Friday roundup: A’s stadium goes lopsided, another Cali soccer stadium stalls, plus how to skip rent payments and use them to fix up your own home

I’m very busy this morning, busy enough that one entire news item will have to wait till Monday when I can give it its due, but that means an extra post on Monday, so what are you complaining about, really? Anyway, there’s still plenty of stadium and arena news from this week, let’s have at it:

Friday roundup: More crazy stadium subsidy demands than can fit in one headline, you call this a lull?

Every couple of weeks, it seems, someone in the comments predicts that we are about to see the end of sports’ 30-year surge in stadium and arena subsidies, either because of Covid-depleted budgets or legislators smartening up or just everybody already having a new place. To which I say: If the stadium scam is slowing, why are my Friday mornings still so #$@&%*! busy?

Ahem. And now, the news:

  • A lawyer for the South Bend Cubs, saying the team owners were “shocked” to discover that a law allowing them to siphon off up to $650,000 a year in sales and income taxes for their own purposes had expired in 2018, has asked the state legislature to renew it. Oh, and also increase the cap to $2 million a year. You know, while they have the document open on their screens. “South Bend and every other city that has retained their relationship with Major League Baseball have to get to a certain level by 2025,” said attorney Richard Nussbaum. “If they don’t, they risk losing the team.” It’s an epidemic, I tells ya.
  • Speaking of which, Hudson Valley Renegades owner Jeff Goldklang got his $1.4 million in stadium renovation cash from Dutchess County, after emailing residents and fans warning them that the team could move if it was denied the subsidy.
  • Fort Wayne F.C., which I had to look up to be sure it actually exists and which turns out to be a “pre-professional” (much in the way that kids are “pre-adults”) USL League Two club, is seeking to move up to League One in 2023 and wants a $150 million soccer-stadium-plus-other-stuff project, to be paid for by mumble mumble hey look over there! It also features an instant classic in the field of fans-throwing-their-hands-skyward-while-fireworks-go-off-over-soccer-players-not-playing-anything-recognizable-as-soccer renderings, which is worth $150 million if it’s worth a dime:
  • The Oakland A’s owners (not the Oakland A’s, I still remember when I was an intern at The Nation Christopher Hitchens lecturing us on how one should always say “the U.S. government” and not “the U.S.” because just because the government approved something didn’t mean the populace did, but anyway) won their lawsuit to allow their Howard Terminal stadium project to have challenges to environmental impact reviews reviewed on a fast track, which is a big thing in California. “This is a critically important decision,” said A’s president Dave Kaval, who indicated he hopes the Oakland city council will be able to vote on a stadium bill this year, presumably after it’s figured out who the hell would pay for what.
  • Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin wants to talk about building a new hockey arena to keep the Carolina Hurricanes in town long-term — their “old” one opened just over 21 years ago — and Sougata Mukherjee, the editor-in-chief of the Triangle Business Journal, points out that maybe now is not the best time what with 7% of the state not having enough to eat, small businesses on the brink, and, oh yeah, a pandemic still going on. Cue Hurricanes execs or their political talking about how a new arena will mean “jobs” in three, two…
  • While we wait, here’s San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist Bryce Miller saying that San Diego should build a new arena to lure a nonexistent NBA expansion franchise because it would be “catalytic.” In the sense of the Oxford dictionary’s sample sentence for meaning 1.1, maybe?
  • Twenty years ago this week, the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ and Steelers‘ Three Rivers Stadium was blowed up real good, only a little over 30 years after it was first opened. I went to a couple of games at Three Rivers over the years, and I agree with former Pirate Richie Hebner’s review that “the graveyard I work in during the offseason has more life than this place,” and the Pirates’ new stadium is one of my favorites. Still, it and the Steelers’ new stadium deserve the blame for popularizing tax kickbacks in the stadium financing world, after Pittsburgh voters passed a referendum barring any new tax money from going to new stadiums, and the state legislature responded by “loaning” the teams stadium money that would be “repaid” by taxes the state would be collecting anyway — prompting Pittsburgh state rep Thomas Petrone’s timeless comment: “It’s not a grant. It’s not a loan. It’s a groan.”
  • Phoenix restaurants are hoping that having partial attendance at Suns games will provide more happy hour customers, something that seems not only ambitious given the proven not-so-robust spinoff effects of sports stadiums, but also slightly heedless of whether it’s such a great idea to encourage basketball fans to congregate indoors and take their masks off to drink and then go directly to congregating indoors to watch the Suns. In entirely unrelated news, restaurants around the new Los Angeles Rams and Chargers stadium in Inglewood are afraid of being driven out of business by new high-priced options gravitating to serve well-heeled football fans.
  • Finally a partial explanation of how funding for that new Des Moines Menace soccer stadium would work: In addition to city funds, it would be up for state hotel-tax funds designated for projects that “improve the quality of life for Iowa residents.” Other projects proposed to dip into the hotel-tax pool include a Des Moines Buccaneers junior hockey arena, a private indoor amateur sports facility, and a new mall; is it just me, or does “quality of life” seem to have been interpreted as “ways to put money in the pockets of Iowa business barons”?
  • Hey, remember the $200 million highway interchange that Las Vegas is building, totally coincidentally, near the Raiders‘ new stadium? It is now a $273 million highway interchange. But the city needed to build it anyway, because traffic was too bad at the old interchange and, shh, don’t tell them.
  • Okay, here’s one way in which maybe the pandemic has delayed some stadium spending: The Baltimore Orioles owners have signed a two-year lease extension on Camden Yards, while also working with the Maryland Stadium Authority “to establish a new long-term agreement that includes upgrades to the facility,” according to WJZ-TV. So it’s possible some 2021 and 2022 sports subsidies will end up getting pushed back to 2023 or so — yay?
  • If you wanted a live webcam of construction on the new Knoxville stadium for the Tennessee Smokies that hasn’t even been approved yet, let alone started construction, the team’s new stadium promotion website has got you covered.

What questions should we ask to make sure the Orioles don’t screw over taxpayers in Camden Yards lease talks?

The Baltimore Orioles‘ lease on Camden Yards expires at the end of the 2021 season, which will only surprise you if you hadn’t realized the stadium that birthed the retro steel-and-brick trend was coming up on its 30th birthday. (Or hadn’t realized that the Orioles rent, not own, which has to do with Camden Yards also helping birth the put-the-stadium-in-the-public’s-name-so-you-can-duck-paying-property-taxes trend.) The Angelos family — increasingly brothers John and Louis, since their father Peter is now 90 and in poor health — has an option for a five-year extension but is considering negotiating a whole new lease, which has perked up the local media’s ears as to what it will mean to the team, and my ears because lease negotiations are typically a great place to hide public subsidies if you want.

So, what do we know so far, and what should we be trying to find out? From the Baltimore Sun:

The team and the authority — the landlord of the Orioles and Ravens on behalf of the state — have a “mutual acknowledgment” that they want to negotiate a new lease before the current one expires, officials from both sides said.

Sure! Cost and revenue certainty is always a good thing, so getting the O’s lease situation locked down for the long term would be good for both sides. Assuming, that is, that the terms are favorable for both sides, which is kind of an impossibility in any contract negotiation, so the devil is very much going to be in the lease details.

While the sons could one day own the Orioles, uncertainties about the club’s future stewards had created buzz that the team could leave Baltimore, a small-market city relative to others in Major League Baseball.

“Buzz” is a bit of an overstatement: There was that time last year that a former Sun columnist reported a “rumor” that the Orioles could move to Nashville, mostly because John Angelos has a house there, and, uh, that’s pretty much it. If you’re wondering, Nashville is slightly smaller than Baltimore in TV market size, and has never been seriously floated as an MLB expansion candidate; the Orioles are currently drawing terribly, but they’re also playing terribly, and were 6th in the AL in attendance the last time they were good, and Nashville doesn’t have an MLB stadium or plans for one, so it’s probably not the first thing on any Angelos’s mind, even if John might enjoy being able to roll out of one of his beds and go see a ballgame. But the “Uncertainty!!!1!” paragraph is a staple of these kinds of articles, so they had to stick in there.

The club has spoken publicly about its hopes of capitalizing on the stadium’s popularity by using it increasingly for non-baseball activities such as music or other year-round activities.

Again, reasonable, though there aren’t really a whole lot of non-baseball activities you can use a baseball stadium for. The Sun notes that Camden Yards hosted a Billy Joel concert last summer, but Billy Joel is 71 years old, so probably not going to be still touring at the end of a long lease extension. But sure, maybe some expansion of the Orioles’ right to hold non-baseball events, and then split the proceeds with the state, might be worth discussing.

Until last year, the stadium authority was paying about $15 million a year in debt service — principal plus interest — on the 30-year bonds issued to pay for Camden Yards. The bonds were paid off at the end of 2019 at a total cost of about $450 million, according to David Raith, the stadium authority’s chief financial officer.

The stadium authority will continue to receive $15 million a year in state lottery proceeds for various other stadium projects, including improvements to the Camden Yards warehouse, and to pay off $32 million left on the original bond deal for M&T Bank Stadium, home of the NFL’s Ravens. M&T Bank Stadium, which opened in 1998, cost about $310 million, including debt interest.

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere: Camden Yards was paid for with state lottery proceeds, and now that the initial construction debt is finally paid off but the lottery money continues to flow — for some reason Maryland didn’t set the payments so they’d go back to the state’s general fund once the stadium was paid off and be available to pay for other things during lean times — the Orioles could have their eye on it to fund “improvements.”

In fact, the Angeloses have been talking about publicly funded upgrades to Camden Yards since 2015, when it was reported that they wanted to retrofit the stadium with concourses where fans can see the game (or at least the airspace above the game) from the hot dog lines, and VIP club spaces at field level, neither of which were things anyone was thinking about when the building was built in 1992 — and neither of which may be things that anyone prioritizes in a post-Covid world, either, but presumably the Orioles owners can work that out once they’ve secured the money.

And again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing: Upgrades to stadiums are nice enough, so long as enough new revenues result that there’s a way both the Orioles owners and the public can come out ahead. The worrisome part would be if the Angeloses try to fob off such improvements as necessary “maintenance” — which the state is on the hook for under the current lease, and yes that’s the lease that the team owners want to tear up and renegotiate, curse you and your logical consistency — that’s required to get the team to stay put in Baltimore, which could end up resulting in state taxpayers throwing good money after bad.

All this is very preliminary, obviously, but it provides a guide to how to monitor the Orioles lease talks: If the framework is “Here’s how we can make the stadium bring in more money, and how to share it equitably between the team and the public,” that’s great; if it’s “Here’s what state taxpayers need to do to keep the team happy so we don’t run off to, uh (throws dart at map), Nashville,” then that’s what got Maryland into this three-decade-long budget hole to begin with. The time to start asking questions of the state of Maryland about how it’s going to get a fair deal for taxpayers is now, while the terms of discussion are still being framed. I remember Season 5 of The Wire well enough not to count on the tattered remains of the Baltimore Sun to do this job, but maybe somebody somewhere? I’m available for freelance assignments and/or bar mitzvahs!

Friday roundup: Pandemic could delay Rams and Chargers stadium, drain hotel tax base for Raiders stadium (and kill millions of people, oh yeah)

And so we come to the close of Week 2 of Coronavirusworld, with still little way of knowing what Week 3 will bring, let alone Week 8 and beyond. (I just now started to write about this far less grim response to Tuesday’s London study, until I noticed none of the authors are infectious disease specialists and the claim that contact tracing can keep infections under control was cited to a single Chinese news story that said nothing of the sort, so maybe stay grim for the moment?) With pretty much all of the sports world now shut down, though — except for Australian Rules Football for some reason — sports journalists have begun looking down the road at longer-term effects of the pandemic, resulting in some useful and some not-so-useful reporting:

Why is somebody dropping hints the Orioles could move to Nashville?

I missed this on Sunday — probably because it ran in something called the Baltimore Post-Examiner that is run by former daily-paper journalists and is a mix of news reporting, poetry, and song lyrics (?) — but former Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Examiner columnist Michael Olesker claims that unnamed sources tell him that with Baltimore Orioles principal owner (or, as the Post-Examiner spells it, “principle owner”) Peter Angelos now 90 years old, the team could be sold or moved to Nashville, Tennessee:

If the family were to sell, that means another complication: Would they sell to local investors, or to out-of-town owners who might move the team? The lease on Oriole Park, which helps tie the team to Baltimore, ends in 2021.

One rumor has the family retaining ownership but the club moving to Nashville, where [Peter’s son] John Angelos and his wife have one of their homes. That rumor takes on legitimacy mainly because of sinking attendance at Oriole Park.

Okay, so about that “sinking attendance”: While Orioles attendance is indeed in the toilet — third to last in MLB at present, ahead of only the two Florida teams — it was over 30,000 a game as recently as 2014, when the O’s made it to the American League Championship Series. The team currently has the second-worst record in baseball and is playing like it doesn’t even belong in the league, so it really shouldn’t be any surprise that fans are finding other things to do with their time.

A relocation to Nashville might not seem that crazy on mere demographic grounds — Baltimore and Nashville are about the same size in terms of TV households — but there are other benefits to staying put. In addition to a stadium that, at what now passes for the advanced age of 27, is routinely ranked as the most popular in baseball and continues to draw out-of-town fans, the Orioles were granted control of the Washington Nationals‘ TV rights when the former Montreal Expos moved to D.C. in 2005, and reportedly continue to take a cut of Nats’ TV profits before passing along fees to that club. (The issue is the subject of never-ending lawsuits.) Leaving Baltimore would not only mean giving up that tasty slice of TV money, but, as Maury Brown notes in Forbes, possibly paying a cut of Nashville TV revenue to the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, and Cincinnati Reds, who currently share the Nashville market as far as TV rights go.

The question then, as it always should be with unnamed sources, is what’s their motivation for leaking this news? It could certainly be people close to the Angeloses trying to drum up enthusiasm for a local buyer to step forward — buy the Orioles or we’ll shoot this team — or even conceivably for a new push for subsidies to improvements to Camden Yards, something that was rumored to be in the works back in 2015 when the Orioles still employed professional baseball players, but hasn’t been heard much about now that Baltimoreans don’t even want to give the O’s their ticket money, let alone cash for stadium upgrades. Or it could just be somebody speculating hey, John Angelos has a house in Nashville (among other places), maybe he’d move the team there? Really hard to say without knowing more about the sources, which is yet another reason why unnamed sources should be used only as a last resort.

Olesker does go on to write that “knowledgeable sources say the family would much rather sell — and keep the club in Baltimore, if a local buyer can be found,” so clearly even the sources are mostly just saber-rattling. Still, it’s something to keep an eye on, especially with that lease expiration coming up: Peter Angelos hasn’t been one to play extortion games with Baltimore, but that could certainly change if ownership passes to his sons or to a new buyer entirely. Stay tuned — but not to Orioles games, unless you like bleak comedy.

Friday roundup: Untangling NYCFC’s stadium plan, fighting over the Crew’s future, and what to do with a luxury suite

Sorry for the radio silence the last couple of days — it was a combination of not much super-urgent breaking news and a busy work schedule on my end — but let’s remedy that with a heaping helping of Friday links:

  • Part of that busy schedule was wrapping up work on my Village Voice article trying to unravel NYCFC’s latest stadium plan, and while the upshot remains what it was a month ago — this is a Rube Goldberg–style proposal with so many moving parts that it’s hard to say yet if it would involve public subsidies — it also involves city parks land that isn’t really parkland but is really controlled by another city agency that isn’t really a city agency and denies having control over it … go read it, you’ll either be entertained or confused or both!
  • The state of Maryland has luxury suites at the Baltimore Ravens and Orioles stadiums, and Gov. Larry Hogan mostly uses them for family members and political cronies. This should come as a surprise to no one, but it’s a reminder that getting government use of a suite as part of a stadium deal is less a public benefit than a, what do you call those things?
  • Based on questions asked at a Monday hearing, The Stranger concludes that most King County council members aren’t opposed to the Seattle Mariners‘ demand for $180 million in future county upgrade spending on Safeco Field, in exchange for the team signing a new lease. That could still change, obviously, but only if all of you readers turn toward Seattle and shout this post in unison. Three, two, one, go!
  • MLS commissioner Don Garber says talks are “ongoing” with the city of Columbus about replacing the Crew if they move to Austin, and by “with the city of Columbus” he apparently means the local business council the Columbus Partnership. And even their CEO, Alex Fischer, doesn’t sound too in the mood to talk, noting that Garber has called for a new downtown stadium in Columbus while not requiring the same of Austin: “I find it extremely ironic that the commissioner wants a downtown stadium at the same time that the McKalla site is the equivalent of building a stadium in Buckeye Lake.” MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott retorted that Fischer’s remarks are “certainly a strange way to demonstrate an interest in working with us.” The lines of communication are open!
  • The owners of Nashville S.C. would have to pay $200,000 a year in city rent on their new stadium, which is … something, at least. Except, reports the Tennessean, “Parking revenue collected from non-soccer events at the new MLS stadium, such as concerts or football games, would go toward the annual base rent and could potentially cover the entire amount.” So maybe not really something.
  • Glendale has extended its arena management deal with AEG through 2026, which will mean continuing to pay $5.6 million annual management fees, but also collecting about $1.6 million a year in shared arena revenues. That’s not good, but it is significantly better than the lease that had the city paying the owners of the Arizona Coyotes more than $7 million a year after revenue shares, so yay Glendale for tearing up that lease and bidding out the contract to at least cut their losses.
  • Here’s Austin’s lead negotiator with Crew owner Anthony Precourt over a new stadium, Chris Dunlavey of Brailsford and Dunlavey. on whether the deal is fair to taxpayers: “All around, I don’t know how it could get characterized as favorable to [Precourt Sports Ventures]. I think the city of Austin has negotiated this to as favorable for a city as PSV could stand to do.” Uh, Chris, you do know that “good for the public” and “as least awful for the public as we could get” aren’t the same thing, right?
  • Former U.S. senator Barbara Boxer has thrown her weight behind Inglewood residents opposing a new Los Angeles Clippers arena because it could cause gentrification and displacement. Which, not all arenas do, but in hot urban areas like L.A. it doesn’t take much to cause gentrification and displacement, so I can certainly see why there’s concern.
  • An otherwise unidentified group calling itself Protect Oakland’s Shoreline Economy has issued flyers opposing the A’s building a stadium at Howard Terminal because, among other things, it could displace homeless encampments to make way for parking lots. This is getting David Beckham–level silly, but also it’s getting harder and harder not to feel like the A’s owners should just give in and build a stadium at the Coliseum site, since at least nobody seems to mind if they do that. Yet.

Baltimore Sun claims Camden Yards pays own way, can’t even keep up pretense for whole article

And hey, look, another major media article that can’t do basic math! Let’s start with the headline:

Orioles payments to stadium authority exceed original cost of Camden Yards

Wow, that would indeed be impressive. Is perhaps Camden Yards one of those rare examples like the Minneapolis Metrodome, of a stadium where the public put up a bunch of money up front but then was repaid in full and more by lease payments over time? Spoiler: no.

Documents show the authority has received an average of $6.4 million in annual rent from the team, plus $4.1 million a year as its share of state admissions taxes. The total, through the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, is $255 million.

That compares favorably with the stadium’s original $225 million price tag, including $100 million for land acquisition and $125 million for the stadium.

Yeah, no, that’s not how money works. Even if you count state admissions taxes as new state revenues (the Orioles would have been paying them if they’d stayed at Memorial Stadium, too), $10.5 million a year over 25 years is only worth about $140 million in present value, still far less than the $225 million price tag. Or if it helps, you could flip it around the other way and see if $10.5 million a year is enough to pay off the state’s annual debt payments — oh, look, the Sun actually did that:

The stadium authority said it pays about $15 million a year in debt service — principal plus interest — on the 30-year bonds issued to pay for Camden Yards.

So by the Sun’s own calculations, Maryland is actually losing money on Camden Yards. Anything else?

The debt service, however, is paid with Maryland Lottery proceeds appropriated each year by the General Assembly. The authority uses the team’s rent money for ballpark operations.

Oh, right, ballpark operations costs. So really the Orioles’ rent payments pay nothing towards the public’s debt on Camden Yards. Lovely headline, though — beautiful plumage.

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?

Report: Camden Yards hasn’t done squat for surrounding neighborhoods

Bloomberg has a long article today counting the ways in which the Baltimore Orioles‘ Camden Yards has been a lousy investment for the city, costing taxpayers $282 million and bringing little tangible return. (Disclosure: I was interviewed by one of the reporters, but I’m not quoted.) Much of it ends up being he-said-she-said, but the hes (or the shes?) include a nice list of stadium experts, from economists Arthur Rolnick and Victor Matheson to Baltimore community activists William Marker and Julian Lapides, who were two of the first people I interviewed when I started research for the bookField of Schemes a billion years ago.

The most interesting point, given Camden Yards’ reputation as a neighborhood revitalizer, is that not only has there not been an explosion of development around Camden Yards, but the area has arguably declined since the Orioles ballpark and accompanying Ravens football stadium opened in the ’90s. The number of employers in adjacent neighborhoods has declined since 1998 — though as the Baltimore Business Journal rightly notes, comparing the peak of the ’90s economic boom with post–Great Recession figures is a bit unfair — with city having previously paid several employers to leave the area to make way for stadium construction. And unemployment and crime numbers are up as well. (Since we were playing with crime heat maps last week for central Atlanta, it’s interesting to compare with those for supposedly “revitalized” Baltimore.)

Florida State University urban planner Tim Chapin, whose speciality is studying which sports projects are better or worse catalysts for development (or maybe worse and less worse is a better way of putting it), tells Bloomberg:

“While it expanded the tourist bubble to the west, it didn’t wholesale save the downtown economy or prop up very poor neighborhoods not too far from downtown,” Chapin said.

The Baltimore Business Journal’s James Briggs complains that Camden Yards is unfairly being made the “poster child” for bad stadium deals when there are so many worse ones, but that really misses the point here, which is: The Orioles’ stadium has been widely portrayed as the poster child for successful stadium deals, but in fact its return for Baltimore has been somewhere between meh and craptastic. At best, you can say that the Camden Yards stadiums haven’t done much of anything for the surrounding neighborhoods, except bring a bunch of people to drive past them 81 times a year en route to the Orioles-controlled shops along Eutaw Street inside the stadium gates.

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The Waverly neighborhood around the Orioles’ old home of Memorial Stadium, meanwhile, appears none the worse for wear since the team’s departure. On second thought, maybe this should go on some kind of poster, because the occasional Bloomberg article sure doesn’t seem to be getting the message across.

Orioles, Indians mull stadium refits

The New York Times’ Ken Belson has been busy on the stadium beat; today he has a profile of how Janet Marie Smith has been re-hired by the Baltimore Orioles to help spruce up Camden Yards, the stadium whose design she helped oversee 20 years ago. (And which helped set off the whole retro trend that kick-start the stadium-building craze of the last 20 years.)

The most interesting bit, though, may be an aside about the kinds of rethinking that tenants of ’90s-era stadiums are considering as they see their honeymoon periods disappearing in the rear-view mirror:

The club levels at Camden Yards will get a second look because the corporate appetite for expensive suites has diminished. It hasn’t helped that the Orioles last had a winning record in 1997 and drew their smallest crowd ever at Camden Yards earlier this season.

The Orioles are not the only team thinking about makeovers. The Cleveland Indians, who opened Progressive Field in 1994 (it was Jacobs Field then), are among the 10 teams looking at ways to revive their parks, said Earl Santee, a senior principal at Populous, the architectural firm that designed Camden Yards, PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Coors Field and other retro stadiums.

This has been an issue I’ve been wondering about for a long time: What do modern stadiums that are designed for the luxury market do when that market evaporates? In olden times, it was easy enough to just rejigger ticket prices, but today’s class distinctions are cemented in concrete and steel — you can’t easily take just one chunk of glassed-in seats with their own restaurant and private entrance and turn them back over to the great unwashed.

Cleveland is going to be an interesting test case for this, as it has that vertical wall of club seats separating its lower deck from its upper. I’d love to see the recent generation of class-segregated stadiums retrofitted for more egalitarian uses, but it’s going to be a challenge.