Friday roundup: The Case of the Dead Beer-Tap Inventor, and Other Stories

This was the week that was:

  • The Denver Broncos are finding it slow going getting a new naming rights sponsor for their stadium because a used stadium name loses lots of its value, thanks to everyone still calling it by the old name. Yes, this is yet another reason why teams demand new stadiums when the old ones are barely out of the cellophane.
  • Here’s a Los Angeles Times article arguing that if rich sports team owners are granted permission to evade environmental review laws, small business owners should be too. I am not entirely sure this is the best lesson to take from this, guys.
  • Pennsylvania is preparing to legalize sports gambling, and the owners of the Pittsburgh Pirates think it would be great if the state imposed a gambling fee and gave some of the money to them, the only surprising part here being that they actually said this out loud.
  • F.C. Cincinnati‘s ownership group is preparing upgrades to Nippert Stadium as the team’s temporary home while a new stadium is built, and “isn’t concerned by the cost,” according to WCPO. Yes, these are the same owners who said they couldn’t possibly build a new stadium without $63.8 million in public money. Also who said Nippert Stadium couldn’t possibly be made acceptable as an MLS venue. I’m done now.
  • Fredericksburg, Virginia has scheduled a July 10 vote on whether to build a new $35 million stadium for the single-A Potomac Nationals, and paying off the city’s costs by siphoning off property, admissions, sales, meal, personal property, and business license taxes paid at the stadium and handing them over to the team. I guess that would make it a PASMPPBLTIF?
  • And finally, a man found dead in a walk-in beer cooler in the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium turns out to have been there to install a revolutionary new fast-pour beer tap he’d invented, and no one yet knows how he died. This is going to be the best season of True Detective yet! (No, seriously, this is a tragedy for the man and his family, and I hope that everyone involved soon finds closure, at least, by determining the true facts of what happened. But also, no, I’m not going to go back and delete the joke. If this makes me a monster, at least I’m an appropriately social-media-driven monster.)

Friday roundup: Rays set stadium deadlinish thing, D.C. United can’t find the sun in the sky, Inglewood mayor flees lawsuit filing on Clippers arena

Farewell, Koko and Argentina:

Friday roundup: Kraft tries to use World Cup to get new stadium, Roger Noll says Austin MLS subsidies are indeed subsidies, NC mulls new tax breaks for Panthers

Posting this while watching the first World Cup match at the crazy stadium with the seats outside the stadium. (I haven’t honestly even noticed who the teams are yet, I’m just watching the architecture.) Anyhoo:

Friday roundup: Grading Mariners subsidies on a curve, Cobb County could close parks to pay off Braves debt, Beckham punts on another stadium deadline

Congratulations to the team that had never won the hockey thing winning it over the other team that had never won the hockey thing because it was a new team! And meanwhile:

Russell Wilson gets in helicopter with wannabe Portland MLB owner, struggling newspaper devotes precious staff time to covering it

I’m not honestly sure exactly what has sparked this sudden flurry of interest in applying for MLB expansion franchises that MLB isn’t even offering yet — I guess MLB commissioner Rob Manfred keeps vaguely talking about how expansion would be nice, but that seems a bit much to be basing entire development plans around — but if you want a summary of where the madness is leading in a nutshell, you could do worse than this photo caption from the Oregonian:

Russell Wilson and Ciara take a selfie Saturday after holding a news conference in Northwest Portland to discuss their investments into the Portland Diamond Project’s effort to land a Major League Baseball team.

Yes, this is where journalism is right now: The quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks and the singer of “Goodies” took a helicopter tour of potential stadium sites with potential MLB owner Craig Cheek, were “whisked in a Mercedes SUV to Saturday’s news conference” (per the Oregonian), then posed for some photos in front of an “MLB PDX” backdrop. And then some poor college football writer who is one of the few people left in the newsroom had to write the whole thing up for the Oregonian, probably with occasional breaks to check for alternative career opportunities.

If you were hoping for any word on what an actual Portland baseball plan would look like, or what MLB would demand for an expansion franchise (either in terms of a franchise fee or stadium amenities or whatever), or really any details at all, needless to say this was not the article for you. Art Thiel at SportspressNW made a slightly better attempt, but even he was forced to rely on speculation and a few hints dropped by Manfred over the years, because really there is no solid information at this point at all. When a news vacuum exists, it will apparently now be filled with selfies, which is as good an epitaph for our age as any.

Friday roundup: The news media are collectively losing their goddamn minds edition

It’s a full slate this week, so let’s do this!

Mariners owners seek $180 million in publicly funded upgrades as part of lease renewal

When the Seattle Mariners owners announced on Wednesday that they’d agreed to a 25-year lease extension on Safeco Field without demanding any new public subsidies, I thought, “That’s nice, I’ll address it in the Friday roundup.” And here it is Friday, but now this is getting its own item, because it turns out the Mariners are actually looking for public money for stadium upgrades — $180 million of it, in fact:

The proposal announced Wednesday by King County Council Executive Dow Constantine would come from a “hotel-motel” lodging tax that previously helped pay for construction of the Kingdome. It currently is paying off debt for the construction of CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks and Sounders play their games. The CenturyLink Field debt is scheduled to be paid off by 2020.

Constantine wants 12 percent of that tax’s revenue given to the Public Facilities District (PFD) boards that manage both Safeco Field and the ShoWare Center in Kent, something Upthegrove says is ridiculous given more pressing priorities within the region.

“We all love the Mariners and they’re a part of our life but we have to remember this is a private, for profit business,” [King County councilmember Dave] Upthegrove, who chairs the council’s budget committee, said in an interview Thursday. “And a large one. It’s a billion-dollar company that can afford to and can and should pay their own expenses. Because if they don’t then we end up using public funds that need to go to other more pressing priorities.”

There are a lot of moving parts to this lease deal — the Mariners owners would also put in $120 million toward future upgrades, which are estimated at $545 million over the next 30 years for some reason even though the stadium only cost $517 million to build in the first place, and they would also kick in $175 million in ticket and parking taxes collected by the team, the latter of which supercedes parking taxes the city would normally get to charge (and collect). And the Seattle Times reports that the lease deal “is not contingent upon the hotel-motel tax revenue.” So it’s probably a bit overly definitive to write “Mariners owners seek $180 million in public upgrades as part of lease renewal” … enh, it’s Friday, if you can’t oversimplify headlines on a Friday, when can you do it? If things are clearer after the weekend, look for an update then.

Friday roundup: Panthers’ record sale price goosed by public money, Beckham stadium delayed yet again, Rams stadium really will cost $4B-plus

Google looks to have broken all of its RSS feeds, so if I missed anything important this week, drop me an email and I’ll play catchup next week:

Friday roundup: Graceland seeks arena money, Marlins and Cards seek spring-training stadium money, guy in Raleigh seeks MLS stadium money

In no particular order, or as we call it in New York, Mets style:

Tampa Bay Times: What if Rays fund their stadium with private money like the Braves, uh, never mind

Just catching up with this Tampa Bay Times article from last Friday, which proposed a list of ways that Rays owner Stuart Sternberg could pay for building an $800 million stadium without either dipping much into his own pocket or dumping all the costs on taxpayers. As you might imagine, that doesn’t leave much else:

How about making the stadium a showcase for local food? Or using training facilities as a community wellness center? Or letting a culinary school use the ballpark’s kitchens? While we’re at it, how about a water slide?

How about a water slide! The article doesn’t actually explain how a water slide would help pay for anything, but moving on:

“You want those who use it and go there to help pay for it,” said Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill, who is at the center of the Tampa-Hillsborough effort to study stadium financing options.

Getting warmer, but how exactly is “make users pay” going to work? After all, that principle has been used for everything from ticket surcharges (which mostly come out of team owners’ pockets, and so are a pretty good deal for the public) to kickbacks of taxes in a “stadium district” (which don’t and are not).

“We’re aggressively looking for private capital, private developers, to build a stadium,” [Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill] said.

We’ve heard this before, too, but a private developer is only going to invest in somebody else’s stadium if they can get a cut of the stadium revenue, right? At which point Sternberg may as well just put up the money himself and repay himself with those revenue streams.

At SunTrust Park, which opened last year, the Atlanta Braves spent $400 million developing The Battery Atlanta, a multi-use destination next to the stadium with a hotel, two office buildings, 550 apartments, a theater and about 20 restaurants. Still, the public contributed $400 million toward a ballpark that cost $622 million.

Ayup. And closing libraries to help pay for it.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn recently outlined one possible scenario. The city could create what’s been loosely described as an entertainment district around the stadium. Inside the district, a surcharge on sales of food, drinks and merchandise could generate revenue that would be used to help pay off stadium construction bonds.

“Because a stadium is there,” Buckhorn said, “restaurants are going to do better, alcohol sales are going to be higher, T-shirt sales, whatever it may be. The hope is that monies generated by construction of the stadium — be it commercial, residential or retail — be used to pay some of the debt service on the stadium, so you shift the burden from the taxpayers to either tourists or to folks who are benefitting from the construction of the stadium.”

Okay, so there’s an actual idea! Not a great idea, mind you — local restaurants aren’t going to do that much better as a result of having a stadium open 81 days a year nearby, so you’re quickly going to run into problems of whether to raise the tax surcharge to pay off more of the stadium or keep it low enough so people will actually want to open more businesses nearby — but it’s something.

Variations include creating a community development district (there are lot of CDDs for suburban Hillsborough neighborhoods already) or a special district similar to what the Legislature approved this spring for the $3 billion Jeff Vinik-Cascade Investment project known as Water Street Tampa.

Those are very different models, so different that “variations” isn’t really an accurate term. CDDs are basically TIFs: Public improvements are repaid by the projected future rise in regular property tax payments, a plan that can fail in two ways — either if property values don’t actually rise that much, or if they just cannibalize development you would have gotten anyway, either on that site or elsewhere in your city. The Vinik-Cascade project is a special tax surcharge on property owners, which at least doesn’t dip into money the public would be collecting anyway, but which also presupposes a lot of property value increase just from a stadium being built nearby, which doesn’t have a great history of coming true.

“A stadium is a magnet for, arguably, development that might not otherwise occur,” Merrill said. “What you’re trying to do is assess growth, new development, within a district that benefits from a stadium.”

That’s one heck of an “arguably” there.

The problem, ultimately, is that Sternberg is trying to find ways to equitably slice up a giant piece of nothing cake: There are only two ways to pay off a stadium, and one is through the increased revenues that come in from one — which isn’t likely to pay off anything close to the full construction cost, because new stadiums are usually not good financial deals , and if it were Sternberg could finance it with something called a “bank loan” — while the other is with public subsidies. “Let’s charge all the business and property owners who’ll be riding for free on our stadium” isn’t a terrible idea — New York state is considering using it to build more subways — but given past Florida experience with baseball-related development, you might maybe want to temper your expectations a bit.