NYC Mayor de Blasio: Sure, wealthy sports owners should pay their taxes, I guess

As I mentioned in my Gothamist article last week, a group of New York city councilmembers have called on Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to start making the city’s sports teams pay property taxes on their stadiums and arenas, which none of them currently do. (The Yankees and Mets and Brooklyn Nets all pay “payments in lieu of taxes” that are really their own construction debt payments, funneled through the city as a tax dodge; the Knicks and Rangers don’t pay taxes on Madison Square Garden because somebody accidentally gave them an eternal tax break in 1982 and no one can be bothered to repeal it.) And the campaign got a boost yesterday when de Blasio sorta kinda endorsed its call for team owners to pay their fair tax share:

De Blasio, a Democrat, was asked at his daily press briefing to respond to a letter last month from nine lawmakers on the New York City Council who called for the Garden, Yankee Stadium, the Barclays Center and Citi Field to pay property taxes. The mayor said he hasn’t seen the letter and was unfamiliar with the legal specifics, but supported the concept of requiring New York’s local teams to increase their contributions.

“Let’s be clear – sports franchises have gained incredible value over the years,” de Blasio said. “They clearly have the resources. I think the history in this city and pretty much all over the country was stadium deals were not good deals for the public, by and large. Some of the more recent ones have been better, but mostly they haven’t been that good. Everything should be reevaluated especially at a point when the city is going to need resources for our recovery.”

That phrasing puts the “blah” in de Blasio, but “everything should be reevaluated” is fightin’ words compared to the usual approach to sports tax breaks, which is for elected officials to shrug their shoulders and say whatchagonnado? And the mayor also responded to a call by 161st Street Business Improvement Director Cary Goodman that the Yankees be forced to pay property taxes just as other businesses in the neighborhood do:

“We all hope and pray that next year baseball will resume in person at some point in the year and the fans will come back and the businesses will thrive, but of course the Yankees should help them through and I assure you they have the money.”

Okay, so none of this is exactly laying down the law, and de Blasio has previously called for Madison Square Garden to pay taxes before shrugging his shoulders and saying whatchagonnado? But it’s still more than we’ve seen before, and is certain to encourage both the councilmembers and Goodman and his South Bronx business owners. The latter has a rally outside Yankee Stadium coming up this Thursday at noon, plus a Change.org petition, and with that and a long enough lever you never know what can happen.

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Friday roundup: 49ers stadium squabble, Richmond nixes arena plan (for now), Mets’ $55m taxpayer-funded sofas off-limits to mere minor-leaguers because “status”

A glacier in Antarctica just lost a chunk of ice bigger than Seattle twice the size of Washington, D.C. nearly the size of Atlanta almost as big as Las Vegas a third the size of Dublin, maybe it’s time to quit driving an SUV? Or maybe it’s just time to focus on some more human-scale disasters that involve small groups of people enriching themselves to the detriment of humanity:

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Bloomberg wins Mr. Met’s endorsement after $380m gift of public money

I know the big New York Mets news is supposed to be whether one rich guy is going to buy a controlling interest in the team from some other rich guys, but I’m more interested in another news item: Michael Bloomberg’s apparent presidential campaign endorsement by Mr. Met.

Mr. Met will be on hand to pitch the opening of the Bloomberg campaign’s new office at 39-36 Bay Boulevard in Bayside, Queens Thursday night.
While not an official endorsement from the Mets organization, Mr. Met is a beloved good luck charm who knows that Amazin’ things can happen in a political campaign as well as on the baseball diamond.

The New York Post didn’t comment much more on this, but it’s curious for several reasons. First off, “good luck charm” or no, getting the support of a giant baseball-headed homunculus who’s possibly best known right now for giving fans the finger seems like a dubious benefit, though I suppose it’ll get the attention of sports fans who otherwise wouldn’t be paying attention to the opening of a campaign office. But also, it’s unusual for sports teams (or sports team mascots) to be weighing in on presidential politics at all.

But then, the Mets and Bloomberg share a special relationship. In 2005, New York’s then-mayor shocked the city by announcing the construction of new stadiums for the Mets and Yankees less than four years after declaring them unaffordable, as part of his doomed bid for the 2012 Olympics. The eventual benefit to the Mets owners was more than $600 million, with $380 million of that coming out of city coffers via property-tax breaks, forgone parking revenues, free land and infrastructure, and other goodies. (The Yankees ended up with more than $1 billion in benefits, with nearly $700 million coming from the city.)

It’s probably a bit much to consider this a direct quid pro quo — after all, anybody can rent Mr. Met for the low (?) price of $600 an hour. Still, there’s something unseemly about a politician making a nine-figure gift of public funds to a business, then getting the support of that business when staging his next campaign. Not unusual, mind you, but still unseemly.

Campaign finance records show that Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon have given out donations to lots of national and local pols, though not much lately. (They also show that neither lives in New York City — Fred lives on Long Island, and Jeff in Connecticut — so they’re not even among the taxpayers who were billed the most for the new stadiums.) Maybe this is all best taken as a sign of the casual cronyism between politicians and wealthy business owners that is pretty much the defining characteristic of American democracy. It’s just sad that Mr. Met is getting dragged into this under orders from his employer, though that’s not unusual these days either.

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Friday roundup: Nashville saves (?) $75m by giving Predators $103m, South Carolina offers to give $125m to Panthers practice facility (?!), Oakland A’s shipping cranes are multiplying (?!?)

Since last week I went off-topic to discuss a review (kindly) poking fun at some of the ridiculousness of Marvel movies, I should note that there’s a TV series that manages to create a fun, exciting superhero universe while simultaneously poking fun at the entire genre in ways that expose not just its ridiculousness but also its fundamentally Manichean politics, and which has now been canceled by Amazon, a company that has been at the forefront of scheming to shake down cities for subsidies in exchange for building its own facilities. Coincidence?!?!?!? Well, okay, yes, almost certainly, but here’s hoping The Tick ends up picked up by a less ethically compromised corporate entertainment giant, if that’s even a thing.

Where was I? Oh right, stadiums, what’s up with those this week that we didn’t get to already?

  • The Nashville Predators have indeed agreed to a 30-year lease extension as first reported last week, and how good or bad a deal it is depends on your perspective: The team’s $8.4 million a year in tax kickbacks and operating subsidies will be reduced to just $4.9 million a year in tax kickbacks, which would be $75 million in taxpayer savings but on the other hand the tax kickbacks will be extended to 2049 now instead of 2028, so that’s $102.9 million in additional taxpayer costs. (Neither figure translated into present value.)
  • A South Carolina legislative conference committee has approved $115 million in tax breaks for a Carolina Panthers practice facility in Rock Hill. Yes, you read that right, a practice facility. State officials say that the 15-year tax kickbacks of all state income taxes will pay for themselves, a conclusion that state senator Dick Harpootlian determined was based on, in the words of the Associated Press, “every Panthers player and coach moving to South Carolina and spending their entire paychecks here and the team buying all the material for the new facility from companies in the state.”
  • Speaking of practice facilities, the Washington Wizards‘ new one is costing $1 million more a year for D.C. to run than anticipated, which is not good after the city already spent $50 million to build the thing for the team’s billionaire owner. D.C. officials recently booked three new concerts for the arena, but expects to lose money on each of them; an Events D.C. board member said they would let “people know that they have a place to go, that this is a fun place,” which I guess is another way of saying they’ll make it up in volume.
  • Omaha is spending $750,000 on hosting an Olympic swim meet, which on the one hand is a lot cheaper than $115 million for an NFL practice facility, and on the other is for a one-time Olympic swim meet.
  • Two unnamed sources tell The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal that New England Revolution owner Robert Kraft is “on the brink of securing a stadium site,” which tells us nothing about the state of the Revolution’s actual stadium plans since this could be a planted rumor to try to gain momentum, but does tell us lots about The Athletic’s poor grasp of the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics policy on use of unnamed sources.
  • I wrote a thing for Gothamist about how the New York Mets banned backpacks because they have too many pockets to easily search, but not other bags with lots of pockets, pretty much on the grounds of “the light’s better over here.” The best argument either of the security experts could come up with for the policy is that fewer bags means faster lines which means less time queued up outside stadiums as a stationary target for any theoretical terrorists, which is frankly mostly an argument for staying home and watching on TV.
  • Journalist Taylor C. Noakes notes in an op-ed for CBC News that bringing back the Expos might be nice for Montreal baseball fans, but probably won’t do much for the Montreal economy since “the economic impact of a professional baseball team on a given city [is] roughly equivalent to that of a mid-sized department store,” which, yup.
  • The latest Oakland A’s renderings show it still oddly glowing amid a darkened rest of the city. Plus now there are shipping cranes on both corners of the site! I am about to start working on a theory that this entire stadium plan is just a dodge for John Fisher to build lots of shipping cranes.
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Friday roundup: Calgary residents demand say on Flames arena, Indy Eleven asked to only accept public funding of 80% of stadium, Raiders could re-up in Oakland this week

Happy Friday! Here is your weekly fact dump of news that I didn’t get to earlier in the week, because I only got two hands, man:

  • Calgary residents who went to speak their minds at yesterday’s town hall on a new Flames arena say they want to be able to speak their minds on a new Flames arena. The city council is set to vote on an arena term sheet on Monday without public input — or even revealing to the public first what’s in the term sheet — though I suppose some councillors might read the press coverage of the town hall and learn how angry the public is. It’s worked before in Phoenix, for a few weeks at least!
  • The Indy Eleven stadium subsidy proposal has made it into a state senate bill, but “with some hefty strings attached,” reports the Indianapolis Star: the team’s owner would need to put up $30 million of his own money before getting to access $200 million in public tax money (more like $112 million in present value) for stadium costs. This does not actually sound like a big ask, but hey, Star sports columnist Gregg Doyel says it’s worth any price to keep the city’s sports teams (even if they’re not threatening to move) because, and I quote, “my job could depend on it,” so why quibble over a mere $112 million, right?
  • The city of Anaheim has hired a real estate consultant to conduct an appraisal of the value of the Los Angeles Angels‘ stadium site, as it first authorized last month, which is slightly weird in that they just did an appraisal in 2014 that found that the stadium parking lots sought by team owner Arte Moreno for $1 were worth $245 million, but whatever. It’s at least good that the city is apparently committing to ask something based on actual market value for the land, especially coupled with talk of basing any land deal on the Anaheim Ducks deal, which was a decently fair price for development rights to city land. Maybe this will not be awful, despite the new mayor talking about how eager he is to cut a deal even though Angels owner Arte Moreno has no real leverage? I’m almost afraid to hope — we’ll just have to see what happens when the assessment comes in, presumably a couple of months from now.
  • Oakland officials could vote soon to approve a new lease for the Raiders for 2019, with an additional option for 2020, which would put an end to talk of the team playing everywhere else on the planet this fall. Apparently Raiders owner Mark Davis is willing to let bygones be bygones and overlook that antitrust lawsuit the city filed that led him to insist he wouldn’t play in Oakland this season. Good successful bluff-calling, Oakland officials!
  • The New York Mets will not be moving their spring training home out of Port St. Lucie, after threatening to in order to secure a revised deal for $57 million in renovations to their stadium, $55 million of which will come from taxpayers. Bad bluff-calling, Port St. Lucie officials!
  • A rival developer is seeking the same land in Montreal that would-be Expos revivers want for a baseball stadium, to use for a “new smart development of office towers, housing, hotels and public space.” Looks like a fight is in the offing, and these guys have “smart” right there in the name, so watch out!
  • Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is hoping to save some money when the New York Islanders move out for their own arena eventually — the arena is losing about $12 million on guaranteed revenue payments to the team, and without hockey will be able to book more concerts — but more interesting to me from this article is that the building lost $21 million on operations in the 2017-18 season, plus another $33 million in debt and other expenses. Maybe the Nets owners are soaking up any profits, or the arena’s builders are earning their money on all the high-priced housing that went up next door, but still the whole project seems a bit like a waste of everyone’s time and money and eminent domain takings.
  • Also, work on the Islanders’ new planned arena by Belmont Park won’t begin this spring as planned, because the environmental impact statement required for the project won’t be ready until June at the earliest, but “state officials insist the project remains on schedule.” Hmmm.
  • And finally, your regularly scheduled Tottenham Hotspur stadium updates: It won’t be open until April at the earliest, it won’t have a VIP cheese room, and team officials are catching wild foxes and shooting them in the head with pistols. Exactly one of those things was something I expected to type this week.
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That crazy idea to put a minor-league soccer stadium next to the Mets park is probably just a crazy idea

Back when news broke last month of a possible USL franchise called Queensboro F.C. building (or having built for it, or god knows what) a 25,000-seat minor league soccer stadium next door to the New York Mets‘ ballpark, on a plot of land originally cleared for affordable housing, I promised a more in-depth report. And now my report is up, at Gothamist, and it is way more loopy than even I could have expected:

Queens borough president Melinda Katz — one of the two task force co-chairs — has begun stepping up talk of what could be the least likely endgame of all for Willets Point: a professional soccer stadium that would take up as much as 17 acres of the redevelopment site, to be built with uncertain funds, for a minor-league soccer team called Queensboro F.C. that does not, strictly speaking, exist…

“The city spent approximately $200 million in acquiring these properties. I don’t think they did that to build a soccer stadium,” says Hiram Monserrate, the disgraced former state senator turned district leader who is affiliated with the new coalition Nos Quedamos Queens. (Nos Quedamos Queens, in turn, is unaffiliated with the older Bronx group Nos Quedamos, best known for its successful advocacy for the Melrose Commons project, by all accounts the most effective project in city history at constructing affordable housing without displacing existing residents.) “I’m a soccer fan. But you can’t build a sports coliseum at the expense of meeting the needs of the people, and the people need housing.”

If you can’t get into a story that pits a former city councilperson–turned–borough president–turned district attorney candidate (and also baby mama to Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa) against a city councilperson–turned–state senator–turned–jailbird for misuse of campaign funds–turned–community activist, all over whether to devote public land that was cleared of small businesses at great city expense (said businesses immediately going bankrupt at their new location) to a stadium for a soccer team that doesn’t exist yet or even have an identified owner, then, well, I don’t know why you’re reading this site.

The upshot, for those of you who are in a hurry, seems to be that Katz and her allies are grandstanding on this soccer idea for unknown reasons, but nobody else seems super-psyched about it, so it probably won’t happen. But it could happen, maybe, if the Mets owners want it to happen, which they probably don’t care that much about, but they might. Hopefully I will get a chance to revisit this story, because it exactly the kind of batshit that is incredibly fun to write about, not to mention a great cautionary tale of the dangers of farming out public policy to quasi-public agencies and secret task forces and the like.

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Friday roundup: More MLS expansion drum beating, more wasteful non-sports subsidies, more bonkers Tottenham stadium delay stories

Getting a late start this morning after being out last night seeing Neko Case, so let’s get to this:

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Friday roundup: New soccer stadiums, yet another Vegas arena, Falcons roof still not done

Happy fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, everybody! While you get ready to go to your anniversary parties and dress up as, um, hurricanes, and you know what, this riff isn’t going anywhere, let’s get to the news:

  • Had you forgotten about former UNLV basketball star Jackie Robinson’s $1.4 billion retractable-roofed-arena-plus-hotel-plus-other-stuff project just because Las Vegas already has one new arena, he hasn’t — and now says it’s a $2.7 billion project that will include a 63-story hotel, a conference center, a 24-lane bowling alley, and a wedding chapel. No construction has begun yet, but Robinson says it will all be completed by 2020, or else maybe by then it will cost $5.2 billion and include a space elevator.
  • Chris Hansen is trying a new gambit to turn attention away from Oak View Group’s KeyArena renovation plan and toward his SoDo new-arena plan, and it involves declaring the OVG plan a “public” and not a “private” process, which would require a longer environmental review process, and if your eyes are glazing over already I don’t blame you, skip to the next item, it’s got juicy if unproven allegations of political corruption in it.
  • New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon has given Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2017 re-election campaign a $65,000 donation that’s twice as large as all other donations he’s previously given the governor combined, and with Wilpon in the midst of looking to get approval from the state for a new soccer stadium Islanders arena (sorry, had a brain fart on this one while typing) next to Belmont Park racetrack … well, you connect the dots. (Or don’t: An Empire State Development spokesperson snapped, “Participation in the political process has zero bearing on any of this and any of these ‘sources’ with questions are free to contact us instead of trafficking in conspiracy theories.”) Bigger question: Fred Wilpon has $65,000 to spare?
  • The Atlanta Falcons‘ retractable roof is now set to finally work by March 2018. Probably.
  • Nashville held a hearing on its proposed $75 million soccer stadium subsidy deal, and if you guessed that a self-proclaimed soccer mom said it would be a “feather in our cap” while a non-soccer-fan local resident said “you’re asking me to help fund a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar project for another sports team that most likely will not benefit me,” then you’re right on the money.
  • The prospective NASL team San Diego 1904 F.C. is planning a stadium that will cost only $15 million because it will be built modularly elsewhere and shipped to the stadium site in Oceanside, but at least they didn’t skimp on the searchlight renderings.
  • The chair of Rhode Island’s senate finance committee says he’ll put a halt to the Pawtucket Red Sox‘ $38 million stadium subsidy request if the team owners don’t provide more financial information. It sounds like this is over the team’s internal finances, and could be resolved with a non-disclosure agreement, but still, it’s something to keep an eye on, since projects have succeeded or fallen over pettier things.
  • Louisville approved $30 million in bonds to help pay for a new Louisville City F.C. soccer stadium, in exchange for which the team will repay $14.5 million over 10 years, which comes to about $11 million in present value, so the city will only lose $19 million on the deal, unless there’s still plans for as much as $35 million in state property-tax kickbacks via a TIF, in which case this is really a $54 million subsidy for a minor-league soccer stadium. Maybe they should go with one of those modular dealies instead? Just a thought.
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Top court kills Mets mall-on-parkland plan dead, everybody goes back to drawing board

The plan by the New York Mets owners and their developer pals at Related Companies to build a mall in the Citi Field parking lot, which was shot down by an appeals court in 2015 because the parking lot is still technically city parkland, was shot down for good yesterday by the state’s top court, which ruled, yup, city parkland, what were you thinking?

The justices rejected arguments from the city and the developer that a 1961 law that authorized the construction of Shea Stadium at Flushing Meadows Park also allowed the development of the mall.

“The text of the statute and its legislative history flatly refute the proposition that the Legislature granted the city the authority to construct a development such as Willets West in Flushing Meadows Park,” Judge Rowan Wilson wrote for the majority.

As my Village Voice colleague Max Rivlin-Nadler explains, the Mets and Related were trying to get around the law that parkland must be preserved for a “public purpose” by arguing that they were also going to build housing and a school on a different, non-parkland parcel on the other side of the stadium — the Willets Point land that was recently cleared of auto shops under threat of eminent domain — and besides which:

In an almost surreal moment during the arguments, a city lawyer said that if the Mets were losing a game, fans might be able to go enjoy the rest of the day at the mall. The state, for its part, argued that the “rooftop farm and greenhouse” on top of the mall would compensate for the loss of parkland.

Hard to believe that six out of seven court of appeals judges thought this was ridiculous, right?

What happens now is anyone’s guess: The Mets could still try to develop the parking lots with something that they can sneak in as a “public purpose” (Islanders arena, maybe, if someone actually offers to pay to build it — though Max assures me there’s no political support for that), or could just leave the parking lots as parking lots and build exclusively on Willets Point proper. Which, incidentally, looks like this right now (or the last time I went to a Mets game, anyway):

This whole process in both Willets Point and “Willets Point West” (aka the parking lot) has been a giant mess, with the city letting developers drive the planning process instead of actually figuring out what might make the most sense (and public benefit) on the land around the Mets stadium, much of which is publicly owned. Which is all par for the course in New York City politics — I wrote a whole book about it, after all — but still disappointing. Here’s hoping that now that the courts have rebooted the process it will be done better next time, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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Islanders owners discussing new arena in Queens or LI, all hell about to break loose

So when new New York Islanders owner Jon Ledecky answered questions last week about the team’s future — previously planned to include staying in Brooklyn but playing six games a year in a renovated Nassau Coliseum — by saying “Barclays Center is our home,” I called it “noncommittal,” on the grounds that 1) Ledecky was still pretty gripey about the flaws of the Brooklyn arena and 2) “Barclays Center is our home” could mean either “we would never leave a place with so many important memories made over the last nine months” or “it’s where we live, we have to deal with it until we figure out something better. It sounded like typical owner weasel words, a way to keep your options open without actually saying you wanted to keep your options open.

But even I didn’t expect this, just a week later:

The New York Islanders are in talks with the owners of baseball’s New York Mets about building a hockey arena adjacent to Citi Field in Queens, people with knowledge of the discussions said.

Willets Point is emerging as a persuasive alternative to the team’s current home at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center if the Islanders’s owners and arena officials can’t agree on a series of hockey-specific improvements, said the people, who asked for anonymity because the negotiations are private.

That was from Bloomberg News, but the anonymous sources were soon talking as well to Newsday (which cited “two people familiar with the situation”) and the New York Post (just “sources” — the Post doesn’t get too hung up on attribution). The Post’s article also included this tidbit:

But if that doesn’t work out, Islanders owners Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin could move the team to Elmont, LI, sources said…

A state source confirmed the Islanders have made preliminary inquiries about moving the club to vacant state-owned land near Belmont Park. That is near another parcel being eyed by the Cosmos for a soccer stadium.

With all this, a clearer picture is starting to come into focus. When Ledecky and partner Scott Malkin bought the team from Charles Wang earlier this year, they inherited Wang’s lease on the Barclays Center, which he had agreed to despite the building’s problems for hockey — it was deliberately “value engineered” to be too small for the sport, in order to save on construction costs — because he was sick and tired of fighting with Nassau County officials over a new arena there. They also, however, inherited the opt-out clause that Wang had negotiated to allow the Islanders to break their lease in 2019 — and that’s the kind of leverage that you’d have to be crazy as an owner not to try to use.

So is an arena next to the Mets stadium feasible, and what would it take to build one? The parking lot to the west of Citi Field is already designated for the giant “Willets West” mall, but that’s currently held up in court because the lots are technically still city parkland. Could the Mets try to build an arena instead if the mall is nixed? Would the courts allow that more readily? Who knows?

Then there’s Willets Point proper, to the east of the Mets stadium, a melange of auto repair businesses that the city has been working to seize and evict for years to make way for a mixed housing and commercial development. Could the city agree to incorporate an arena as well? And on either site, would it provide the land for free, and leave it exempt from property taxes, which might be enough to entice the Mets and Isles owners to actually build this thing? And if they did, could it possibly be successful in a metropolitan area already glutted with arenas (Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center, the New Jersey Devils‘ Prudential Center in Newark, plus soon the redone Nassau Coliseum) and only so many concerts to go around?

Of course, Ledecky and Malkin may never have to determine if a Queens (or Elmont) arena project is feasible, if they can use the mere possibility as a hammer to get Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov to redo Barclays for hockey. The Isles owners haven’t come out and said what “improvements” they want, but to make a genuinely NHL-scaled space you’d need to knock down the entire west end of the structure and build it out another 50 feet or so, which wouldn’t be cheap, and would also entail shutting the arena for an offseason or two and losing out on revenue from those dates. So to get it done would require quite a formidable threat, and “we’re going to take our puck and go to Queens” might be the kind of thing that gets the attention of their current landlords.

Either way, though, it looks like we have a war on, one that’s likely to drag out for months or years as the various combatants (Ledecky and Malkin, Prokhorov, the Wilpons, the city, maybe Elmont) jockey for position and remake alliances. That should at least help tide everyone over until the final season of Game of Thrones.

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