but even more likely is an out-of-court settlement once everyone gets a better sense which way the legal winds are blowing.

For now, anyway, it means one more season without a giant ad board and electronic scoreboard in the Wrigley bleachers. Which at least gives some reason to go see the Cubs this year.

All Portland needs to join MLB is a team (and a few hundred million dollars)

By my count, it’s been eight years since anybody seriously talked about Portland, Oregon, getting a major-league baseball team, and even then the only one serious about it was Florida Marlins president David Samson, who was just polishing his future Survivor bio. (The mayor at the time said of his citizens’ disdain for pro baseball: “That’s my very strong sense.”) Since then, Portland has renovated its only baseball stadium for the MLS Timbers, forcing its only minor-league baseball team to relocate; but, hey, if not even having a minor-league team isn’t stopping people in Montréal from trying to get an MLB team, why should it stop Portland, so away we go:

Portland’s backers of baseball have the blueprint for a state-of-the-art baseball-only stadium, which would have a retractable roof and seat 35,000. They have community support, including that of the current city administration. A site, endorsed by mayor Charlie Hales, has been chosen, next to Memorial Coliseum and the new Rose Garden, home of the NBA’s Trailblazers.

“We have the land and the infrastructure,” said architect Barry Smith.

The supporters believe they can find an ownership group, possibly a major Japanese firm, along the lines of Nintendo, which owns the Seattle Mariners.

All the folks in Portland need is a team.

Let’s see, a site, an architect, the mayor’s endorsement, a team, what else could they possibly need? Oh, right, money. Which was kind of a problem last time.

The article reporting on all this (by Tracy Ringolsby, who used to work for actual newspapers, as did we all) is very hazy on who baseball’s “backers” in Portland actually are, but it looks like it’s mostly Smith, who’s designed several small buildings in the city, and Lynn Lashbrook, an NFL agent and sports management trainer. But they’ve managed to get people in Oakland starting to worry about the A’s leaving the Bay Area, which is half the battle. If you’re the owner of the A’s, that is.

David Samson’s “claim to fame” is extorting public money for Marlins stadium

There’s no way I can top this headline from the Miami New Times:

David Samson Brags About Screwing Taxpayers in Survivor Bio

David Samson, as some of you may recall, is the Miami Marlins team president (and ex-stepson of team owner Jeffrey Loria) who made increasingly hilarious threats about the team leaving Florida in order to extract public money for a new stadium. Samson is also, equally hilariously, a contestant on the new season of Survivor, and he’s apparently really proud of the work he did on the people of Miami:

When asked what his “personal claim to fame” was, he replied, “Got local government in Miami to contribute over 350 million dollars to a new baseball park during the recession.”

As the New Times notes, Samson was president of the team when they won the 2003 World Series, but this is what he chose as his career highlight. Marlins execs really are a special breed.

Cleveland residents could vote in May on $160m in new tax subsidies to Indians, Cavs, Browns

One of the drawbacks of the Googlocene is that everything hangs on keywords; and so, because it didn’t come up in my various searches on “stadium” and “arena,” I completely missed Tuesday’s raucous Cuyahoga County council hearing about putting a measure on the May ballot to extend alcohol and cigarette taxes for 20 years and give the proceeds to local sports teams.

As a refresher: Back in the 1990s, Cuyahoga County built a passel of sports venues for the Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers, funding them primarily with tax surcharges on cigarettes, beer, and wine. (Upside: Drinkers and smokers don’t have organized lobbying groups. Downside: “Sin taxes” hit the poor far harder than the rich, who can only drink so many snifters of cognac.) Those taxes are set to expire next year, and the local sports teams see this as a great opportunity to get even more public money for upgrades to their facilities — everything from new water heaters to “replace obsolete scoreboard system,” which I guess fails to meet modern standards of humongosity — without “raising taxes,” since extending taxes that were set to expire doesn’t get counted as raising taxes for some reason.

Under the new plan, the sin tax would be extended for 20 years, raising about $13 million a year that would be directed to the teams. The Cavs and Indians are looking to go roughly 50-50 with that money, though the Browns are expected to demand something as well, albeit a lesser amount given that the Browns are already getting $2 million a year in added city subsidies for their own stadium renovations. The total present value would be about $160 million if the sin tax keeps bringing in the same revenue as it does at present, possibly more like $200 million if inflation causes it to rise.

The original leases on the three venues require the county-owned Gateway Corp. to pay for maintenance on the buildings, and Gateway officials insist that if the sin tax extension isn’t passed, the county would need to either raise the funds some other way, or risk having the teams break their leases and potentiall move elsewhere. That seems a pretty minor risk — there aren’t any open baseball or basketball markets close to Cleveland’s size (#18 in the Nielsen rankings), and while NFL teams don’t care as much about media markets, the Browns just got their own boodle to keep them happy — but it’s apparently the main justification for throwing a couple hundred million dollars in new money at Cleveland’s sports team owners.

The council is set to vote on holding a public ballot measure by the first week in February; if it’s approved as expected, then we should have quite the fun next three months talking about all the economic and ethical ramifications of this. Or just about the power of yes.

Anaheim still has no clue how much land it wants to give Angels is worth

If you’ve been following the controversy over the Los Angeles Angels‘ stadium lease controversy, you’ll recall that the key dispute is over the value of the development rights that Anaheim would be granting to the team: estimates are anywhere from $30 to $380 million, which is kind of a big difference when you’re talking about  $150 million in renovations that the Angels would putting in as their part of the deal. So, how’s that calculation going, Voice of OC?

When Anaheim officials unveiled new stadium lease negotiations for the Angels last September, one of the biggest open questions facing taxpayers was the value of 155 acres of city land being traded for a $1-per-year lease.

Nearly six months later, city officials still can’t answer that question.

Alrighty, then!

The latest non-report comes in the wake of comments Tuesday by city sports venue manager Tom Morton, who said that an appraisal commissioner in November is underway, and should be ready in March — though according to the Voice of OC, he added that “it will be up to the City Council to decide whether to make it public.” Hopefully they’ll do so before actually voting on the deal, but maybe they think they can don’t have to if they can only avoid all being in the same room.

Cobb commissioners evaded open meetings law by waiting in hall while colleagues briefed on Braves stadium

Been wondering how Cobb County managed to approve its Atlanta Braves stadium deal just two weeks after it was announced, without holding any public meetings to discuss it? The answer, according to Atlanta Magazine, is by violating open meetings laws:

Commissioners’ November 26 approval of the Braves deal came just 18 days after their first top-secret briefing on November 8. Commissioners gathered again privately on November 13—two days after the public announcement of the team’s relocation—to kick around the details, even as some Cobb residents pushed for a closer look at the deal’s fine print and for more time to consider its terms.
At both the November 8 and November 13 meetings, the five commissioners used a “revolving door” format so only two of them would be in the room at once. No quorum existed that way, officials contend, so open-meetings requirements did not apply.

Having three members of the commission hide in the hallway at any given time is called a “rolling quorum,” and is an unacceptable way of evading open-meetings laws, Georgia First Amendment Foundation director Hollie Manheimer tells the magazine. It looks like the worst that could happen under the letter of the law would be for the commissioners to be convicted of misdemeanors and fined $1,000 apiece, though it’s also possible for a court to grant an injunction “or other equitable relief.” Tea Party lawyers, you listening?

The Atlanta Magazine piece also confirms that the Braves’ proposed development to surround the new stadium, which is ostensibly the whole reason why this project makes any sense at all for Cobb County, may never be built, as the memorandum of understanding “contains no deadline for the team to complete an adjacent $400 million retail/entertainment district.” Maybe that will be included in the Stadium Operating Agreement that hasn’t been worked out yet, and which, come to think of it, Cobb County has been awfully quiet about since voting to give the project preliminary approval back in November. I’m sure they’ll tell us all about it, once they’re done taking turns standing in the hall.

End-of-year lists: The lazy journalist’s way to earn a paycheck while sucking down eggnog

It’s the Christmas-to-New Year’s interregnum, which means it can be time for only one thing: end-of-year lists! (Okay, really for two things: end-of-year lists and waiting impatiently for post-Christmas technical glitches to get resolved.) And already we have the clear front-runner for most outrageous end-of-year-list lede, courtesy of our old friend, the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Rich Kirchen:

The year 2013 may be remembered as the launching pad for Milwaukee’s new downtown arena.

I say that despite the fact that metro-area leaders are nowhere near reaching a decision on whether building a new arena or upgrading the existing BMO Harris Bradley Center would be best. Weighing heavily on those decisions, of course, is how to pay for any arena project.

Right, so no one knows where or whether to build a Bucks arena, or how to pay for it, but … the local chamber of commerce organized a task force! Which “didn’t do much at the first confab, but the fact that nearly all 48 members participated shows they are serious.” That’s perfect attendance, people! What more can you ask for?

In addition, Kirchen notes that incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver told Bucks sponsors in September that “the league views the BMO Harris Bradley Center as unfit for the league’s current standards,” which is practically in the commissioner job description, but which Kirchen made a big deal of at the time, so I suppose it’s not surprising that he’s making a big deal of it again now. Sure, it might have been nice if he’d mentioned how Milwaukee-area counties are lining up to refuse to contribute to arena costs, but that wouldn’t do much to help create the air of inevitability that Kirchen is going for, now would it?

Meanwhile, PolitiFact Georgia marks Boxing Day by celebrating its top Atlanta Falcons and Braves fact-checks of the year, from how Georgia appraises stadium property to the economic impact of a new stadium. Sadly, PolitiFact doesn’t actually fact-check its own fact-checks, but given the project’s propensity for finding partial truths on both sides on just about every issue — its four stadium rulings were one True, two Mostly Trues, and one Mostly False, though in the last case this seems to indicate that claims of job creation used real numbers, it just lied about what they mean — I feel comfortable grading PolitiFact’s work this year as Mostly Truthy.

Braves seeking $60m in state tax breaks on top of $300m in county stadium subsidies

Remember when I wondered if all the unfunded transportation improvement mandates in the Atlanta Braves stadium plan were going to end up leading to the team asking for state money on top of the $300 million it’s trying to get from Cobb County? Turns out that it could be worse than that: According to Atlanta Magazine, the Braves owners have considered asking for state tax breaks to defray their own share of the stadium costs:

If you thought the Braves’ move to Cobb County would leave just Cobb taxpayers on the hook, think again. The team’s execs may seek millions more in tax credits from the state — largesse that would be underwritten by all Georgians…

A document obtained under the Georgia Open Records Act shows that negotiators for Cobb County and the Braves considered funding packages that included up to $60 million in state tax credits on top of the $300 million in county funding.

The current financing plan, in fact, is built on the assumption that state tax incentives and/or reduced construction costs for parking could trim the Braves’ obligation by up to $50 million.

These state tax breaks apparently could include rebates on sales and/or income taxes offered by the state to businesses expanding or relocating within Georgia. Granting these tax breaks to the Braves — for, as the magazine notes, “relocating the same team to a new stadium a mere fourteen miles away” — would definitely require the approval of Gov. Nathan Deal; it’s not immediately clear whether the Georgia state legislature would get to weigh in as well.

Meanwhile, Atlanta Journal Constitution’s PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter (yes, that’s its name) has delved into the claim by flyers sent out by the Revitalize Cobb business group promising “9,241 New Jobs + $295,000,000 in Wages + $0 Tax Increase for Homeowners + $3,000,000 Annually for Cobb Schools = 1 Great Deal for Cobb Residents.” Only one problem, reports PolitiFact: Those 9,241 jobs wouldn’t all go to Cobb County residents — according to the Cobb Chamber of Commerce study that the Revitalize Cobb flyer is based on, only 784 full-time equivalent jobs would go to Cobb residents. And looking at it as a 9,241-job boost to regional employment isn’t right, either, because “for the most part, jobs that already exist in downtown Atlanta are simply moving to Cobb.” (PolitiFact thus rated the Revitalize Cobb claims to be “Mostly False.”)

Downplaying the fact that most economic impact would be cannibalized from elsewhere in your metro area even though it’s actually included elsewhere in your report? Where have I heard that before?


Warriors co-owner says “100% not true” that he’s looking to buy A’s

So remember how the Golden State Warriors owners are maybe interested in buying the Oakland A’s and building them a new waterfront stadium? Somebody actually asked Warriors co-owner Peter Guber that on Wednesday night, and he said no, no he’s not:

“Absolutely not true,” Guber told The Times. “100% not true.”

Guber declined comment about whether Lacob might be interested but called it “categorically incorrect” to say he might be.

“I have not had any conversations with the league or any of the owners about buying the team,” Guber said. “I love the Dodgers. I love the Warriors.”

That “I love the Dodgers” is because Guber is also part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and would have to sell his share in order to buy the A’s. Which he could always change his mind and do, or Lacob could buy the A’s without him, or “I have not had any conversations” means he’s thinking about it but hasn’t actually met with anyone, or it could all just be smoke that Oakland officials are blowing to try to get momentum for a stadium plan at Howard Terminal. Who knows, really?

Tampa Bay media report on Tampa Bay media’s reporting of Rays-to-Montréal rumors

What do you get when you combine a slow news day, a semi-famous guy in one city looking to promote his campaign to own an MLB team, and a sportswriter in another city looking for something to write about his city’s team’s stadium campaign in which nothing much is happening? That would be this:

Former Montreal Expos icon Warren Cromartie — so popular in Montreal he once had his own candy bar, the CroBar — is mounting a campaign to lure a team back to the francophone city on the St. Lawrence River. Cromartie told The Tampa Tribune on  Tuesday that he isn’t targeting any team specifically, including the Rays.

However, he acknowledges certain teams are struggling with attendance or their finances and he’s more than willing to let baseball writers and sports agents make the Rays-to-Montreal suggestion.

“You know, baseball writers. Those guys. Not like me, Tampa Tribune baseball writer Michael Sasso, who just wrote an article headlined, ‘Could Montreal make a play for Rays?’”

Look, I’ve long said that Montréal is almost certainly the best baseball market in North America without an MLB team, but that doesn’t make Cromartie’s campaign news just yet — as the Tampa Tribune’s Joe Henderson points out, what the Rays are unhappy about in Tampa Bay is that they don’t have anyone offering to build them a new stadium, and all Montréal has is “a sketchy, unfunded plan to build a ballpark.” Still, Henderson did end up writing a whole article about the Rays moving to Montréal, or at least about them threatening to move to Montréal in order to extort a new stadium in Tampa Bay. Stuart Sternberg has got to be really happy for slow news days.