K.C. mayor on new Royals stadium: city already spending too much on downtown redevelopment, go hit up states instead

The push for a new downtown Kansas City Royals stadium that nobody actually seems to be pushing for except maybe downtown business interests has reached the “ask the mayor what he’s going to do” phase, and here’s what Mayor Quinton Lucas has to say:

A new downtown stadium could cost upwards of $700 million, and Kansas City taxpayers have already ponied up big tax incentives for other downtown development, Lucas said.

“They’re subsidizing on dead obligations, $13 million a year for the Power & Light District,” Lucas said. “We have to incentivize every parking garage that Cordage builds, and then connect with luxury housing. That’s about $20 million a pop.”

This is true! The Power & Light District, which has been touted as a model of downtown revitalization in pretty much every city where downtown interests are looking for revitalization, has also been a massive money suck as a result of $295 million in city bonds that were supposed to be paid off by new tax revenues that then didn’t materialize. So it’s perfectly reasonable for Mayor Lucas to respond fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

Let’s see what else the mayor had to say, according to KMBZ radio:

Lucas has not totally ruled out the possibility of a downtown stadium. He says he’s willing to talk with the new owners about other financing options, such as a bi-state plan.

“I’d like to hear from the ownership group what type of money they’re putting in, and frankly from the the entire region, the type of investment that I think we’re going to make region wide,” Lucas said.

Oh, so actually Lucas is saying fool me twice, and I will send you to go fool the states of Missouri and Kansas, instead. This would make pretty much exactly zero sense for the states — any new economic activity in downtown K.C. is going to come at the expense of spending somewhere else in the bistate region, unless you really think lots more people are going to drive down to Royals games from Omaha if the stadium is downtown instead of out in the suburbs surrounded by giant parking lots — but makes tons of sense if you’re a city mayor looking to placate downtown business interests while pushing the costs off onto somebody else’s plate. This whole multiple levels of government thing may have more pitfalls than the strangely behatted ducks would have you believe.

Friday roundup: New sports venues, new sports venue threats, and our dwindling journalistic resources

Deadspin’s Albert Burneko is a national treasure whether he’s writing about sports or movies or punctuation, and his takedown this week of a Fivethirtyeight article that asserts there are too many minor-league baseball teams is very much no exception. Drop whatever you’re doing — which is reading this post, so okay, drop whatever you were going to do after that — and read it now, whether you care about the purpose of sports as entertainment or the role of the media in management-labor relations or the increasing propensity to reduce human beings to measures of technocratic efficiency. With the demise of the alt-weeklies, there are fewer and fewer outlets eager to combine tenacious reporting and big-picture analysis and engaging writing toward the end of helping us understand the world we live in beyond “here are some potentially viral things that happened today,” so we need to cherish those that remain while we can.

And with that, here are some potentially viral (in the not especially infectious sense) things that happened this week:

KC Star to new Royals owner: You’d like a new downtown stadium, wouldn’tcha? Wouldn’tcha?

Now that the Kansas City Star has editorialized against giving public money (at least, not too obviously) to new Royals owner John Sherman for a new downtown stadium, time for the paper to back up and ask whether Sherman is likely even to ask for money, or for a new stadium. Their answer: Nobody knows or has even asked, but maybe!

Could a new owner usher in the possibility of the Royals pursuing a downtown stadium? People close to Sherman say he hasn’t discussed the idea specifically, but clues exist to suggest he might be warm to the idea.

Sherman was part of an investor group that was looking at building a downtown stadium in St. Louis to support an expansion Major League Soccer team, according to a 2016 article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The idea cooled when then-Gov. Eric Greitens said he would oppose public funding for the project.

Sherman also sits on and was a chairman of the board of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, a consortium of business people who look to guide the city’s future. The Civic Council is helping fund a new study by the Downtown Council of Kansas City’s urban core, an update to earlier studies referred to as the Sasaki Plan, which in 2001 and again in 2005 served as something of a blueprint for the rejuvenation of the city’s core in the years that would follow.

That’s several steps away from even circumstantial evidence: Sherman once was part of a St. Louis soccer team ownership group that wanted to build a new stadium, and is on the board of a business group that gave money to the downtown business group that is doing a study of things that could help downtown — including possibly a baseball stadium! You can practically see the blueprints dancing before his eyes!

Articles like these are tough: On the one hand, news outlets like the Star should be applauded for trying to get out in front of a story by investigating the new owner’s possible plans before he reveals them. On the other, when the result is just some vague tea-leaf reading plumped up with lots of speculation about possible sites and recitation of how other cities just love downtown stadiums to bits, it starts to feel like less of an investigation and more of a suggestion, along the lines of the Buffalo News’s campaign for a new Bills stadium whether or not the Bills owners even want one.

While the more typical dynamic at play is for news outlets to be overly attuned to the desires of team owners and prominent elected officials — because they’re powerful, because they control access to locker rooms, because they issue lots of press releases that can be written up without taking too much time away from the ten other articles you have to file that day — they can also have other reasons for talking up new stadiums: Because other local business leaders want them, because the papers want something that will grab readers’ attention, because their sportswriters are envious of other cities’ schmancier press boxes. The Star isn’t quite at Buffalo News levels yet, but given that the paper’s editorial board was already talking up the “incredible opportunity” of a downtown stadium months before Sherman started looking into buying the team — not to mention the paper’s scare tactics to encourage K.C. voters to approve public funds for stadium renovations back in 2006 — it’s certainly cause for concern. At least K.C., unlike a lot of other cities, still has an alternative weekly in town, so here’s hoping the Pitch will consider taking a slightly less pre-sold look at the downtown stadium prospects. Better hurry, the Royals’ lease is up in only 12 more years!

 

Friday roundup: Will Royals sale spark new stadium, is Miami asbestos report a Beckham ploy, could developers influence Bills’ future?

Happy last Friday of summer! You’re probably busy getting ready to go somewhere for the long weekend, but if you’re instead staying put (and enjoying the space left by all the people going somewhere for the long weekend), consider spending some time if you haven’t yet reading my Deadspin article on “What’s The Matter With Baseball?“, which interrogates the various theories for MLB’s attendance decline and determines which ones may not be total crap. Do I conclude that it’s all the fault of team owners who’d rather charge rich people through the nose for a lesser number of tickets than try to sell more seats to less deep-pocketed fans? No spoilers!

And now to the news, and lots of it:

  • A new rich guy is buying the Kansas City Royals, and already there’s speculation about whether John Sherman will demand a new stadium when (or before) the team’s Kauffman Stadium lease is up in 2031. The Kansas City Star editorializes that “Kansas Citians should reject any plan that significantly increases public spending for the Royals, either for a new downtown stadium or a ballpark somewhere else,” and further notes that there’s no guarantee a new stadium would even help the Royals’ bottom line (“Winning, it turns out, is more important than a new stadium”), which is all a nice first step; let’s see what happens when and if Sherman actually opens his mouth about his plans.
  • Miami has closed Melreese golf course after determining it had high levels of arsenic and reopened Melreese golf course after environmental officials determined there was nothing “earth shattering” about the pollution levels. And now there’s concern by at least one city commissioner (Manolo Reyes, if you’re scoring at home) that the release of the arsenic findings is part of a ploy by David Beckham’s Inter Miami to get a discount on the lease price of the land, which is still being hashed out. The Miami Herald reports that the team and city are at loggerheads over whether to take environmental remediation costs into account when determining the land value; this epic Beckham stadium saga may have a couple more chapters to go yet.
  • Buffalo developers Carl and William Paladino are really excited about the possibility of a new Bills stadium near land their own, because they could either sell it to the team at an inflated price or develop it themselves once people are excited to live or shop near a new football stadium. (No, I don’t know why anyone would be excited to live or shop near a football stadium only open ten days a year, just go with it.) Carl Paladino once ran for governor of New York, so it’s worth watching to see if he uses his political ties (or skeezy lobbyist friends) to try to influence the Bills’ stadium future.
  • A group trying to get an MLB team for Nashville may not have a stadium or a site or a team, but they do have a name for their vaporteam: the Nashville Stars. Guy-who-wants-to-be-an-MLB-owner John Loar tells the Tennessean he decided on the name “after reading a book on Nashville’s baseball history by author Skip Nipper,” which is presumably this one; the Seraphs, Blues, Tigers, Americans, Volunteers, and Elite Giants honestly all seem like better names than the Stars, which was last used by a franchise in the World Basketball League (the basketball league where tall players weren’t allowed, which, yes, was actually a thing), but it’s really not worth arguing over the name a team that may never exist in our lifetimes.
  • The Richmond city council’s plan to approve spending $350 million on a new downtown arena without consulting the public has hit an apparent snag, which is that four or five members of the nine-member council reportedly oppose the plan, and seven votes are needed to pass it.
  • The editor of the San Francisco Examiner has penned an opinion piece saying the Golden State Warriors‘ new arena is overly opulent and expensive — premium lounges feature wine butlers and private dining rooms, so yeah — but is resigned to this as a necessity (or at least the headline writer is) that it’s “the price we pay for a privately-funded arena.” Which, does anyone really think the Warriors owners would have passed up the chance to charge through the nose for wine butler service if they’d gotten public money? This is the price we pay for rampant income inequality, and don’t you forget it.

Friday roundup: Indiana and Missouri rack up another $390m in team subsidies, and other dog-bites-man news

Sadly, there’s another loss to report this week: Rob McQuown, who for the past decade has been one of the core tech and admin guys at Baseball Prospectus, passed away on Tuesday. I never met Rob personally, but in my days writing and editing for BP we exchanged emails a ton, and he was always a sharp and good-humored presence keeping the site running behind the scenes. (He wrote some excellent fantasy baseball coverage for a while, too.) I haven’t heard the details of his death, but I do know it was way too soon, and my sympathies go out to all his friends and family and colleagues who are mourning him this week. Here’s a lovely podcast tribute by Ben Lindbergh to Rob’s multifarious and too-often underappreciated gifts.

And now, to the news:

  • The Indianapolis City-County Council gave final signoff to $290 million in subsidies for the Indiana Pacers, which along with new and past operating subsidies brings team owner Herb Simon’s total haul to more than a billion dollars. The team’s new lease lasts until 2044, but I’d wager that Simon won’t wait that long before going back to what’s been an insanely lucrative taxpayer well.
  • The state of Missouri has reportedly approved $3 million a year for 20 years, coming to a total of $70 million, for upgrades for the St. Louis Blues, Kansas City Royals, and Kansas City Chiefs stadiums — yeah, I don’t get how that math works either, especially when this was previously reported as $70 million for the Blues plus $30 million for the K.C. teams, and has elsewhere been reported as $70 million for the Blues and $60 million for the K.C. teams, but I’m sure it was copied from a press release somewhere, and that’s what passes for fact-checking these days, right? This brings the teams’ total haul to … let’s see, the K.C. teams got $250 million previously, and the Blues owners got $67 million in city money, so let’s go with “around $400 million,” about which you can say that it’s at least cheaper than what Indiana taxpayers are on the hook for, and that is pretty much all you can say.
  • The city of Anaheim is still waiting on its now-overdue appraisal of the Los Angeles Angels‘ stadium land so it can open talks with team owner Arte Moreno on how much he should pay for development rights on the stadium parking lots. Mayor Harry Sidhu has appointed a negotiating team, though, which includes Sidhu himself, something that has drawn criticism since Angels execs donated to his election campaign. Sidhu also stated that “our theme parks, sports venues and convention center are a matter of pride, but their real purpose is to serve residents by generating revenue for public safety, parks, libraries and community centers and by helping us keep taxes and fees low,” which is not likely to help convince anyone that he understands sports economics like his predecessor did and isn’t just repeating what his funders tell him.
  • Oak View Group’s Tim Leiweke is trying to build a 10,000-seat arena in Palm Springs, and economists point out that this won’t help the local economy much because “you’re crazy if you think I’m flying to Palm Springs to see your minor league hockey team,” and Leiweke says Palm Springs is just different, okay, because so many attendees will be people who are already coming to town to play golf, gamble, or stay at local resorts. How this makes it a major economic plus when those people also see a concert when they’re in town Leiweke didn’t say, but who’re you going to believe, a bunch of people who study economics for a living or a guy who was once the youngest GM in indoor soccer?
  • A Cincinnati nonprofit is trying to raise $2 million to preserve affordable housing around F.C. Cincinnati‘s new stadium, and the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority says that maybe building more market-rate housing will allow low-income residents of existing buildings to stay put. Yeah, that’s really not going to work.
  • Nobody in Miami-Dade County has studied the impact of building a new Inter Miami stadium right next to the city’s airport, and some county commissioners think that maybe that might be a thing they’d want to study.
  • Here’s a good, long R.J. Anderson article on three cities vying for MLB expansion teams (Portland, Montreal, and Raleigh) that should provide reading material for the inevitable endless wait for MLB to actually expand. (I’m also quoted in it, right before Jim Bouton.)
  • And here’s another long article that quotes me, this one by Bill Shea of The Athletic on how stadium subsidies have changed since the Great Recession (some sports economists say it’s tougher to get public money now, I say “Bah!”).

Missouri approves $41m worth of renovations for Blues arena that St. Louis just paid $67m to renovate in 2017

The state of Missouri has approved $70 million in spending over 20 years for renovations to the St. Louis Blues arena — and if you feel like this just happened a couple of years ago, you’re almost right: That was $67 million in city money, and will cover scoreboard, sound system, and seat upgrades; the state money will pay for escalators, roofing and heating, and air conditioning, because apparently that’s what was left to buy on the Blues’ gift registry.

This will be totally worth it, say public officials, because competitiveness!

“Without renovations, and without public-sector support for those renovations, we run the risk of being less competitive in pursuit of national events,” said Frank Viverito, president of the St. Louis Sports Commission, a nonprofit organization that attracts and manages sporting events.

Also because hockey is fun!

The fact that the Blues currently are making a run in the NHL postseason was mentioned by more than one state lawmaker during House debate on Wednesday, including by some who eagerly described going to hockey games.

(I’m having trouble finding documents to confirm this 100%, but the Blues owners appear not to have agreed to any sort of lease extension in exchange for the subsidies, presumably because St. Louis and Missouri official are even bigger morons than their neighbors over in Indiana.)

Since the payments are deferred a bit, the state’s $70 million in nominal subsidies is worth more like $41 million in present value, so that reduces the sting a bit. Though the legislature also tacked on approval to pay another 10 years’ worth of $3-million-a-year lease subsidies to the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals, which adds to the sting, though at least those are subsidies that were planned for all along, so it’s not really a new waste of cash, just an agreement to keep up with the commitment to an old one? Maybe it’s best just to say Who can put a price on state-of-the-art escalators? and leave it at that.

KC newspaper editors: We only have 12 years to throw more stadium money at Royals, time’s a-wasting!

It’s been over a year since we last heard any talk about a new stadium for the Kansas City Royals, at which time Royals execs pretty much responded with Hey, you know you just renovated this place for us, but if you want to talk, we’ll listen. Back then it was downtown business leaders rattling the saber; it’s the growth coalition‘s natural ally, the local newspaper editorial board:

Downtown baseball could be an incredible opportunity. Just picture it: the burgeoning city skyline atop the outfield fence. All manner of new businesses popping up to cater to crowds filling downtown streets. That spin-off effect is utterly missing in the desert island that is the taxpayer-subsidized Truman Sports Complex. Taxpayers deserve more bang for their considerable bucks.

Yeah, we get the picture, Kansas City Star editorial board: Synergy! Nightlife! Burgeoning, so very much burgeoning! It is the same picture painted by downtown sports venue advocates the nation over, and it carefully ignores the fact that past sports projects have singularly failed to create the spinoff effects that were promised. When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense — nobody in their right mind is going to open a new business just to cater to a throng of fans who sweep past once on their way in and once on their way out, 81 times a year, leaving the rest of the calendar dark — but somehow empirical evidence never seems to come into play in these sorts of dewy-eyed scenarios.

The Star does manage to acknowledge that the Royals are still tied to their existing stadium by a lease that runs through 2030 — a 25-year extension agreed to when the city gave them $250 million for renovations in 2006. But the paper’s editors managed to portray even that as a creeping deadline:

The leases for the twin stadiums expire in 2031. That’s a ways off. But make no mistake: The gravity of this decision and the steps to be taken if a downtown stadium is to happen are considerable. Decisions must be made during the next few years.

This all transparently reads as something written after those same downtown business interests — or maybe K.C. city manager Troy Schulte, who is all over this editorial — lobbied the editors to light a fire under the public that moar stadium talk needed nowwwwww! Nothing is likely to happen anytime soon, but clearly the power structure is laying the groundwork for the next round of Royals stadium-grubbing, whenever that kicks into gear; it’s worth keeping a close eye on, especially if you’re a K.C. resident still paying a 0.375% sales tax hike for the last round of sports subsidies.

Friday roundup: Leaky fountains, cheap stadium beer, and the magic of computers

The world may be on vacation this week, but the stadium news decidedly is not:

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.

Oh good god, now Kansas City might try to build a new downtown stadium for the Royals

Kansas City Star columnist Yale Abouhalkah takes advantage of the St. Louis Rams stadium kerfuffle (new article on this from me at Vice later this morning, btw) to rail against the idea of building a new downtown baseball stadium for the Royals. I’m not going to get into the details of his argument here, beyond noting: Apparently it’s necessary to rail against building a new downtown stadium for the Royals, because that’s a thing people are actually talking about:

The leases for the Truman Sports Complex extend into 2031, but some downtown boosters hope to start planning for a new baseball park in the next decade.

Not only do the leases for the Royals and Chiefs go another 16 years, but Jackson County voters just approved a sales tax hike nine years ago for $425 million in renovations to the two stadiums that were supposed to keep the teams happy. Though given that the Royals used a bunch of the money to buy their players iPods and pay their payroll taxes, maybe they skimped on the actual stadium upgrades a bit.
Now, this downtown stadium idea has been around for a while — since before the 2006 renovation vote, in fact — and it’s downtown development interests pushing it, not necessarily the Royals ownership. (And K.C. voters hate the idea, if that counts for anything.) Still, it’s pretty remarkable that spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a new stadium when the old one is both beloved and recently renovated at taxpayer expense is being discussed seriously, just so that baseball fans can mill around downtown a bit before getting in their cars and heading home. Old myths die hard.