Stadiums can be anchors for related development, say newspapers in search of cheap headlines

You know what I missed while I was away? Having the time to read long, misinformed articles about new stadium projects and how they’re just totally different from those old bad stadium projects of a couple of decades ago. Got anything like that for me, Google News?

With the era of standalone, isolated stadiums largely over, sports team owners increasingly are taking on the role of developer and using their stadiums as anchors for entertainment districts or retail and residential developments.

Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff.

The article in question is from the Tampa Tribune’s Christopher O’Donnell, and argues that this newfangled stadium-plus-other-development model being used by teams like the Atlanta Braves and Detroit Red Wings (or “Redwings,” as he calls them) could be used by the Tampa Bay Rays for a new stadium as well. It ignores the fact that these stadium-plus projects aren’t especially new, going back well over a decade (the St. Louis Cardinals‘ “ballpark village” was one of the earlier ones, but I’m sure I’m forgetting others), and mostly ignores, aside from a comment by stadium architecture consultant Philip Bess (who O’Donnell calls “Phillip” — fired all the copy editors, did you, Tampa Tribune?), the problem that if development around a stadium were profitable enough to pay off a stadium, teams would be able to pursue this strategy without public subsidies. Not to mention that if stadium-related development is profitable it could be pursued without the money suck of a new stadium attached, that it could just end up displacing development that otherwise would have taken place somewhere else in town, that development around stadiums has typically appeared years late when it shows up at all, etc., etc.

Anyway, good to see that these articles still pop up every once in a while for me to throw rocks at, and — whoa there!

The new Minnesota Vikings football stadium, to be completed a year from now, is helping draw nearby office towers, upscale housing and other developments, according to its supporters.

Guys! One article at a time, please! I’m still getting back up to speed here.

Pulitzer-winning newspaper asks if Rays fans are staying home out of anger that owner can’t break lease

The Tampa Bay Rays are terrible, and the New York Yankees shortstop is Didi Gregorius, so you might expect that attendance for a Rays-Yankees matchup in April might be lower than usual. Or, if you work for the Tampa Bay Times, you can use it as an excuse to write an article titled “Smaller crowds against Yankees at Trop: Are fans tiring of stadium stalemate?” that features lines like these:

But, still, the crowds for the Yankees games were small. Does the stalemate between the city and the team have anything to do with it?

“It certainly may, but I don’t think there is any way to find out,” said council member Bill Dudley.

Now, there are two ways we could approach this. We could look at attendance in past years that the Rays were lousy when there was no stadium controversy, and see that they’re actually drawing better than in the bad old Devil Rays days (though this year’s average is admittedly goosed a bit by having one of their seven home games be opening day). Or we could just try to picture a Tampa Bay baseball fan thinking, “Hey, the Yankees are in town. Could be a good night for a ballgame — but damn, I sure am tired of the city council not letting the Rays owner break his lease and try to get a new stadium built somewhere else. Why, it’s a veritable stalemate! Stalemates are like ties, and ties are for soccer. Hey, I wonder if there’s any soccer on TV? Do I even like soccer? Where did I leave the remote?”

The Tampa Bay Times, interestingly, filed this not under “sports” but “human interest,” presumably because they don’t have a category tag for “clickbait.” Give them another few months, they’ll get with the program.

St. Pete council still not willing to let Rays go for cheap, local paper decries this as “stalemate”

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said yesterday that he still doesn’t have the votes to pass the bill the city council rejected in December that would have let the Tampa Bay Rays look elsewhere for a stadium site in exchange for a sliding scale of buyout payments, depending on when the team left. This is unsurprising, though it’s slightly surprising that Kriseman was willing to propose having the Rays give up any proceeds from redeveloping the Tropicana Field site — something Rays owner Stuart Sternberg had previously said he wouldn’t consider — and councilmembers still said no:

Kriseman’s proposal, which could earn the city as much as $20 million, inadequately compensates the city and county for what they have spent on the Trop over the years, [councilmember Steve] Kornell said. “I could not in good conscience vote for that deal.”

[Councilmember Bill] Dudley also said the proposed compensation payments are too low. “We’re just not getting enough,” he said, “and the vast majority of my constituents agree with me on this.”

In other words: We have a lease with you, and you have to live by it, and if you want to get out of it you have to pay our price or else lump it until 2027, pal.

That’s a perfectly reasonable negotiating position for the council to take, and thus makes it more than a bit screwy that the Tampa Bay Times chose to lead their article on this with the sentence: “Tampa Bay’s five-year stalemate over a new baseball stadium continues — with no obvious end in sight.” That implies that you have two sides trying to reach agreement on a shared goal, but which just can’t find a way to come to terms. What’s happening here is something different: Sternberg wants to break his lease and seek a new stadium elsewhere, and the St. Pete council is saying, “Not unless you make it worth our while.”

A more honest lede, then, would have been something along the lines of “The Tampa Bay Rays’ search for a way out of their Tropicana Field lease continues — but the St. Petersburg council isn’t going to let them go cheap.” But then, the Tampa Bay Times has a track record of trying to make St. Petersburg seem like it’s on the clock here, even when it isn’t.

Tampa pastor cleared of labor law violations in unpaid stadium job case

Tom Atchison, who you’ll remember as the “faith-based recovery program” director accused of illegally sending his substance-abuse clients to run stadium concessions for no pay as part of a job training program, writes to point out that a federal Department of Labor investigation cleared him of the “illegal” part last month. And he includes a (partly redacted) DoL report on the matter, if you want to read it yourself.

This is good news for Atchison, obviously, since it means his model of funding his programs by having people in recovery work stadium jobs and have the payments go to fund his overhead — something he says he copied from the Salvation Army — is officially sanctioned as legit. It’s less certainly good news for the people in his New Beginnings programs, depending on whether you see having them work jobs and have their residence director cash the resulting checks is a valuable way to ease them back into the work world, or a way to exploit their free labor to pay the program’s bills. Either way, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rays ended their relationship with New Beginnings after the controversy arose — presumably less because they were concerned it was illegal than because they were concerned it looked skeevy — so we can leave any future coverage of the matter to other worthy sites.

Rays threaten to move out of St. Pete the year that Malia Obama turns 30

Now’s here some quality clickbait, courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times (“Winner of 10 Pulitzer Prizes”!):

Rays owner vows stadium search by 2022, with or without St. Pete’s okay

Whoa, Stuart Sternberg is throwing down the gauntlet! He’s going to straight-up ignore his lease with St. Petersburg and, wait, why 2022?

Sternberg made his unusually frank comments in a question-and-answer session with the Tampa Bay Times while he was in town for an annual Fan Fest celebration…

Assuming it takes at least five years to build a new stadium, will you start a regional search without St. Petersburg’s permission by 2022?

Absolutely. Before that. I haven’t thought of a timetable, but five years is a minimum from the time you would start the process to when you would ring the bell.

So: The Tampa Bay Times asked Sternberg if, given that it would take a few years to build a stadium, and the Rays‘ lease is up after 2027, he’d start looking around for stadium sites a few years before then. And Sternberg said — wait for it! — yes, he would. Though given that, as Noah Pransky (yes, him again) points out, Sternberg can’t actually start negotiating with any other cities before 2028, as spelled out in that lease (which the St. Pete council is refusing to let him out of), he’d be limited to just looking. Which you have to figure he’s doing already anyway, right? So, not much of a story, probably the kind of thing you’d bury in the back—

They don’t make Pulitzer Prizes like they used to.

New MLB commish tries to shill for Rays, A’s stadiums, lacks Selig’s flair for crazy-ass threats

With everything else that’s been going on (like me getting ready to be on the teevee), I utterly failed to welcome new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who officially took over from commissioner-since-the-last-millennium Bud Selig last weekend. (Yes, he’s finally gone. Yes, you are now invited to dance a bit on his grave.) And Manfred immediately showed that he knows what his job is, chiming in about how the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays need new stadiums, and he’s gonna help them get ‘em, by gum:

“I share your view that Tampa and Oakland are situations that need to be addressed, and believe me I will be making myself available to both owners, both clubs to play whatever role they want me to play in helping them get their situations resolved because I do think both of them are really important to the game.”

I’d give that about a B-minus as commissioner rhetoric goes — it hits all the usual points (teams need new stadiums, the league will throw its weight around to help get them) but without the flair of his predecessor: It’s no “Don’t make me come in there,” that’s for sure. Manfred should know that the job of a blackmailer commissioner is to always include at least an implicit threat, to let cities know who’s boss and

“I think Montreal helped itself as a candidate for Major League Baseball with the Toronto games that they had up there last year. It’s hard to miss how many people showed up for those exhibition games. It was a strong showing. Montreal’s a great city. I think with the right set of circumstances and the right facility, it’s possible.”

Well, it’s a start, anyway.

Sternberg’s development rights on Trop could be worth as much as he’d pay St. Pete to break lease

When I reported Friday on the St. Petersburg city council refusing to go along with the Tampa Bay Rays‘ lease-breaking deal if they’d have to give Rays owner Stuart Sternberg a cut of development rights to the Tropicana Field site, I didn’t have a figure for how much those rights would be worth. Noah Pransky of Shadow of the Stadium did, however, and helpfully pointed it out:

When the team pitched a waterfront stadium in downtown St. Petersburg in 2008, a developer bid $65 million to buy the Trop property and load it up with $1.2 billion of mixed use construction. Property taxes and fees for the city were estimated at $7.5 million a year, with a like amount for county government and schools.

Okay, that’s 2008, and a lot has changed since then. Still, if we take that as a reasonable guesstimate of what the Trop property is worth, then giving half of that to Sternberg would be worth $32.5 million — or nearly as much as St. Pete would be getting from the Rays owner as a payment for breaking his lease. It’s starting to become clearer why this became a major sticking point — though when you consider that even $32.5 million is just equal to three years of James Loney and two of David DeJesus, it’s slightly possible that Sternberg got a bit greedy here.

St. Pete council calls Rays’ bluff, rejects lease buyout unless team coughs up development rights

If yesterday’s news had you thinking that city councils were just mindless automatons who would inevitably rubber-stamp any stadium deal set before them, then the St. Petersburg city council had a surprise for you: That body voted 5-3 yesterday afternoon to reject the proposed deal in which the Tampa Bay Rays could buy their way out of their Tropicana Field lease to move to a new stadium elsewhere in the bay area for a payment of at most $42 million.

Given that as recently as a week ago, all signs were that the council was going to approve the plan that Mayor Rick Kriseman had worked out with Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, this was a bit of a shocker. But according to the Tampa Bay Times, Rays execs shot themselves in the foot with their answer to questions about whether the team would agree to forgo a split of profits from development of land on the 85-acre Tropicana Field site if they were in the process of leaving anyway:

Council member Darden Rice, who voted for the agreement, said the Rays blew the deal with their presentation.

“I think at one point we had five votes,” Rice said. “But I was very disappointed by Auld’s response to Karl Nurse’s question about development rights. It was either tone deafness or arrogance.”…

Nurse had asked Kriseman earlier in the week to change the agreement so the city could retain all development rights in that situation. But the Rays declined to make any substantive changes to Kriseman’s deal.

Nurse still voted for the deal in the end, but this did not go over well with several other members of the council:

[Councilmember Bill] Dudley said he felt like the Rays were making ultimatums. “I don’t like arrogance,” he said.

“The deal breaker for me was the idea that they want us to abide by the use agreement for redevelopment purposes, where they can benefit,” [councilmember Amy] Foster said, “but they didn’t want to abide by the use agreement” by staying at the Trop.

“This is a common strategy,” she said. “They use their mobility in order to threaten cities in order to get more.”

Yep, that they do. But in most cases they don’t have an ironclad lease like the one that the Rays are locked into in St. Pete, which currently doesn’t allow the team owners to buy their way out, or even talk about leaving, until 2027. That’s a hefty piece of leverage that the council has at its disposal, and they just used it.

For Sternberg, the logical next step in this situation is to haggle: If the council wants a bigger share of development rights, throw them a bigger share of development rights. Or kick in an extra million or two a year in lease-breaking payments. But it seems like the council isn’t opposed to the principle of the deal, just the specifics, so the usual strategy would be to pick off a couple of councilmembers and find out what their price is.

Sternberg, however, has already declared that he won’t negotiate any more changes to the lease buyout, saying last week, “If it doesn’t pass, we’re doomed to leave.” This kind of paints him into a corner, with his only obvious options being:

  • Try to pretend he never said anything about no further negotiations, and quietly resume talks in a few months. This would not only require swallowing a lot of pride at this point, but also leave him with a weakened negotiating position, since clearly his ultimatums wouldn’t be worth squat.
  • Sit tight and wait — if not 13 years, then at least for a new city council to be elected next fall. And then hope like crazy that the new folks are more willing to give you anything you want.
  • Sell the team and make it someone else’s problem. Forbes, which tends to underestimate team values, has the Rays worth $485 million, which would be a nifty 142% profit on what Sternberg bought them for in 2002. But presumably the Rays would be worth an awful lot more if they had a shiny new stadium to play in (especially if the shiny new stadium debt could be fobbed off on taxpayers), so Sternberg would be leaving a lot of hypothetical money on the hypothetical table if he took this route.
  • Call Bud Selig and ask him to threaten to blow up the team on his way out the door, and hope that the courts will protect them from the inevitable antitrust lawsuit that would result.

So far, the Rays have just responded with a generic “You’re a bunch of poopyheads” statement:

There’s still plenty of time — until 2027, really — for a deal to be worked out, so there’s no reason to start freaking out about the Rays moving to Montréal (unless you’re the Tampa Bay Times editorial board). The St. Peterburg council did send a message, though, that they’re at least aware that, as Jonah Keri puts it:

Public officials trying to negotiate better deals in the public interest. What’ll they think of next?

Rays vote pushed back, time of reckoning for how the hell to actually pay for stadium delayed one week

The St. Petersburg city council has pushed its vote on the Tampa Bay Rays lease modification back to next week, so that members can actually read the thing. Mayor Rick Kriseman readily agreed to the delay, as did Rays execs, so it looks like the Rays won’t be threatening to move to Montréal in the next week or anything. Things could change if the council tries to put up a fight, but it sounds like this is less a resistance move than just a “hang on, we need to find our reading glasses.”

Meanwhile, the indefatigable Noah Pransky has taken a look at what’s going to be the more important question going forward, which is how on earth to actually pay for a new stadium, whether it’s on the St. Pete side of the bay or the Tampa side. Pransky notes that the two cities’ chambers of commerce estimated back in 2012 that a stadium would take $300 million to $400 million in public money, and floated a bunch of different ideas for raising it: extend a sales tax surcharge for infrastructure improvements and redirect it to the stadium, raise the car rental tax, raise the hotel tax (note: possibly illegal under state law), kick back property taxes through a TIF district, kick back the local share of state sales taxes. Taken together these could certainly raise $400 million, but they’re also all money that could be used for other things, and once you spend it on a stadium, it’s gone.

So really it’s going to still come down to whether any government body in the Tampa region feels like handing over $300-400 million to the owner of the local baseball team, regardless of what particular tax revenue stream is allocated to it. Recent indications have not been positive, but the new agreement would give the Rays two years to announce an opt-out date from their Tropicana Field lease, which is … not plenty of time, but some time, anyway. Maybe someone will stumble upon a foolproof way to raise money before then.

Rays owner: If no new stadium, I’ll find a guy to take the team and go home with it, in 2027, yeah!

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg celebrated his new agreement with the city of St. Petersburg to allow him to pursue a new stadium across the bay in Hillsborough County yesterday in the way that only sports team owners can: By threatening that if he doesn’t get his way, he’ll find an imaginary person to move the team out of town.

“I’m not moving this team. I’m not taking this team out of the area. But that’s me,” Sternberg said at baseball’s winter meetings in San Diego.

“The chances of me owning this team in 2023 if we don’t have a new stadium are probably nil. Somebody else will take it and move it. It’s not a threat, just the reality.”…

Sternberg said he didn’t know exactly what they would do if the agreement is not approved by the council, but he certainly sounded discouraged by the prospects, adding that it could lead to the team leaving the market.

“If it doesn’t pass, we’re doomed to leave …” he said.

Sternberg has made threats like this before, mind you, but he at least then usually painted MLB officials as the bad guys wanting the team out of Tampa Bay. Blaming a hypothetical future Rays owner who doesn’t even exist yet isn’t quite a second-ever sighting of the ghost threat, but it’s still kind of impressive, given that he single-handedly managed to turn a day when people actually felt good about the Rays stadium situation (largely because nobody had yet thought much about the price tag, but hey, allow people their moments) into a hostage crisis in the course of a few hours.

Before anyone gets too excited about the Rays moving to Montréal on Friday if the council doesn’t approve this deal (whoops, too late!), keep in mind that the Rays are bound by their lease to stay at Tropicana Field through 2027, something Sternberg himself has acknowledged. Plus, if the new agreement isn’t approved by the council tomorrow, Sternberg (or whoever he sells the team to) can’t even talk to anyone outside of St. Pete about a new stadium — and even if it is approved, the Rays owner still can’t talk to anyone outside Tampa Bay before the lease is up.

So it’s a pretty idle non-threat threat, but when it’s the only arrow in your quiver, I guess you’ve got to run with it. Why the sports media is running with it too is a different question, but they have a long history of this stuff, too.