White Sox getting free restaurant paid for by Illinois taxpayers

U.S. Cellular Field (then New Comiskey Park) opened 20 years ago last April, but it’s been the gift that keeps on giving for Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. First was getting the stadium itself for $167 million in Illinois tax dollars, following Reinsdorf’s “a savvy negotiator creates leverage” jaunt to Tampa Bay. Then there was the $41 million renovation in 2004 that was paid for by the state handing over naming rights to the stadium to the team, which sold them for $68 million.

And now there’s this:

The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, the government agency that built and owns The Cell, paid $3.2 million for construction of the [new Bacardi at the Park] restaurant [across the street] plus just about everything inside the place, from walk-in refrigerators to bar stools, the Tribune and WGN-TV found in a joint investigation.

Another $3.7 million from the agency went for infrastructure upgrades for water and sewers at the Gate 5 plaza that made the restaurant possible.

A 2010 agreement between the Sox, who selected Gibsons Restaurant Group to run the business, and the agency shows that at the project’s completion, the team was exempt from owing the agency any money. That arrangement contrasts with the management agreement for operating the stadium, which stipulates the team pay rent and make payments based on attendance.

That Chicago Tribune story, incidentally, notes that the White Sox’ rent on the stadium has averaged $2.7 million in recent years. Crain’s Chicago, however, points out that it’s currently less than that: Because the White Sox failed to sell 1.9 million tickets last year, they’re exempt from sharing any ticket revenues from the state. (This is actually a pretty terrible lease for the state to have agreed to if they want a winning team, since it creates a strong disincentive for the White Sox to spend money on players in order to sell lots of tickets.)

As for the free $6.9 million restaurant that the state apparently gifted Reinsdorf with, the quote of the day goes to former Gov. Jim Thompson, who initially approved the stadium deal as governor and later ran the stadium authority:

“We said to Jerry, ‘Jerry can we have part of the profits?’ and he said no,” former Gov. Jim Thompson, who was the agency’s board chairman when the deal was made, said in an interview. “We said, OK.’

“I’ve known Jerry for 52 years. He’s tough. He’s tough.”

Helpful hint: Don’t send Jim Thompson to go buy a used car for you. Especially not from someone he’s been friends with for 52 years.

Cactus League teams balk at helping fund Cubs stadium

The city council of Mesa, Arizona, agreed last month to put a vote on the November ballot on building a new $84 million spring-training home for the Chicago Cubs, who otherwise were threatening to move to Florida. This isn’t that unusual: Baseball teams move their spring facilities all the time, which makes for lots of opportunities to set up bidding wars for stadium subsidies.

Where it gets interesting is in how Mesa has proposed to fund this one: Partly with a rental-car surcharge, but partly with a leaguewide ticket tax on Cactus League games, on the argument that since the Cubs are the league’s biggest draw, the other teams in the league should chip in to keep them around. (Most economists will tell you that ticket taxes generally come out of team owner pockets, as they’re prevented from raising prices as high as they would otherwise.) The rest of the league, unsurprisingly, is not too thrilled, and several teams are openly opposing a ticket tax to help the Cubs — including Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the rival Chicago White Sox, who play in Glendale.

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith replied: “Is this the same Jerry Reinsdorf that skipped out on Pima County taxpayers who had spent tens of millions of dollars to provide him with a taxpayer-funded stadium, to come to Glendale, where Maricopa County taxpayers provided him a Taj Mahal spring-training facility?” Noting that Reinsdorf also has a publicly subsidized stadium in Chicago — one that he got by threatening to move to Florida — Smith added, “The irony is delicious.”

The Arizona Diamondbacks are opposed to the Mesa deal as well, and baseball blogger Brandon Larrabee can’t help but note that they’re “an interesting addition to the Arizona anti-tax crowd, given that their own stadium tax was so controversial it got a Maricopa County Supervisor shot.” By a crazy guy, admittedly, but if you want to take it as a cautionary tale, be my guest.

Stossel gets stadium swindle half-right

Libertarian commentator John Stossel has a bit of a fact-challenged record, but he mostly gets it right in a blog post for Fox Business on the new New York Yankees stadium fiasco, noting that federal taxpayers (including Red Sox fans) helped pay for it, and the often-overlooked opportunity cost of what else could have been done with the tax money. That is, until he gets up to this part:

Years ago, when I did a TV special called “Freeloaders,” Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said I shouldn’t blame him for taking the handout:

“You mean, if somebody walks up to you and hands you money, you shouldn’t take it? The fact is — I was offered this stadium by elected officials.”

Bingo. It’s like Robin Hood in reverse.

What Stossel didn’t ask Reinsdorf: Does it still count as an “offer” when it comes after you threatened to move the team to Tampa Bay if you didn’t get the cash? As Reinsdorf later explained, “A savvy negotiator creates leverage. People had to think we were going to leave Chicago.”

But then, you’d kind of expect that Stossel would pin the blame on wasteful government rather than greedy sports team owners, given that this is a guy who’s on the record as saying that greed is good.