Oakland drops suit against county on Coliseum land sale to A’s, who does this mean won exactly?

After months of wrangling over the city of Oakland’s lawsuit against Alameda County over the county’s sale of Oakland Coliseum land to A’s owner John Fisher without offering it to the city first, mostly between council president Rebecca Kaplan (who filed the suit) and Mayor Libby Schaaf (who thought it was dumb), Schaaf and Kaplan abruptly announced yesterday that they’d agreed to drop the suit:

The Surplus Land Act is part of what was at issue in the lawsuit in the first place: The California state law requires that any agency selling public land must give first dibs to plans that promise to build affordable housing. While city officials are no longer trying to pressure the county to go through the Surplus Land Act bidding process on its sale, the city will still require it for sale of its half-share of the Coliseum property — and since Fisher or anyone else can’t build anything without full ownership of the land, this should pretty much amount to the same thing.

How much of a stumbling block this will mean for Fisher’s plans to redevelop both the Coliseum site and a new stadium and other development at the Howard Terminal site isn’t entirely clear: Newballpark.org notes that “As affordable housing is not a huge moneymaker without some sort of subsidization effort, I wouldn’t expect a ton of better offers than what the A’s can provide,” but adds that a lot still needs to be fleshed out about the team’s plans for each site. At least negotiations can now begin, though, and there’s a framework for making sure Oakland gets a fair deal for its property and some control over what happens to it, which isn’t a terrible thing at all.

What shook loose the dropping of the lawsuit appears to have been the one-two carrot-and-stick punch of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s threat to move the team to Las Vegas and Fisher’s offer of an $85 million purchase price plus a community benefits agreement if the lawsuit were dropped. So either Oakland caved to threats, or agreed to drop its suit once it had used it for leverage to get concessions, or, really, both. Which is how negotiations work, and while it’s no doubt annoying that MLB with its antitrust exemption gets to threaten to blacklist cities that won’t play ball on stadiums, it seems like Oakland haggled as well as possible under the circumstances. Now all they need to do is to negotiate a stadium deal that is actually fair to taxpayers, and … well, let’s take one small victory at a time.

 

Friday roundup: Oakland opens A’s land sale talks, Clippers arena down to two lawsuits, plus video vaportecture!

I know it’s not Deadspin — nothing is, or ever will be again, though we can dream — or even sports, but I have an article up at City Limits this week about another big-money public construction project that seems to be proceeding despite no one quite knowing how it will work or how it will be paid for. It’s probably only a matter of time before sports team owners figure out a way to do promote new stadiums as worthy of climate resilience funding, especially since local governments are already showing themselves willing to spend climate money poorly to benefit rich people.

Anyway, oodles of bonus news this week, plus more vaportecture, so let’s get to it:

  • The city of Oakland is starting talks with the A’s owners about selling the city’s half of the Oakland Coliseum property to the team for development — with the proceeds to be used to build a new stadium on the Oakland waterfront — but still hasn’t dropped its lawsuit against Alameda County for agreeing to sell its share to the A’s without consulting the city. Meanwhile, here’s an article by the mayor of Oakland about how baseball and port operations are both good things, let’s find a way to make them both work together!
  • The Federal Aviation Administration has ruled that the proposed Los Angeles Clippers arena in Inglewood poses no danger to aviation at nearby Los Angeles International Airport, and a judge has dismissed claims that the city was required to seek affordable housing uses for the site first. But the project still faces two more lawsuits over how Clippers owner Steve Ballmer was granted the land and whether the city illegally evaded open-meetings laws, so we could yet be here a while.
  • Paterson, New Jersey is asking the state Economic Development Authority for $50 million in tax credits to use on a $76 million project redevelopment of Hinchliffe Stadium, a crumbling (this term is way overused, but it’s actually crumbling) former Negro League stadium, into “a 7,800-seat athletic facility, with a 314-space parking garage, restaurant with museum exhibits dedicated to Negro League baseball, 75-unit apartment building for senior citizens and a 5,800-square-foot childcare facility.” The rest of the article doesn’t explain much about what the renovation will look like or how the money will be spent or who will collect revenues from the new facility or anything, but it does include Mayor André Sayegh opining that you could “have a big concert there. Boxing. Wrestling. It could all happen there,” and Councilmember Michael Jackson countering that “to spend money on this project is senseless” since it will only create maybe 50 jobs. Feel free to take sides!
  • The Arena Football League has suspended operationsagain — after getting sued for nonpayment by its former insurance company, but “may become a traveling league, similar to the Premier Lacrosse League, whereby all players practice in a centralized location and fly to a different city each weekend to play games.”
  • Nashville S.C.‘s MLS stadium is now on hold, with Mayor John Cooper suspending demolition to clear the site, amid a lawsuit charging that the project and its $75 million in public cash were approved improperly and will interfere with the annual Tennessee state fair. The Tennessee Tribune writes that “it’s only a matter of time before the MLS soccer stadium contracts will be voided and put out to bid again”; I am not a lawyer, but then, neither are the Tribune’s journalists, so we’ll see.
  • If you want to rent office space in the Texas Rangers‘ old stadium for some reason, you now can! Just realize that it won’t be air-conditioned when you go outside.
  • The Minnesota Vikings‘ stadium is killing more than a hundred birds a year, but other buildings kill even more birds, which means the Vikings clearly need a more state-of-the-art bird-killing building, that’s how this works, right?
  • Here’s a photo of how the new Los Angeles Rams (and Chargers) stadium looks in its current state of construction, and if you think that the “vertical design” will make it feel “intimate.” then you agree with one Rams fan! Another fan, who was sitting in the fourth row of seats behind the end zone, remarked, “I kind of expected the field (area) to be much larger, to take you away from the experience. But you’re going to be right in the game.” Two takeaways: There are reasons why teams never invite fans to sit in the cheap seats to see what the view will be like from there, and American sports fans really aren’t great with geometry.
  • Calgary is looking at cutting wages for city employees to balance its budget, and one local economist thinks maybe not building the Flames a new arena would be a better idea.
  • The five-county sales tax surcharge that paid for the Milwaukee Brewers‘ Miller Park is finally set to phase out in January, after 23 years and $577 million. This is not so good news if you’re upset about Wisconsin taxpayers spending $577 million to pay for a private sports owner’s baseball stadium, but good news if you were worried that the Brewers or some other sports team might see the sales tax money sitting around and want to propose a new project to spend it on, which is always a worry.
  • The Montreal Canadiens have gotten a reduction in their property tax bill for the fourth time since 2013, even while property valuations elsewhere in the city are soaring. No reason was given, but “they’re major players in the local business community and whined about it a lot” seems like a reasonable theory.
  • Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist John Steigerwald asks about public funding for the Pirates‘ now 18-year-old stadium, “If the Pirates were faced with paying for their ballpark, do you think they might have had more incentive to insist on real revenue sharing and a salary cap before they built it?” Answer: No, rich people have incentive to demand money everywhere they can find it, regardless if they already have money, which Pirates owner Bob Nutting totally does. Next question!
  • I promised you vaportecture, so here’s some vaportecture: a ten-second video of the entryway to the Phoenix Suns arena morphing into a somewhat snazzier entryway now that the city of Phoenix agreed to spend $168 million in renovations in exchange for a few tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations. (Actual quid pro quo not included, but you can picture it easily enough.) Yes, it’s mostly just a bunch of new video boards and some new escalators being enjoyed by a handful of beefy white people, but isn’t that what pro basketball is all about?

A’s owner offers Coliseum purchase offer carrot to go with Vegas move threat stick

The Oakland city council’s lawsuit against Alameda County selling its half of the jointly-owned Oakland Coliseum property to the A’s owners instead of offering it to the city first may be kind of impulsive and not even something Oakland’s mayor wants and pointless because Oakland can’t afford to buy the county’s share anyway and to have led to MLB lobbing threats to move the team to Las Vegas, but! It also, according to the San Francisco Chronicles Phil Matier, seems to have shaken loose a new offer from the A’s owners on the property:

In an effort to break the legal logjam that’s threatening their new ballpark, the Oakland A’s are offering to either buy out the city’s half share in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum site for $85 million or enter into a long-term lease, sources close to the negotiations say.

The proposed deal also includes a community benefits package and a provision that the team build a new ballpark elsewhere in town, which it’s already planning at the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal.

In return, the city must drop the lawsuit it filed to block Alameda County from selling its half share of the site to the A’s.

That doesn’t seem like a terrible deal at all, or at least not a terrible starting point for negotiations. The $85 million price tag for half of 130 acres of land looks about right in terms of land value, and if A’s owner John Fisher is actually buying the land and not just development rights then presumably he’d have to pay property taxes on it, and the team would also take over paying operating costs on the Coliseum and accompanying arena and include a buyback option if the land goes undeveloped. All in exchange for dropping a lawsuit that probably isn’t going anywhere anyway.

While Mayor Libby Schaaf and councilmember Noel Gallo praised the offer, councilmember Dan Kalb still has concerns:

But Councilman Dan Kalb said he still had concerns:

“If they are not going to build a ballpark there, then why should the A’s get special consideration for the Coliseum site?” he said. “Shouldn’t they just submit proposals like everyone else after seeing what the city wants there?”

Which, sure, okay: Fisher is absolutely looking to jump the line and get to bid on developing the Coliseum before anyone else can, in exchange for building himself a new stadium at Howard Terminal and making this now decade-plus long relocation saga go away. But if it’s a fair price, and the main issue is that Fisher may not build “what the city wants there,” then ask to include some development criteria in the sale agreement, or something. And if the issue is that Kalb wants the A’s to build a stadium on the Coliseum site and not Howard Terminal — which seems to be what he’s saying — then just negotiate that directly, rather than engaging in some weird proxy war over who gets to buy the Coliseum land.

Anyway, there’s room for talks here, and even talks that could end up with a deal that is somewhere between not-awful and pretty-decent for the city of Oakland, which by the standards of the kind of stuff we discuss around here is cause for at least mild applause. And if city councils filing lawsuits against the mayor’s wishes proves to be what it takes to shake loose new offers from sports team owners, maybe there’s a lesson here for other municipalities: Two can play at the Madman Theory.

Friday roundup: How Kansas City evicted a team for rent non-payment and ended up costing itself $1m, and other stories

This week’s recommended reading: Girl to City, Amy Rigby’s just-published memoir of the two decades that took her from newly arrived art student in 1970s New York to divorced single mom and creator of the acclaimed debut album Diary of a Mod Housewife. (Disclosure, I guess: I edited an early version of one chapter for the Village Voice last year.) I picked up my copy last week at the launch of Rigby’s fall book tour, and whether you love her music or her long-running blog (guilty as charged on both counts) or enjoy tales of CBGB-era proto-gentrifying New York or coming-of-age-stories about women balancing self-doubt and determination or just a perfectly turned punchline, I highly recommend it: Like her best songs, it made me laugh and cry and think, often at the same time, and that’s all I can ask for in great art.

But first, read this news roundup post, because man, is there a lot of news to be rounded up:

MLB threatens A’s could move to Vegas unless Coliseum lawsuit dropped, city moves to drop Coliseum lawsuit

When I reported last week that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred had marked the happy occasion of Oakland hosting the A.L. Wild Card playoff game by threatening to move the A’s out of town if the city of Oakland didn’t drop its lawsuit against Alameda County over proposed development rights to be provided to the team owners, I assumed it was just one of those typical amorphous “Wouldn’t want to see anything happen to your precious team” threats that sports commissioners are required to level every now and again. But no, apparently Manfred got way more specific:

According to [Oakland city councilmember Larry] Reid, Manfred told Oakland officials that the A’s have options elsewhere if the city doesn’t change its stance.

“The commissioner pointed out that Bay Area fans will soon be going to Las Vegas to see the Raiders and that unless things changed, Bay Area fans may be going to Las Vegas or elsewhere to see the A’s as well,” Reid said.

Okay, “Las Vegas or elsewhere” isn’t that much more specific than “someplace,” but actually name-checking the Raiders’ move to Nevada is a step above what was reported last week.

Las Vegas, as I’ve discussed elsewhere previously, is a pretty lousy option for MLB, what with its small and largely low-income population and broiling summer temperatures. (These are less of a problem for the NFL, which has only a fraction of the number of tickets to sell, gets much more national TV money to share among all its clubs, and plays in the fall and winter.) But apparently Manfred’s threat was enough to scare Oakland officials into line:

On Thursday, [council president Rebecca] Kaplan issued a statement saying that “in the interest of reducing strife and litigation, the Oakland City Council has unanimously asked our administration to meet directly with county leaders on strategies to resolve issues regarding our shared public property.”

[Mayor Libby] Schaaf says she wants the city to get the land, but through negotiations and not a lawsuit. She said she has always supported a privately financed ballpark that is “responsible to taxpayers.”

“I’m confident we’ll get there,” the mayor said.

All of which is fine on the one hand — if Oakland and Alameda can work out the ownership of the Oakland Coliseum site without a lawsuit, that’s fewer legal fees to pay — but significantly less so if it’s MLB using heavy-handed tactics to force the two sides to the negotiating table under (likely idle) threat of having their team yanked away. This never-ending A’s stadium controversy may yet be resolved in a way that doesn’t screw over Oakland residents too hard, but if so, it won’t be because MLB is refraining from acting like an 800-pound gorilla to get its way.

Friday roundup: More on MLB attendance decline, plus stadium rumors and the reports of rumors

In case you missed it, I revisited the question of MLB’s attendance decline for Deadspin this week, by way of picking apart a New York Times article on the topic that got a couple of things right and a whole bunch of things less right. The upshot is that team owners don’t really need lots of fans to show up, but they sure would like them to, but only if they can accomplish this without cannibalizing the luxury seat sales that are their bread and butter these days — all of which makes all the “Whither baseball?” handwringing even less justifiable. Lesson: Don’t try to measure the demand curve just by looking at product sales. (Okay, maybe that’s only the lesson I take from it, but it’s one lesson.)

Meanwhile, news!

A’s, Rays celebrate Wild Card game with dueling move threats by proxy

The Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays faced off in the American League Wild Card game last night, before a sold-out crowd at Oakland Coliseum who paid an average of $129 for tickets on the resale market. One might think this would make it harder for the teams’ owners to claim that they’re doomed to failure on and off the field without the new stadiums they’re seeking — which means it’s time to pull out everybody’s favorite entry in the stadium-grubbers’ playbook, the oblique move threat:

Now, you will notice that neither of these threats came explicitly from the teams’ owners: A’s president and de facto stadium campaign spokesperson Dave Kaval limited himself to saying he was “surprised” by the city lawsuit, while leaving the heavy threatmongering to Manfred. And Sternberg insisted that he wasn’t the one who revealed that he bought Wild Card game tickets for Bronfman (they wouldn’t be sitting together, he said), but rather a member of Bronfman’s executive team who tweeted about it.

Still, sports team owners have a long track record of levying move threats by proxy, since it allows them all the leverage benefits while avoiding the nasty bits about being burned in effigy by outraged fans. It’s particularly unlikely that Manfred would be dropping threats in interviews without the explicit permission of A’s ownership, since the 30 MLB owners pay his salary; as for Bronfman, it’s possible that Sternberg said, “Here’s some tickets, now keep it under your hat that I paid for them, it would look really bad if people thought I did this just to rattle sabers about moving to Montreal during my team’s first postseason appearance in six years” and someone in Bronfman’s crew got Twitter-happy and ignored this, but somehow that doesn’t seem the most likely scenario.

Anyway, the Rays drove the A’s out of the playoffs with a pile of home runs, which means now we’ll get to see how attendance at Tampa Bay’s much-maligned stadium looks for games that really matter. Tickets for the A.L. Division Series vs. the Houston Astros go on sale today at 4 pm, and I for one will be as glued to the SeatGeek resale prices as to the start of the N.L. Division Series that’s happening at the same time.

Oakland wins land swap approval for proposed A’s stadium site, actual public cost still clear as mud

The Oakland A’s stadium plan for Howard Terminal may seem like it’s been spinning its wheels forever, but it’s been slowly racking up legislative wins of late: A bill to authorize the city of Oakland to acquire property at the site by swapping other land to the state has now passed the state legislature, and is headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for signing, this after another bill was approved to allow tax money to be used for “infrastructure” on the site.

After the bill passed the Assembly in May, [Assemblymember Rob] Bonta said, “This project is a win for Oakland and the East Bay. It will create strong union jobs that provide good wages and benefits.”

He went on to claim that the ballpark will help alleviate the housing crisis: “It will create badly-needed affordable housing and will keep the A’s rooted in Oakland for years to come.”

A figure denoting exactly how much housing might accompany the ballpark and retail mixed-use has yet to be determined.

“Has yet to be determined” is an apt description for most of the stadium plan, as it’s still not exactly clear who would pay for what (aside from the A’s owners funding construction of the stadium itself), or how much the city will get for its share of the Oakland Coliseum site that the team owners want to build housing on to help fund their stadium costs, or how property taxes will work, or lots of other things including how many shipping cranes will be left to decorate the stadium site. All this was par for the course when the stadium plan was still an abstraction, but now that actual authorizing legislation is being passed, maybe it’s time to actually deliver some hard numbers? Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, your Gang of Four membership is at stake!

Friday roundup: When is a football stadium too old to be a football stadium?

If it wasn’t clear from the photos of devastation in the Bahamas, the death toll from Hurricane Dorian is going to get much, much worse than the official confirmed number (30, at this writing). You can find a list of some organizations raising money to help survivors here; please give generously if you can. And remember as you do that it’s the warming oceans that helped make this so bad.

And with that, on to news that’s marginally less life and death:

  • Denver Metropolitan Football Stadium District chair Ray Baker says the Broncos‘ current stadium (which just got a new corporate name, go keep track of these things on your own if you like because I can’t be bothered to remember them) should last “between 50 and 60 years,” at which point Broncos president Joe Ellis replied that “I can’t judge where entertainment venues are going to need to be in the future” and “I can’t tell you whether or not, in 10 years, the city of Denver and our seven-county region has an appetite to host a Super Bowl or an appetite to host a Final Four, which means you need a roof. Or do you need a new stadium?” The new naming-rights deal lasts 21 years, at which point the stadium will be 40 years old; please place your bets on whether it will still be standing by then.
  • RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., will not make it to its 60th birthday in October 2021, which is all well and good as nobody plays there now and it’s costing the city $3.5 million a year for maintenance, landscaping, pest control, security, and utilities. (Note: Yeah, that seems like a lot to me too for an empty stadium.) D.C. officials say they plan to build an indoor sports complex and food market on the site, but have no plans as yet for an NFL stadium, no matter how much Mayor Muriel Bowser might want one.
  • Cleveland Browns COO David Jenkins says team execs still haven’t decided whether to demand a new stadium or a renovated one, but “we’re not far from having those conversations.” Note to Denver: The Browns’ stadium is two years older than the Broncos’.
  • Forbes reports that the value of the Oakland Raiders jumped by $1.5 billion to $2.9 billion after announcing their move to Las Vegas, which is an indication that either there’s something wrong with Forbes’ franchise valuation estimates or there’s something wrong with how much rich people are willing to spend to buy sports teams, or both. Even with the state of Nevada kicking in $750 million, the team will still be on the hook for more than $1 billion in stadium construction costs, which is going to soak up most of the team’s new stadium revenue even if their plan to sell tickets mostly to tourists and visiting fans works out.
  • The Anaheim city council is still squabbling over who knew when that when they voted on a Los Angeles Angels lease extension back in January, they were actually giving team owner Arte Moreno the right to stay through 2029 if he wanted, not just until 2020. (The team owner got a one-year extension of his opt-out clause as well, but the lease is now back in place to its original expiration date set before Moreno opted out the first time last year.) One thing that’s for sure is that this was a major gift to Moreno as stadium renovation talks continue, because “the best friend of a sports team owner is time,” says, uh, me.
  • A bill making it easier for Oakland to create tax districts at Howard Terminal to help raise money for infrastructure for a new A’s stadium passed the California state legislature this week; it’s still unclear exactly how much tax money would be spent on infrastructure, or exactly what “infrastructure” would mean, or even if the stadium will be built at Howard Terminal at all, but that’s one more skid greased, anyway.
  • The new Long Island Railroad station outside the new New York Islanders arena is set to be open by 2022, which only about 90 years faster than these things usually go in New York. It helps to have friends in high places!

 

Friday roundup: News outlets everywhere get pretty much everything wrong

On a tight deadline this week, so let’s get straight to the news: