Stadiums can be anchors for related development, say newspapers in search of cheap headlines

You know what I missed while I was away? Having the time to read long, misinformed articles about new stadium projects and how they’re just totally different from those old bad stadium projects of a couple of decades ago. Got anything like that for me, Google News?

With the era of standalone, isolated stadiums largely over, sports team owners increasingly are taking on the role of developer and using their stadiums as anchors for entertainment districts or retail and residential developments.

Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff.

The article in question is from the Tampa Tribune’s Christopher O’Donnell, and argues that this newfangled stadium-plus-other-development model being used by teams like the Atlanta Braves and Detroit Red Wings (or “Redwings,” as he calls them) could be used by the Tampa Bay Rays for a new stadium as well. It ignores the fact that these stadium-plus projects aren’t especially new, going back well over a decade (the St. Louis Cardinals‘ “ballpark village” was one of the earlier ones, but I’m sure I’m forgetting others), and mostly ignores, aside from a comment by stadium architecture consultant Philip Bess (who O’Donnell calls “Phillip” — fired all the copy editors, did you, Tampa Tribune?), the problem that if development around a stadium were profitable enough to pay off a stadium, teams would be able to pursue this strategy without public subsidies. Not to mention that if stadium-related development is profitable it could be pursued without the money suck of a new stadium attached, that it could just end up displacing development that otherwise would have taken place somewhere else in town, that development around stadiums has typically appeared years late when it shows up at all, etc., etc.

Anyway, good to see that these articles still pop up every once in a while for me to throw rocks at, and — whoa there!

The new Minnesota Vikings football stadium, to be completed a year from now, is helping draw nearby office towers, upscale housing and other developments, according to its supporters.

Guys! One article at a time, please! I’m still getting back up to speed here.

Georgia court rules that baseball stadiums are a public purpose because they just are, duh

The court ruling is in for Cobb County’s use of public bonds for the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium, and did the judge buy the team’s argument that stadiums are a public purpose because they just are? Did he ever!

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 9.15.03 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-30 at 9.15.31 AMIn other words, sports are a public good, and anything that says it will create economic benefits is a public good, so the government has every right to fund it, so there. That’s pretty sweeping, albeit not unexpected. Anyway, if you were hoping that the Braves funding plan would somehow get tossed out by a court, throwing all of sports finance into disarray, the Georgia supreme court isn’t going to give that to you.

New Braves stadium to hike ticket prices 45%, Braves say this is because seats will be 45% better

The Atlanta Braves have released ticket prices for their new stadium in Cobb County, and fans can expect to absorb a whopping 45% price increase over Turner Field. Also, only a 4.7% price increase over Turner Field. Whaaa?

Turner Field features the third-cheapest price among Major League Baseball teams for non-premium season tickets at $19.14 per game, according to Team Marketing Report of Chicago, which uses data from all 30 MLB teams. The league average is about $29.

The Braves, however, say their average non-premium price is actually higher — $26.48. The Team Marketing Report survey excludes seats near the field and in other prime areas that wouldn’t be considered premium in a modern stadium. That effectively depresses Turner Field’s average.

The average non-premium seat cost at the new Cobb County ballpark is expected to be $27.73, according to a Braves spokeswoman. That would be a 45 percent increase over the Team Marketing Report average for Turner Field, but only a 4.7 percent increase over what the Braves consider their average price.

All of this mostly goes to show how hard it is to define “ticket price” in a 21st-century landscape of amenity-filled club seats and dynamic pricing. (The prices released by the Braves yesterday are just for season tickets; no one knows how individual games will be priced.) TMR divides up its pricing data into “general” and “premium” seating — the latter for “club seats or any section that has special features,” which is clear as mud — which allows teams to claim that a share of a price increase is due to added amenities, kind of the way that poverty isn’t a problem because poor people now have refrigerators.

The Braves, meanwhile, claim that you can’t compare seats at the old and new stadiums at all, because the new one will offer (in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s paraphrase) “

 

Braves VP on parking at new stadium: I hear bicycles are all the rage

Hey, Atlanta Braves and Cobb County, how’s that transportation plan that you’ve been punting on for a year and a half coming along?

The plan for where people can park near the stadium, spread out over 40 acres of property the Braves have purchased around the stadium, will be revealed in the last quarter of 2015 or the first quarter of 2016, he said.

Alrighty then. Do you have any ideas at all for how to get people to games in a spot next to a highway intersection without enough off-ramps in the middle of a not-all-that-developed suburb?

Mike Plant, Braves executive vice president of operations, said he encourages business owners and residents to “think outside of the box” and look into new transportation methods to the stadium. For instance, he said, he hopes local community improvement districts will consider extending their biking trails toward the stadium.

Anyone else have any other ideas?

Kim Perez, president of the Kennesaw Business Association, said at a meeting of the organization Tuesday she knows of many business owners in Cobb who are working on a smaller scale to transport employees or customers to the 81 games each year.

“Restaurants and other businesses are thinking about how they can get people to the stadium, and that’s a really neat thing,” Perez said.

Bicycles and crowdsourcing. This really is going to be a 21st-century stadium!

Cobb County is taking money allocated for parkland and spending it on Braves stadium

One of the trickiest parts of understanding the stadium game is figuring out the tricky finances used by team owners (and local elected officials on their behalf) to fund new buildings. This is intentional: In a world where handing over a $300 million check from the public treasury to a private sports team is considered gauche (or at least likely to get you tarred and feathered by constituents), it’s important to have a convincing cover story claiming that, no, it’s not really a public subsidy.

For Cobb County, part of that cover story has been that taking $8.6 million a year in existing sales-tax surcharges and devoting it to a new Atlanta Braves stadium doesn’t really cost taxpayers anything, because they were going to be paying the tax anyway. Except that some people, including reporters at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, have noticed that the tax was originally approved in 2006 so that Cobb County could buy parkland, and voters there specifically authorized bonds to buy parkland in a 2008 vote, but instead Cobb County sat on the money and is now using it for a stadium:

After the successful 2006 referendum, which resulted in the purchase of 387 acres, voters went back to the polls and approved a second parks bond referendum in 2008. Although the measure passed with 67 percent of voters’ approval, the county commission never issued those bonds and no additional green space was ever purchased.

Jim Dugan served on the Cobb Parks Coalition, which worked to get parks referendum on ballots, and then served on the committee that evaluated undeveloped land for possible purchase. Dugan said the county has a moral obligation to either take the tax rate off the books or dedicate the revenue for more parks, in fulfillment of the 2008 vote.

Bah, “moral obligations.” How many divisions have they got?

Roger Buerki, who served on the committee that identified parks purchases in 2006, likewise called the sales-tax redirection a “sleight of hand” and “unseemly,” adding: “The commissioners might want to see an audiologist. They hear the Braves just fine, but they don’t hear the voters.” You say that like it’s a bug, Roger, but it’s really a feature.

Braves exec: If you won’t give us sales tax break, maybe we should just stop paying property taxes! Yeah!

In addition to all the other goodies that the Atlanta Braves are getting from Cobb County and the state of Georgia as part of their stadium deal, they’re also looking to get an exemption from state sales tax on construction materials for the project. That’s not that unusual — it’s one of the more typical subsidies that local governments like to throw at development projects as a sweetener, but instead of going with the “everybody does it” line, Braves VP Mike Plant decided yesterday to take a somewhat different tack:

“I think it’s just very narrow minded to say, ‘Oh, why should they be able to take that money out of the public?’” Plant said. “We’re putting a lot more into the public, and that’s I think the flaw in some of the rhetoric is that there’s no recognition for that.”

Plant said the state needs to have skin in the game if it wants to reap the rewards of the project, such as Tuesday’s announcement that Comcast would be the sole tenant of the nine-story office building the Braves are building adjacent to the stadium and bringing 1,000 jobs with them, the majority of which are expected to be new, high-paying jobs.

“Why shouldn’t we just keep all that then?” Plant said. “Why should we have to share the revenue upside that we’re creating if there’s no participation? We have close to a $1 billion investment in that ballpark and mixed-use (development). You’ve known from day one 100 percent of that mixed-use (development) is our responsibility. Creating a Comcast situation that brings 1,000 jobs, many of them new jobs, well, then we’re the only ones that took the risk to do that. Maybe we should have a discussion that we should get all the proceeds from that. That’s not the way the system works, and we’re OK with that.”

To anyone now wondering what on earth Plant is going on about, the “Comcast situation” is that the cable company is agreeing to move some workers into the office buildings the Braves are building next door to the stadium (as well as supply some technology to the stadium itself) as part of a sponsorship deal. By “share the revenue upside,” Plant means … okay, I have no idea what he means. The development next to the ballpark isn’t paying any rent or revenue sharing to Cobb County, just an estimated $6 million in property taxes per year, the same property taxes that any development would have to pay.

So Plant’s argument appears to be, “Hey, we’re paying one of the taxes that normal businesspeople have to, what, you want us to pay another one too?” Clearly it’s going to be a tough decision this year for the Nobel committee on chutzpah.

Georgia top court dismisses Falcons bond challenge, Braves challenge next up

The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled on the challenge to the Atlanta Falcons stadium bonds, and it did not buy the argument that using the hotel-motel tax that funded the Georgia Dome to now fund its replacement violated the state constitution:

“[T]here is nothing arbitrary or unreasonable about allowing the same taxing entities that already have experience paying for a multipurpose domed stadium facility through the collection of a 7 percent hotel-motel tax…to collect such a tax in the future to fund a different stadium after the first tax has expired,” Justice Harold Melton wrote in the court’s opinion.

That was the last round of appeals for the Falcons suit, so we can stick a fork in it. The Braves bond lawsuit, meanwhile, which rests on whether a baseball stadium is a “public purpose” and which got one of the craziest legal responses ever from the Braves’ crack legal team, is still proceeding, having had a supreme court hearing last month and with a ruling expected in July. I’m not holding my breath or anything, given that courts are usually hesitant about injecting themselves into this kind of development policy even when the law might imply it’s their job to, but it’s still something to keep an eye on.

Cobb County admits it doesn’t know what Braves bridge will cost, that taxpayers will fund it

Hey, what’s up with that Atlanta Braves double-decker bridge that no one knows how much it’ll cost or how to pay for it, you ask? (You really need to work on your grammar.) Well, the Cobb County commission has hired an engineer to design it, but still can’t give any answer on the cost part:

When asked how much the bridge would cost, [] DiMassimo said the county is sticking by its $9 million estimate — a figure they came up with more than a year ago — before officials decided that building a bridge to support the circulator bus would be too expensive.

Asked if the bridge construction cost could be higher, DiMassimo said, “potentially.”

The rest of the article, by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s great Dan Klepal, is equally sad-hilarious and worth reading before it disappears behind the AJC’s paywall. My favorite two bits:

And:

This “build the stadium now and figure out how to get people to it later” plan just gets better and better, don’t it?

 

Cobb County now talking double-decker bridge to Braves stadium, cost goes back up again

When last we checked in on the bridge across a highway that Cobb County is going to have to build to get people to the new Atlanta Braves stadium from a neighboring parking lot, county officials were downsizing it to a pedestrian-only bridge to save money. As I remarked at the time:

The Marietta Daily Journal reports that the bridge will now be pedestrian-only, and so significantly cheaper. But also presumably much slower to cross, unless the Braves will be holding an annual Rollerblade Giveaway Night.

Apparently nobody liked my rollerblade idea, because Cobb County is now talking about a double-decker bridge that would carry pedestrians on one level, and shuttle buses on another. Which would be significantly more expensive again — the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Dan Klepal notes that a similar bridge elsewhere ended up costing more than $30 million, though the details are now hidden behind the AJC’s paywall.

[UPDATE: Klepal has now provided the paywall-hidden details, and it was actually a 290-foot enclosed pedestrian bridge that $32 million, including design and engineering costs. The new Braves bridge would be 1,100 feet long, be double-decked, and would have to support not just pedestrians but vehicles, likely making it a bit more expensive, yeah.]

That whole approving a stadium in an undeveloped area before figuring out how much it would cost to build transportation infrastructure thing is just working out so well, isn’t it?

Braves argue in court that stadiums are “public purpose” because they just are, duh!

Lawyers the Atlanta Braves have filed a brief responding to the lawsuit charging that Cobb County’s issuance of stadium bonds is illegal because it’s not a “public purpose,” and oh, it is an awesome brief. The reason why stadiums are a public purpose, it turns out, is that everybody knows they are, duh!

The government’s “ability to issue bonds for recreational purposes is broad and well-settled,” the Braves’ brief says. “In the 20th and 21st centuries, financing and constructing sports stadiums and related facilities has repeatedly been held to be a public purpose.

“Opponents of stadium bond financing often point to private benefits in an attempt to undermine the public purpose — and ultimately the constitutionality — of the bonds that have been used. Courts have routinely rejected those arguments because the existence of private benefits is not dispositive — in fact, it is expected.”…

“Each municipality may have its own reasons — economy, tourism, public desire, or city profile — but the end result is almost universally a finding that a public purpose is served …. as long as a recreational benefit of a reasonably general character is conferred on a significant part of the public.

“Any other arguments are simply beside the point.”

So there!

I could line up a long list of economists, urban planners, and even sports fans to testify that building new sports stadiums — especially when you’re just replacing an 18-year-old one a few miles away, as the Braves are — is solely for private profit, not public benefit. But that’s beside the point, as the Braves ownership is clearly staking its defense on the fact that courts have ruled in favor of stadium bonds being a public purpose before, so clearly they must have been right, right? Not any Georgia courts, apparently — the Braves lawyers didn’t cite any Georgia case law despite this being a state supreme court case, as the attorneys for the plaintiffs quickly pointed out — but lots of other courts. Are you saying that you think you know better than other states’ supreme courts, Georgia, hmm? Now just kick these nuts in the butt and let us get on with our stadium-building, okay?