Friday roundup: If you’re watching TV sports in empty stadiums by summer, count yourself lucky

Michael Sorkin, who died yesterday of COVID-19, was a prolific architecture critic (and architect) and observer of the politics of public space, and so not a little influential in the development of my own writing. I’m sure I read some of Sorkin’s architecture criticism in the Village Voice, but he first came on my radar with his 1992 anthology “Variations on a Theme Park,” a terrific collection of essays discussing the ways that architects, urban planners, and major corporations were redesigning the world we live in to become a simulacrum of what people think they want from their environment, but packaged in a way to better make them safely saleable commodities. (I wish I’d gotten a chance to ask him what he thought of the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium, with its prefab walkable urban neighborhood with no real city attached to it.) In his “Variations on a Theme Park” essay on Disneyland and Disney World, he laid out the history of imagineered cities starting with the earliest World’s Fairs, up to the present day with Disney’s pioneering of “copyrighted urban environments” where photos cannot even be taken and published without prior approval of the Mouse — a restriction he got around by running as an illustration a photo of some clouds, and labeling it, “The sky above Disney World.”

I really hope this isn’t the beginning of a weekly feature on great people we’ve lost to this pandemic, though it seems pretty inevitable at this point. For now, on with the other stadium and arena news, though if you’re looking for a break from incessant coronavirus coverage, you won’t find it here:

Friday roundup: Pandemic could delay Rams and Chargers stadium, drain hotel tax base for Raiders stadium (and kill millions of people, oh yeah)

And so we come to the close of Week 2 of Coronavirusworld, with still little way of knowing what Week 3 will bring, let alone Week 8 and beyond. (I just now started to write about this far less grim response to Tuesday’s London study, until I noticed none of the authors are infectious disease specialists and the claim that contact tracing can keep infections under control was cited to a single Chinese news story that said nothing of the sort, so maybe stay grim for the moment?) With pretty much all of the sports world now shut down, though — except for Australian Rules Football for some reason — sports journalists have begun looking down the road at longer-term effects of the pandemic, resulting in some useful and some not-so-useful reporting:

Saturday roundup: Manfred endorses Tampontreal Ex-Rays, NYCFC readies Bronx stadium plan (maybe), everybody in Nashville sues everybody else

Man, I sure picked the wrong week to get so sick that I couldn’t post for a couple of days! But even if it’s now the weekend and I’m only at about 80%, the news is at 110%, so let’s get to it:

  • First up is Thursday’s declaration by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred that he and baseball owners are “100% convinced” that having the Tampa Bay Rays play half their games in Montreal “is best way to keep Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay.” That’s not entirely surprising — I mean, it’s surprising that we have a major sports executive saying that the best way to keep a team from moving is to let it move half its games, but no more surprising than when Rays owner Stuart Sternberg first said it last June — since it’s very rare for sports commissioners and fellow owners to stand in the way of their fellow owners’ stadium or relocation plans, especially if it doesn’t infringe on their territories. (Speaking of territories, Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said, “We are supportive of them exploring it,” if you were wondering.) The plan itself remains, in the words of the great unemployed sports editor Barry Petchesky, “completely batshit,” not least because it would require getting not one but two cities to build not one but two new stadiums just to land half a team, but also for a billion other reasons. It still makes the most sense as a Madman Theory strategy by Sternberg to scare Tampa Bay or Montreal into competing to build him at least one stadium — can you imagine the headlines to come about “Montreal is moving ahead with its stadium while Tampa lags behind?” or vice versa? — but sports owners are just rich, not necessarily smart, so who the hell knows what Sternberg really intends to do? Whatever it is, though, he’ll have Manfred’s support, because Manfred knows who signs his checks.
  • NYC F.C.‘s plan for a new stadium just south of Yankee Stadium has been reportedly almost ready for more than a year and a half now, but now it’s supposedly really almost ready, according to a different New York Times reporter than the one who reported the initial rumor. The outline of the plan remains roughly the same: The Yankees owners, who are minority owners of the MLS club, would allow the city to demolish a parking garage that their lease otherwise requires remain in place, a private developer would take the garage and a parcel across the street and the street itself (plus a highway off-ramp) and build housing and a hotel and other stuff on part of it while leasing the rest to NYC F.C. to build a stadium on, which would — again, supposedly — allow the whole thing to move forward without public money being used for construction. Being used for other things is another story: The Times doesn’t mention whether the team or developers would pay the city anything for the section of East 153rd Street that would need to be demapped and buried beneath a soccer pitch, or how much the developers would pay to lease the garage site, or if either parcel would pay property taxes. (The Times reports that “Maddd and N.Y.C.F.C. [would] convey the [street] property to the city” then lease it back, which certainly sounds like an attempt to evade property taxes.) City officials said that “a deal has not been reached, and more conversations are needed,” so maybe none of these things have even been decided; tune back in soon, or maybe in another year and a half!
  • The lawsuit filed by Save Our Fairgrounds claiming that Nashville S.C. stadium project would take up too much public land needed for other uses is moving to trial, and Nashville S.C. has sued to intervene in their lawsuit, and everybody’s trying to figure out if NASCAR and soccer can coexist on adjacent parcels, and soccer fans are mad that that stadium isn’t getting built yet, and the community coalition that negotiated a community benefits agreement to go along with the stadium plan is mad that nobody’s consulting them about any of this. It’s only a matter of time before Jimmy Carter is called in to resolve this.
  • Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont has put $55 million into his state budget proposal over the next two years to renovate Hartford’s arena, with the rest of the cost — estimated at between $100 million and $250 million, depending on how extensive it is — to be paid off by private investors who would get … something. The state is studying it now! Get off their back!
  • A bunch of the Carolina Panthers fans who bought “permanent seat licenses” to help finance the team’s stadium back in 1993 have found that the “permanent” part isn’t actually so much true: About 900 seats in the front of one end zone are being ripped out to make way for luxury suites for soccer (or a standing-room “supporters’ section — the latter makes more sense, but the Charlotte Observer article on this is frustratingly unclear), so fans with PSLs there are being offered either to move to other nearby locations or to sell their licenses back to the team for 25% over what they initially paid for them. No wonder everyone else started calling them “personal” seat licenses!
  • Also, the Panthers are having their stadium property tax bill reduced by $3.5 million a year, because they asked nicely. Or just asked, and are a major sports franchise and therefore an 800-pound gorilla, with all the privileges that go with that. One of those two.
  • The Jacksonville Jaguars are going to play two home games in London next year, which the team’s website says is “strategically aligned” with development in their Jacksonville stadium’s parking lot, somehow, though is one extra week of construction time really going to help them all that much? Or maybe this is some weird kind of brinkmanship, as in “approve our Lot J development, stat, or we’ll keep moving games to London?” Anyway, cue people freaking out about the Jaguars moving to London again now, which team owner Shad Khan can’t be unhappy about because savvy negotiators and leverage and all that.
  • A poll by the Oakland Athletics on where the team should build a new stadium found that Oakland residents backed the team’s preferred Howard Terminal site by 63-29%, but a poll by a group that opposes the Howard Terminal plan found that residents prefer the current Oakland Coliseum site by a 62-29% margin. Reminder: Polls are garbage!
  • This video of an entire Russian hockey arena collapsing during reconstruction work, with a worker clearly visible on the roof as it gives way, doesn’t actually have much to with stadium subsidies, but it sure is impressive-looking, in a horrific way.

A’s vow stadium opening in 2023, not clear yet on how to get fans to it

The Oakland A’s proposed stadium at Howard Terminal may still have a lot of unknowns like how to pay for $200 million in new infrastructure, but team president Dave Kaval isn’t going to let that stop him from declaring “Get the shovels ready!” and saying he hopes to begin construction this summer and open the stadium by 2023. That seems 1) ambitious and 2) like the sort of thing team execs say whether or not such a timeline is realistic, but it’s certainly more possible now that the A’s owners have control of the Oakland Coliseum land that they want to redevelop to help pay for the Howard Terminal stadium, though exactly how they’ll develop it is also up in the air, and … you can see why maybe counting on spending Opening Day 2023 looking admiringly at cranes is jumping the gun a bit.

In other news about the A’s maybe-ballpark:

  • There may not be a gondola taking fans to the game from the nearby BART station, but there will be a “transportation hub” where fans will be dropped off by shuttle buses, then can walk or take rental scooters (because California loves its scooters) across a pedestrian bridge across Embarcadero West. That $200 million infrastructure price tag is making more and more sense, especially if a new bridge is involved.
  • The city of Oakland’s Department of Transportation estimates that half of all A’s fans would drive to games, and another 16% would take Uber or Lyft. (Currently 70% of A’s fans drive to games, but that’s with a stadium surrounded by a sea of parking.) Then they’d likely have to take a shuttle bus or walk a ways from their parking spots, presumably across that same proposed pedestrian bridge plus one other, meaning it’s going to need to be really wide if they don’t want hour-long backups after games (something that’s already sometimes a problem at the Coliseum, even with the bridge really only serving BART riders), which means it’s likely to be really expensive.

Map of all the proposed transit plans, including the ones that remain *proposed:

Or, you know, maybe they could just close Embarcadero West to traffic before and after games, which would be a hell of a lot cheaper than building two bridges, even if you had to hand out $20 bills to drivers to bribe them to take different streets. Totally nothing that needs to be decided before holding a city council vote and breaking ground on a major new development project!

Friday roundup: Panthers owner donated to Charlotte officials during stadium lobbying, St. Louis MLS didn’t need $30m in state money after all, and what time the Super Bowl economic impact rationalizations start

Happy Friday, and try not to think about how much you’re contributing to climate change by reading this on whatever electronic device you’re using. Though at least reading this in text doesn’t require a giant server farm like watching a video about stadiums would — “Streaming one hour of Netflix a week requires more electricity, annually, than the yearly output of two new refrigerators” is one of the more alarming sentences I’ve read ever — so maybe it counts as harm reduction? I almost linked to an amusing video clip to deliver my punchline, wouldn’t that have been ironic!

And now, the news:

County officially okays Coliseum land sale, leaves only umpteen hoops for A’s stadium plans to get through

Alameda County officially approved the sale of its half of the Oakland Coliseum complex to the A’s owners yesterday, eight months after the proposal was first announced. The price remains $85 million for 50% of the property, though it’s slightly more complicated than that — the team will make the payments over six years, but will also cover $5 million of operating costs a year, which should cancel out any loss from stretching out the payments. That looks to be pretty close to fair market value, at least per my back-of-the-envelope math, though county supervisor Nate Miley has said the actual value of the land could be more like $200-300 million, which would represent a discount of $30-130 million for the team owners.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s article on this says the sale agreement “all but securing the baseball team’s future in the East Bay,” which is not really quite right, as there are a bunch of hurdles remaining before the team’s stadium plans can be finalized: The city needs to agree to sell its half of the land (though that seems likely now that the city has dropped its lawsuit over the sale), and then lots still needs to be worked out about what the ballclub will build on the site (state law requires that there be some affordable housing, and the city is insisting on a community benefits agreement), and then the plan for a new stadium at Howard Terminal (partly funded by development of the Coliseum parcel, maybe?) needs approvals including of $200 million worth of infrastructure that could be funded via property tax kickbacks.

So while the Coliseum land sale is an important first step, we’re still a ways from the A’s stadium situation being resolved, or even resolving who’ll be on the hook for paying for it. Plus we still don’t know what’s up with all those gratuitous cranes.

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: 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: