Friday roundup: Tampa official stonewalls, Falcons get sued, Amazon is the new Olympics

Okay, let’s do this thing:

Friday roundup: A’s pollution woes, Falcons roof woes, Hansen email woes, and more!

Whole lot of news leftovers this week, so let’s get right to it:

  • It’s not certain yet how serious the environmental cleanup issues at the Oakland A’s proposed Peralta Community College stadium site are, but anytime you have the phrases “the amount of hazardous materials in the ground is unclear” and “two possible groundwater plumes impacted by carcinogens” in one article, that’s not a good sign. Meanwhile, local residents are concerned about gentrification and traffic and all the other things that local residents would be concerned about.
  • There’s another new poll in Calgary, and this time it’s Naheed Nenshi who’s leading Bill Smith by double digits, instead of the other way around. This poll’s methodology is even dodgier than the last one — it was of people who signed up for an online survey — so pretty much all we can say definitely at this point is no one knows. Though it does seem pretty clear from yet another poll that whoever Calgarians are voting for on Monday, it won’t be because of their position on a Flames arena.
  • The Atlanta Falcons‘ retractable roof won’t be retracting this season, and may even not be ready for the start of next season. These things are hard, man.
  • Nevada is preparing to sell $200 million in bonds (to be repaid by a state gas tax) to fund highway improvements for the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium, though Gov. Brian Sandoval says the state would have to make the improvements anyway. Eventually. But then he said, “I just don’t want us to do work that has to be undone,” so your guess is as good as mine here.
  • Pawtucket is preparing to scrape off future increases in property tax receipts for a 60- to 70-acre swath of downtown and hand them over to the Pawtucket Red Sox for a new stadium, an amount they expect to total at least $890,000 a year. Because downtown Pawtucket would never grow without a new baseball stadium, and there’s no chance of a shortfall that would cause Pawtucket to dip into its general fund, and nobody should think too hard about whether if minor-league baseball stadiums are really so great for development, this wouldn’t mean that property tax revenues should be expected to fall in the part of the city that the PawSox would be abandoning. Really, it’ll all be cool, man, you’ll see.
  • Somebody asked Tim Leiweke what he thinks of building a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays for some reason, and given that he’s a guy that is in the business of building new stadiums, it’s unsurprising that he thinks it’s a great idea. Though I am somewhat surprised that he employed the phrase “Every snowbird in Canada will want to watch the Toronto Blue Jays when they come and play,” given that having to depend on fans of road teams to fill the seats is already kind of a problem.
  • The study showing that spending $30 million in city money on a $30-million-or-so Louisville City F.C. stadium would pay off for the city turns out to have been funded by the soccer team, and city councilmembers are not happy. “There’s something there that someone doesn’t want us to find,” said councilmember Kevin Kramer. “I just don’t know what it is.” And College of the Holy Cross economics professor Victor Matheson chimed in, “I expect for-profit sports team owners to generate absurdly high economic estimate numbers in order to con gullible city council members into granting subsidies.” I don’t know where you could possibly be getting that idea, Victor!
  • Congress is considering a bill to eliminate the use of federally tax-exempt bonds for sports facilities, and … oh, wait, it’s the same bill that Cory Booker and James Lankford introduced back in June, and which hasn’t gotten a committee hearing yet in either the House or the Senate. It has four sponsors in the House, though, and two in the Senate, so only 263 more votes to go!
  • A Miami-Dade judge has dismissed a lawsuit charging that the sale of public land to David Beckham’s MLS franchise illegally evaded competitive bidding laws, then immediately suggested that the case will really be decided on appeal: “I found this to be an extremely challenging decision. Brighter minds than me will tell me whether I was right or wrong.” MLS maybe should be having backup plans for a different expansion franchise starting next season, just a thought.
  • The New York Times real estate section is doing what it does best, declaring the new Milwaukee Bucks arena to be “a pivotal point for a city that has struggled with a decline in industrial activity,” because cranes, dammit, okay? Maybe somebody should have called over to the Times sports section to fact-check this?
  • And last but not least, Chris Hansen is now saying that his SoDo arena plan missed a chance at reconsideration by the Seattle city council because the council’s emails requesting additional information got caught in his spam filter or something. If that’s not a sign that it’s time to knock off for the weekend, I don’t know what is.

MLB commish, guy clinging to sportswriter job agree: Somebody build Rays a stadium already!

One of the problems with the sportswriting business is that too many sportswriters tend to approach everything as a game, and the only thing they’re interested in is who’s winning or losing. Okay, two of the problems with the sportswriting business are that, and also that they know their paycheck comes from people reading about the local teams, so they’ll do anything in their power to protect that. Okay, three of the problems are those, plus that whenever sports officials talk, they’re used to listening, because these are the guys who grant them credentials and — you get the picture, and if you don’t, I wrote about it in detail almost 20 years ago, and not a hell of a lot has changed since then.

Today’s problem sportswriter is Tom Jones, sports columnist for the Tampa Bay Times, who heard MLB commissioner Rob Manfred say he wants the Tampa-St. Pete region to “move [a decision on a new Rays stadium to the front burner,” and thought, hey, yeah, what’s taking so long anyway?

Just spitballing, but here’s a thought: How about we stop talking about a new stadium and start building one…

You don’t need a law degree to know the Rays need a new stadium in a new location. We all know that. We’ve all known that pretty much since the Trop opened for business in the 1990s.

What we don’t know is where it should be and who’s going to pay for it. Meantime, as we talk and argue and worry and plan, we keep flipping over pages in the calendar. One month becomes the next. One year bleeds into another. And here we are, still talking, and it feels as if we are nowhere closer to digging in the dirt…

Most baseball fans in Tampa Bay don’t really care where a new stadium ends up, just as long as it’s not Montreal, Charlotte, Las Vegas or anywhere outside the 727 or 813 area codes.

But most of all, don’t you just want this thing to be over already? Don’t you just want someone, anyone, to pick a spot and start building? And let’s face reality, we can all shake our heads and complain and tell [Rays owner Stuart] Sternberg that if he wants a new stadium, he can pull out his wallet and pay for it, but that’s not how this kind of thing works.

At some point, someone’s tax money is going to be used to help build it, whether it’s ours or our visitors’.

This, this is why commissioners like Rob Manfred make these statements, over and over — in hopes that someone friendly in the media will pick them up and make his talking points for him. Jones’s column hits most of the strategies in the new-stadium playbook — the team “needs” a new stadium (without specifying whether that’s fan-comfort need or insufficient-profit need or what), the team could move without one, everybody spends tax money on stadiums so let’s just do it already and get it over with.

Years ago, I engaged in a spirited, mostly friendly online debate with a New York historian about the legacy of Robert Moses, the power broker who pretty much single-handedly reshaped New York City from the 1930s through the 1960s, building parks and highways and public housing, evicting hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, and solidifying the city’s racial and class divides in millions of tons of concrete. (Possibly his most defining moment was his decision to build highway bridges on his Long Island highways too low for buses to fit under them, so as to defend his new public beaches from the people he liked to refer to as “that scum floating up from Puerto Rico.”) My frenemy always insisted, yeah, yeah, but at least he got things done, even if all of it wasn’t that great. My response was: Getting things done isn’t always a plus, if things were better beforehand — or if it forestalls doing things a better way.

Would it be nice if the Rays had a new stadium by now? Sure! (Though I haven’t been to Tropicana Field myself, so can’t actually vouch for how much fans would prefer a new and/or differently located facility.) Is it likely that Sternberg would have built one by now if somebody had thrown a whole lot of public money at him? Indubitably! But every time a city gives in and coughs up public money — whether in the form of straight cash or tax breaks or whatever — that just reinforces the “everybody does it” argument, and precludes the possibility that the public might be able to wait out a team owner until he agrees to stay put and pay for any of his own costs his own self. Which does happen!

You’re reading this website, so I probably don’t need to tell you most of this, but it’s worth restating every one in a while. As is the reminder that even as we can talk about the structural power-dynamics reasons why cities drop billions of dollars a year on subsidies to new sports facilities for the benefit of private team owners, it’s in this kind of everyday battle of public discourse that the power dynamics take shape. Tom Jones is just a guy who’s putting down in electrons his own thoughts and feelings about a new Rays stadium and whether it matters how it’s paid for — as am I, though I do like to think I’ve done a smidge more research on the topic. If Tampa Bay is going to end up with a denouement for the Rays that reflects even in the slightest the needs and desires of actual residents of the region, they’re going to have to shout really loud, because guys like Jones and Manfred are the ones with the bullhorns.

Sternberg: I’ll pick stadium site as soon as cities decide how much money to offer me

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg says he’s all set to pick a new stadium site by the end of the year, as soon as he finds out what cities are willing to offer him to pick them:

The team is waiting for Hillsborough County officials “to completely weigh in” with a site and specifics of the project.

“When they do then we’ll be able to make a decision in a pretty quick time,” he said.

That makes it sound as if they already know what their Pinellas options are, but he said not quite.

“We have sites in mind, and it’s a question of what will get done around the site and how are they going to get paid for,” he said. “And once municipalities are able to line those things up, not completely buttoned up but at least to a good extent, then we’ll be able to make a decision.”

On the one hand, this is reasonable: You don’t want to pick a site if you don’t know, say, whether there will be enough highway access provided that fans can actually get to the game. On the other: Normal businesses of human scale that don’t have the entire back section of the paper dedicated to them usually figure out how to pay for stuff to “get done around the site” by going to their financial people and having them crunch the numbers, not by waiting for city officials to tell them what they’re willing to offer.

In short, this isn’t really much news — Sternberg didn’t even promise a site decision by the end of the year, just say it was his goal — but is a good reminder that the real issue here is less where Sternberg wants to put a new stadium, and more how he figures out a way to pay for it, which is almost certain to involve some kind of public subsidies. Stay tuned for any details of that, and pay no attention to anything else that might appear to be going on in the meantime.

Manfred tries to threaten to move Rays, A’s without new stadiums, trips over own tongue

Okay, I get it: Shilling for a new stadium for a team by dropping hints of a move threat is tricky business, and only made trickier when the team owner is trying to make nice with the local electeds in order to get a stadium deal done. Still, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred seemed to be getting better at threat-mongering after a dismal start, but this yesterday about the Tampa Bay Rays, oy:

“I continue to believe Tampa (Bay) is a viable major-league market, and I also believe it may be better than the alternatives than we have out there,” Manfred said. “I am hopeful we get to a resolution.”…

“There does come a point in time where we have to accept the reality that a market, for whatever set of reasons, can’t get to the point that they have a major-league quality facility, and I am not going to indefinitely leave a club in a market without a major-league quality facility.”…

“It really depends on progress, right? If there is a point in time where it starts to grind to a halt and nothing is happening. I don’t think we’re there. But at that point in time where everybody is panicking, you get this look of ‘Where we going next?’ That’s when you have to start thinking about what your alternatives are. It’s hard for me to be more definitive than that.”

I think we may need to just admit that Rob Manfred is not very good at this move threat thing (or maybe this speaking English thing). You’d think if Roger Goodell can manage this, anybody can, but clearly not — for which Rays and Oakland A’s fans should be grateful, I suppose, since they don’t have to wake up to “Manfred says [your team here] could move without new stadium” headlines today, largely because today’s 24/7 news cycle journalists don’t have time to parse statements like Manfreds to try to figure out what he’s threatening if anything.

Oh yeah, Manfred said the same sort of nothing about the A’s, too:

“Given the change in the control situation,” Manfred said, “I think it’s prudent and sufficient for Mr. Fisher to take a year and make a decision on what site he thinks is the best.

“That decision is a uniquely local decision. I really don’t believe that it’s my job to have a preference for those sites. They know their market better. They’ve kept me briefed. They’ve spent a heck of a lot more time analyzing the sites. They’re far more familiar with the political issues that might revolve around those sites and the environmental issues involved.”…

“I am not going to indefinitely leave a club in a market without a major-league-quality facility.”

You know, if he’d even just said this on the same day as his name-dropping of cities that could host MLB teams … sigh. Clearly I’m in the wrong line of work — should’ve gone into evil.

MLB commissioner mentions Charlotte’s name on the telly!

The last time prior to yesterday that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was asked about possible future expansion, in May of last year, he said that “I would love to see us expand” and “my personal, sort of, frontrunner would be Montreal or Mexico City.”

Yesterday,  at his All-Star Game press conference, and said:

I think we have some great candidates. I know the mayor of Montreal has been very vocal about bringing baseball back to Montreal. It was not great when the Expos left. The fact of the matter was baseball was successful in Montreal for a very long time. Charlotte is a possibility. And I would like to think that Mexico City or some place in Mexico would be another possibility.

Notice the one thing that’s not like the other?

This isn’t actually the first time that Manfred has mentioned Charlotte as an expansion possibility — he did so back in 2015 as well, along with Portland — but in baseball Kremlinology, it’s de rigueur to interpret the hell out of every word out of the guy’s mouth, so let’s give it a shot. Maybe Charlotte has jumped to the head of the list in the last 14 months for some reason? (Probably not, but maybe Jerry Reinsdorf got a nice salad at the airport there or something.) Maybe the owners of the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s — who again were mentioned by Manfred as needing their stadium situations “resolved” (read: somebody to build them new ones, ideally with public money) before expansion can take place — wanted a city to use as a potential move threat that was actually in the Unites States? Maybe he was waiting for the North Carolina anti-transgender bathroom bill to be repealed and the sports boycotts to end? Maybe some reporter from a Charlotte news outlet was in the crowd, and Manfred just wanted to see them get all excited when he mentioned their city’s name?

Anyway, if you really care to think about where MLB might expand to eventually, here’s a nice piece from SI’s Jay Jaffe from last year running down all the potential candidates and their pros and cons. If it has to wait out a Rays stadium denouement in particular, don’t hold your breath for anything in the next couple of years, but sometime in the 2020s MLB expansion should be ready to go — assuming the Miami Marlins don’t need to relocate by then because they’re underwater.

Rays owner still distracting press from stadium subsidy demands by wavering on stadium site

The minute that the city of St. Petersburg approved letting the Tampa Bay Rays buy their way out of their lease and seek other stadium sites in the local area, I was worried that Rays owner Stuart Sternberg was going to turn this into a “Where will the Rays’ new stadium go?” debate before anyone considered who was actually going to pay for one. In entirely unrelated news, here’s a humongous article in the Tampa Bay Times all about how Sternberg plans to rank prospective stadium sites now that he’s discovered you can’t just point at them and say “I’ll take that one”:

“We had some ideas on locations that just weren’t available, that I thought would have worked perfectly, but they’re off the table,” Sternberg said before the Rays’ game at their spring training site in Port Charlotte. “So we’re sort of moving down our list to Nos. 2, 3 and 4.”

He likened the Rays’ stadium search to a team setting up its pitching rotation.

“It’s like starting pitchers, you have five of them and sometimes No. 4 is better than No. 2, but rarely better than No. 1,” Sternberg said. “The No. 1 is the No. 1. I hate to be mixing these sort of metaphors, but it sort of works in this case.”

First off: That’s not a mixed metaphor, as it’s perfectly consistent; it’s just a stupid metaphor, as pitching rotations are set up to have five choices because you need five days’ worth of pitchers, whereas you only need one stadium site. Also, you’re required to have some kind of pitcher on the mound every game, whereas if none of the stadium sites work out, Sternberg can simply remain with the status quo at Tropicana Field.

But anyway, what’s still on the table as far as Sternberg is concerned, from the nine sites floated last summer? Not the Heights site in Tampa (the landowners don’t want a stadium there), or the site of Jefferson High School (local elected officials don’t like it), or the sites of Albert Whitted Airport or Al Lang Stadium in St. Pete. Evicting 372 low-income families from the Tampa Park Apartments is still a potential option, and there’s still a few other places in and around Tampa-St. Pete that won’t be underwater for a while, so expect Sternberg to keep looking.

But now I’m falling into the trap: The bigger question isn’t where to put a stadium, but how to pay for one. Sternberg still hasn’t provided much in the way of details beyond the need for “a public-private partnership that would support the construction of the Rays next generation ballpark“; if he’s smart, he’ll keep it that way until he finally settles on a site, in the hopes that everyone will be so relieved about getting to stop debating locations that they’ll be happy to sign a blank check for construction. It’s not a sure strategy, but it’s certainly worked in the past, and it sure appears to be the endgame he’s preparing for — with the aid of the Tampa Bay Times, which assigned five people to work on this story and didn’t bother to quote a single person who wasn’t either a Rays official or a local politician in favor of building a new stadium. Oh, journalism.

St. Pete mayor says “no bidding war” for Rays, as counties launch big ol’ bidding war

The minute that St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman handed the Tampa Bay Rays the right to buy out their lease clause in St. Peterburg and seek a new stadium elsewhere in the local area, it was clear that team owner Stuart Sternberg would be seeking to set up a bidding war between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties over who’d get to throw public money at the team. And how’s that going? Really well, reports Shadow of the Stadium, if you’re Sternberg, with Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan most recently setting up meetings with his county’s bankers to discuss stadium financing, in addition to helping the team narrow down a site.

Kriseman, for his part, seems shocked, shocked that a local sports baron would try to play off two governmental bodies against each other just because you told him he could:

“When we start getting into detailed conversations about financing,” Kriseman said, “what we set ourselves up for is a bidding war, and then the taxpayers are the losers when that happens.”

Yep, that’s the way it works! Kriseman seems to want Sternberg to settle on a site first, then talk about funding plans once all his leverage is gone, which is not how savvy negotiators operate. One way of getting around this would be for the two counties to team up and tell the Rays owner, “We’re not going to bid against each other, pick a site and then we’ll talk” — or even “Hey, go try to hit up the other county for money if you want, all the better if we get to watch games and somebody else gets stuck with the cost.” But that’s not how unsavvy negotiators operate.

Manfred drops R-word regarding Rays, sports world fails to freak out

I’ve picked on MLB commissioner Rob Manfred before for being really bad at levying relocation threats in order to shake loose stadium subsidies, one of the two main jobs of a sports commissioner. (The other, of course, is levying lockout threats in order to shake loose union concessions.) But maybe, just maybe, Manfred is starting to get the hang of it. When asked about the Tampa Bay Rays‘ stadium situation:

Manfred, during a Q-and-A session at the George Washington University School of Business, did not set any deadlines or issue any ultimatums, but said that at some point if there is no progress the potential of relocation would have to be raised…

“Ultimately, there has to be an end game. If in fact, there’s not a site or there’s not a financial arrangement that’s viable and we become convinced of that, our rules allow for the possibility of relocation.
“At that point of desperation, it’s possible a team would be allowed to relocate.”

That’s a little passive-voice, but not too bad otherwise! The real test, though, is whether it led to a flurry of frantic headlines about how Manfred is threatening to move the Rays if they don’t get a new stadium, stat:

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-8-44-10-amWell, then. Maybe he should try speaking more from the diaphragm? I hear that helps.

Rays owner conducted study of moving to Montreal, says a guy

So on Sunday, this happened:

Sérieux!

For those of you who ne parlent pas français:

Serious! Stewart Sternberg, owner of the Tampa Bay Rays RECENTLY funded a study of viability of a stadium in Griffintown. Sternberg is the main shareholder (48%) of the Rays he wishes to move and not sell and Mtl, is top of the list. Griffintown would be the ideal site. It’s two small steps from downtown.

According to Patrice Derome (hi, Patrice!), Trudel — whose Twitter bio describes him as a “journaliste et commentateur sportif sans attache,” which is exactly what it sounds like — subsequently went on the radio and said that the study was conducted a few months back. What the study consisted of, and what it found, I couldn’t tell you.

I’d be tempted to say this is just Sternberg trying to throw a scare into Tampa Bay area cities, except that if so, you’d think he’d have leaked it to a journalist avec attache, at least. Though since, as Noah Pransky notes at Shadow of the Stadium, this would potentially be a violation of the Rays lease clause that only allows Sternberg to look at alternate stadium sites within the bay area, maybe he had to go super-stealth mode on this? Or maybe he’s really considering moving the team to Montreal, or doing due diligence to see how expensive a Tampa Bay stadium would have to be before it would be worth his while to move, or just wanted an excuse to try some of those funny bagels. We’re deep, deep into speculation here, so please no freaking out and/or getting to excited just yet, especially since the Rays can’t leave Tampa Bay until 2027 regardless, at which point the onrushing death of cable will likely have made the sports business market unrecognizable anyway.

The Rays, for their part, promptly said nothing at all: