Area Americans disagree on what sports facilities do for (or to) cities that build them

Moyers and Company has a bunch of stadium-related stuff up on its website, including a repost of its 2008 segment on the funding of the New York Yankees‘ new stadium, plus a collection of essays by local community activists and stadium experts on what new sports facilities have done for their cities. (Disclosure: I helped suggest a couple of the essayists.) Among the highlights:

“I invite you to take a walk around the neighborhood and see for yourself if that has happened. Businesses have closed and the remaining ones are hurting as the Yankee organization has moved many of the services inside the stadium.” —Joyce Hogi, Bronx community activist

“Forbes Magazine consistently lists Stockton as the most miserable city in the nation. For those who love Stockton, the arena is a great addition to the city; ‘I never thought Stockton could have something this nice,’ is a common refrain.” —Lori Gilbert, Stockton Record features writer

“When someone sits down with a beer and hot dog, virtually everything they see is owned by the District of Columbia. Yet all of the money earned from the stadium — tickets, concessions, advertising — goes to the team owner, Ted Lerner.” —Ed Lazere, D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute

“The stadium’s opening has been one of the greatest economic drivers for our city, providing thousands of jobs and an expanding sales tax revenue. If you combine this new revenue stream with the $500,000 expected annually from the Cowboys’ new naming rights deal with AT&T then Arlington is on pace to pay off the stadium ten years earlier than anticipated.” —Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck

Add it all up and, well, I’m not sure there’s any consensus, other than that stadiums are expensive, and that people like sports. But it does do a decent job of describing the elephant.

How a bill becomes a law: Christine Quinn and the Yankees stadium vote

Former Village Voice investigative wizard Wayne Barrett has a great article for WNYC radio’s site on the political record of New York city council speaker (and current mayoral candidate) Christine Quinn that includes some juicy scuttlebutt on her role in the New York Yankees stadium deal. As Barrett outlines it:

  • Leading the Yankees’ push was Bronx Democratic Party leader Jose Rivera, a state assemblymember whose son Joel had taken over his spot on the New York city council. (This is the kind of thing that happens a lot in the Bronx.) Quinn was tight with Rivera after he’d helped her win the council speakership in 2006 — helped along, Barrett alleges, by Quinn’s arrangement of a plum city job for a Rivera associate.
  • Jose Rivera’s top adviser Stanley Schlein was “driving the Yankee negotiations” at the council, according to another Rivera aide. In addition, the Yankees had Rivera’s predecessor as party boss, Roberto Ramirez, on the payroll as well.
  • Quinn helped shepherd the Yankees project through the council, including getting the team a new Metro-North commuter rail station near the stadium at no cost to the team.

Quinn denies any notion of a quid pro quo, but it’s long been clear that something made her get behind the project 110% — I was at the council hearing the day that the Yankees project was approved, and recall the word coming down to the press table that the long delay in getting started was because “Chris Quinn has the Democratic caucus down in the basement and is lecturing them about how to vote.” In the end, only two members of the council voted against the plan, with several members ending up making speeches about their concerns and then voting yes regardless. And thus are the sausages made…

Bloomberg press release hints that NYC F.C. will play at Yankee Stadium

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced that the new NYC F.C. MLS team will play at Yankee Stadium when it starts play in 2015, oh wait, he took it back:

Bloomberg announced the move as part of a press release celebrating New York’s status as the nation’s “sports mecca.” The release has now been edited.

The slip was pointed out by the website Empire of Soccer. A Google cache version of the press release confirms the original version… “Yankee Stadium will become the home of the New York City Football Club, the first soccer club in the five boroughs since the 1970s.”…

Bloomberg’s release has been changed to, “And soon a new stadium will become home to the New York City Football Club.”

So, either Mayor Bloomberg knows something we don’t know, or he just assumes what we’ve all assumed ever since the Yankees were named co-owners of the team. Cut him some slack, his press officers are all busy sending out resumes as their boss’s 12 years in office wind down, they can’t be expected to pay attention to what they’re actually writing.

Defaulted Yankees garage company seeks to rent out city land, probably not pay city anything for it

The New York City Independent Budget Office reports that those in-default Yankees parking garages that the city and state helped build are not only still in default (no surprise there), but that they’re desperately trying to raise funds to make their bond payments by selling off development rights to parking lots on city-owned land:

With the Bronx Parking Development Company, which runs the parking system, in default and in need of new revenue, a request for proposals was issued to sublease and redevelop two lots near Yankee Stadium. The responses were due June 5 to the Bronx parking company. Edward Moran, who was hired to restructure the parking company, did not respond to two e-mail requests and a follow-up phone call for information about the number of proposals received and when a selection is expected to be made.

Before you start drawing any lines: These lots are not the ones that Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. referenced earlier this week regarding the possible site of a New York City F.C. soccer stadium. These lots, known as Site D in city lease documents, are a pair of small lots on either side of 151st Street between River and Gerard Avenues, which wouldn’t be nearly big enough for a soccer stadium.

How much Bronx Parking Development is looking to get for its land isn’t immediately clear — the RFP documents just say that applicants “must include a proposed rent schedule for the entire term of the sublease,” which runs through 2106, so plan ahead, applicants. Whatever they get, though, it’s unlikely that the city will share much if any of it: As the IBO’s Doug Turetsky points out, Bronx Parking has yet to make any of its annual $3.2 million rent payments or additional payments in lieu of property taxes to the city, and under the terms of its lease, “money owed to the city takes a back seat to payments to bondholders if revenues are insufficient to cover both.”

Maybe if NYC F.C. gets involved in talks for the larger site to the north, then there’ll be enough money for the city to finally start to get repaid for its $39 million garage investment. (The state’s $70 million was a gift, not a loan, and is gone for good.) Though given that MLS doesn’t think its teams should pay anything for land or property taxes, maybe it’s best not to hold your breath on that.

Stadium news roundup, special July 4th week haven’t-been-paying-attention edition

Catching up on some of the week’s news that slipped by while I was traveling (full reporting here will return late Monday, or maybe Tuesday depending on how much sleep I get on the plane):

Yankees parking garages go belly-up at last

It’s been an awfully long time coming, but at last it looks we can say that the New York Yankees parking garages are in default on their bonds!New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez reports that “Bronx Parking Development LLC failed to make a $6.9 million payment due April 1 on more than $237 million in tax-exempt bonds arranged by the Bloomberg administration back in 2007. The group, which is not connected to the Yankees, thus fell into one of the biggest defaults of a New York City-sponsored bond in decades.”

Unless you’re one of the poor schmoes who bought Yankees parking garage bonds thinking that the garages would actually pay their bills, the default probably won’t mean very much to you: Since a nonprofit corporation was set up to sell the bonds, neither the Yankees nor the city of New York is on the hook to bondholders. (The city can forget about ever getting the $43 million in rent payments it was supposed to accrue from the garages, but then, it’s probably already forgotten about that long before now.)

Of course, this isn’t a very good sign if, say, you live in a certain California state capitol that is considering a similar parking bond deal, only this time with taxpayer funds set to fill in any gap in parking revenues. Though officials there swear that they’re using conservative assumptions, and we all know that public servants would never fudge the numbers about something so important as — what’s that, Juan?

City economic development aides have privately acknowledged they were ordered by City Hall back then to “make the numbers work” in order to justify tax-exempt bonds.

Not a very good sign at all.

Thousands of unsold seats at Yankee postseason games: Some possible reasons

The New York Yankees are in the playoffs again — for at least another two games, anyway — which means it’s once again time to play “What’s wrong with attendance at the new stadium?” During both last week’s Division Series and in the first two games of the A.L. Championship Series this weekend, the Yanks drew several thousand fans short of capacity, and ushers were told to bring fans down from the nosebleeds to higher-priced seats to make the stadium look more full on TV. It’s a startling change from past seasons, when postseason games were sold out the minute they went on sale, and all the more startling considering that the new Yankee Stadium has about 7,000 fewer seats than the original one.

Many observers have been quick to jump to the conclusion that Yankee fans now suck, but it’s hard to see why they’d suck now when they didn’t just a few years ago. Some other possible theories, then, some raised by other news outlets, some my own:

  • It was cold. It was really cold — windy and below 50 on Friday and Saturday nights, and not much better on Sunday. Given that those three games weren’t even sure of being played until the last minute, it’s easy to see why some fans would have steered clear. Still, it’s usually cold in October, and that hasn’t stopped fans in the past.
  • Scalper greed. There were roughly 10,000 tickets a game still available on StubHub close to each game time, so it’s possible sellers were holding out for more than they could get. They did drop prices for Friday’s game, though, plus those 3,000 unsold tickets were unsold even by the Yankees, though, so this wouldn’t explain them.
  • Yankee greed. The unsold tickets were largely in the corners of the upper deck, where seats are 1) expensive for postseason games and 2) pretty crappy compared to the old stadium. Several fans commented to local papers about the high prices at the new stadium not just for tickets, but for concessions: “I think the high prices of the [concessions] and the seats themselves, I think that’s what’s causing people not to come out,” said one. “It’s expensive to come out here anymore.” Another added: “At the old stadium, a playoff game, Saturday night, it was electric. It was a zoo. There were guys in jersey-shirts, drinking $8 beers. They’re gone, and I don’t know if they’re going to come back. Your $10 tickets are $50 tickets now.”
  • Postseason fatigue. The Atlanta Braves have long been famed for not being able to sell out postseason games, and like them, the Yankees have now made it to October almost every year for well over a decade. Maybe fans are thinking, “Enh, I’ll wait till next year when the team is maybe hitting better and they’re not playing the Orioles”?

If the Yankees survive long enough to make it back to the Bronx for Game 6 on Saturday, we’ll have another data point to see which of these theories, if any, hold water. Regardless, when you have Detroit Tigers outfielder Quintin Berry calling the new stadium “a very easy place to play” compared to Oakland, you know that something has gone very wrong with the Yanks’ move to the House That George Built.

Yankees garages once again on brink of bankruptcy

When last we checked in on the troubled New York Yankees parking garages, they were on the verge of bankruptcy, and being considered for partial demolition. And now?

Parking garages serving New York Yankees baseball fans won’t have sufficient reserves next year to pay investors holding about $240 million of tax-exempt debt, according to a security filing.

Bloomberg News says that $15 million in bond payments will be due next year, and the Bronx Parking Development Co. has only about $8.5 million in cash on hand. That raises the possibility of the company filing for bankruptcy by the time of its next scheduled bond payment on April 1, unless the bondholders agree to take less money to avoid being left completely holding the bag.

Of course, we’ve heard this before, and they’ve always scraped up the cash in time. But eventually, the reserve fund is going to go dry, and the bondholders are going to have to take less money one way or another. The city, meanwhile, is likely already out its $43 million in expected rent payments, since the garages don’t have to pay so long as they’re losing money. Gosh, who could possibly have seen this coming?

Yankees garages to be razed for hotels? Not so fast

This was first reported last Friday by Crain’s New York, but I missed it until it was spotted by Streetsblog (and passed along by a Twitter reader): The continually troubled New York Yankees parking garages are now in default on their city-issued bonds, running at less than 50% occupancy, and could be torn down to make way for hotels, as several developers have expressed interest in doing. “This appears to be the first time a public official has publicly suggested that the garages could be erased completely,” notes Streetsblog.

Before anyone calls in the wrecking balls, though, a couple of caveats: First off, this couldn’t affect either of the two new garages built (at an astounding cost of $340 million, about $61 million of which came from taxpayers) for the stadium, as one has a football field and track on top of it, and the other is smack up against the new stadium and is used by Yankee players and employees. The garage likeliest to be razed, then, is the 1970s-era triangular structure south of the old stadium site, though then it would still raise the question of why the Yankees needed two park-demolishing garages to be built in the first place.

Second, that seven developers have responded to a request for qualifications doesn’t mean that any of them are actually going to build anything — it’s the development equivalent of kicking the tires. And it’s still possible that any developer could want subsidies of their own before putting up a hotel in the South Bronx. So, many miles yet to go before this particular fiasco reaches its denouement.

Yankees gripe that attendance is down because tickets are too cheap

New York Yankees attendance is down this season, and beet-faced New York Yankees president Randy Levine has been complaining that it’s all StubHub’s fault:

“We believe there are serious issues with the StubHub relationship,” team president Randy Levine told The Post yesterday. “We are actively reviewing more fan-friendly alternatives for next year.”…

The Yanks and other teams claim tickets are priced too low on StubHub.

The StubHub effect this year — combined with a lousy economy and a poorer on-field performance — has produced an average crowd of 40,949 through 25 games, compared with 42,491 last year.

Season-ticket sales have dropped a few thousand, to the mid-30,000 range, the drop about the same amount that daily attendance is down, a source said.

Now, complaining that nobody goes to the game because tickets are too cheap makes no sense, of course. What Levine is really saying is that because people who have already bought tickets can resell them to others, the team is being prevented from forcing lots of people to buy tickets at their inflated face values whether or not they’ll be able to use them. Which, whether or not you think this is worth whining about to the newspapers, actually still makes no sense, because the real reason season-ticket sales are down, as Deadspin notes, is that they were inflated by people who were buying them with the intent of unloading unused seats on, yes, StubHub:

How it worked, back in the go-go aughts: StubHub would get their cut from each scalped ticket, often grotesquely above face value. The Yankees would easily sell out their stock, as face value represented the cheapest way to buy. Season ticket holders would renew their plans, knowing they could profit on the resale market.

Now, demand has gone down. The season ticket holders have learned they’re going to have problems reselling their seats, so season plans sales are down a few thousand. No one’s buying from the Yankees’ box office, because they know they can get cheaper seats on StubHub. The result: attendance is down nine percent at Yankee Stadium off of last year, even as it’s up across baseball.

So, live by the StubHub, die by the StubHub — if the Yankees cut ties with the service next year, as seems likely, they could see more fans forced to pay face value for tickets, but probably will also cut into their season-ticket base even more, as everyone gets cold feet about being stuck with tickets to Tuesday night games against the Twins.

The best part of the Deadspin article, meanwhile, may be this reader comment:

Ya, it’s StubHub.

Its not that the place is a museum with aluminum siding.

Certainly not the fact that even with free tickets, you’re still spending $500 for a family of 4 on concessions, souvenirs, or, God forbid, parking

Speaking of the parking: Those fancy new structures that are actually pretty crappy: Ya, they aren’t even responsible for your car.

It sure as hell can’t be the fact that these fuckers got their buddies onto Bloomberg’s “blue ribbon panel” to investigate just what exactly a new Yankee Stadium should involve, then got together with the mayor’s cronies to run a train on tax payers.

It can’t be the fact that still fucked the City out of an extra $1 billion in tax revenues by undervaluing the property.

Or that fact that they reneged on their deal to rebuild the public park space that was torn down to build the new stadium.

Or that as soon as the stadium deals were announced, the mayor also started closing fire houses and stopped hiring cops.

Ya, its StubHub, you pig fuckers.

Not that it’s really all that likely that Yankees attendance is down because the mayor is closing fire houses. But that makes as much sense as that it’s down because tickets are too cheap.