MLB commissioner admits Rays “have some work to do” to pay for new stadium

Have I mentioned lately how much I love MLB commissioner Rob Manfred? While he, like his predecessors, understands that the reason he’s being paid the big bucks is to serve as the lackey to MLB owners’ desires for more filthy lucre, he somehow lacks either the rhetorical savvy or the cutthroat mentality to pull off any kinds of threats, so he ends up mumbling ineffectually about “viable alternativesagain and again while everyone else stands around wondering, Is he threatening something? What happens if we don’t meet his demands? Is that a B?

All of which leads us up to yesterday’s latest Manfredism, regarding the Tampa Bay Rays‘ stadium push:

“I think we have some work to do in terms of getting a financing plan together that will get that stadium built. But I remain confident if anybody can get it done in Tampa Bay, it’s Stu [Sternberg]. Nobody is working harder at it.”

“Some work to do” — gee, ya think? Just because there’s at minimum a $300 million funding gap, and right now the plans to fill it mostly involve leaning on local business leaders to throw more money in the Rays’ tip jar?

The Tampa Bay Times goes on to report that Sternberg has until the end of the year to inform St. Petersburg whether he will be opting out of his Tropicana Field lease early. That’s not entirely true — he can always try to negotiate an extension to his opt-out period, though it might take paying St. Pete some more money in exchange — but clearly it would be optimal for the Rays to have a new stadium deal in place by then.

That is almost certainly not going to happen, though, which is why we have Manfred expressing generic “confidence” without actually saying anything at all, as he does best. It looks like it’s going to come down to Sternberg (or, more likely, his friends at the Tampa Bay Times) to start making some threats as the end of the year approaches, though who he’d even threaten isn’t clear right now, since Hillsborough County is tapped out for available tax money and local business leaders are unlikely to come up with $300 million even if he does threaten to move the team to Montreal.

Honestly, staying put at the Trop and developing the land around it is looking better and better as a pure business move, though Sternberg would have to eat some serious crow to do so. Maybe he can get Manfred to do it for him; that seems like a task the commissioner could probably handle.

Friday roundup: Chargers L.A. move still a disaster, Raiders still lack 2019 home, Rays still short of stadium cash

I’ve been busy getting my post-Village Voice life rolling this week — here’s my first article for Gothamist, on how to fight Amazon’s monopoly power, and I’ve also started a Twitter account for following ex-Voice news writers as we keep up our work for other outlets — but Friday mornings are sacred, for they are stadium and arena news roundup time:

Rays owner buys Rowdies, stirs speculation a dodge to get a new baseball stadium site (probably not, but maybe a dodge to spur speculation)

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is buying the Tampa Bay Rowdies USL club for … okay, nobody’s saying how much he’s spending on the team. But never mind that, because the Rowdies also have management rights to 7,500-seat Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, so cue the conspiracy theories that this is really all about finding a site for a new Rays stadium:

The Rays tried a decade ago to get a new baseball stadium built there and never fully let go of the idea — which is why there was immediate speculation there was more to the Rays-Rowdies deal than just control of a soccer team.

Most pointedly, were the Rays seeking an alternative St. Petersburg stadium site to their proposed new home in Ybor City, where talks have been ongoing to bridge the funding gap in completing that $892 million deal to build a Tampa ballpark?

Rays execs immediately pooh-poohed the idea, saying they just wanted to get into the soccer business. And there’s reason to believe them, as the reason why the Rays gave up on the Al Lang Stadium site in the first place is because it’s probably too small for even a smallish MLB stadium, so it’s not really a very good option — not to mention that the Rowdies don’t actually own the stadium, just management rights to it.

Ah, but if you’re looking less for a viable stadium site option than for a sorta-viable stadium site threat, now we’re talking. Rays execs have been talking up Hillsborough County, which is the Tampa side of the bay, as more accessible to fans; but Pinellas County, which is the St. Pete side, has more tax money available to help fund a stadium, partly because Hillsborough has already spent its hotel taxes on buildings for the Buccaneers and Lightning. So even if Pinellas officials may not be eager to spend this tax money on the Rays, it’s at least an option that Sternberg and company will likely want to keep open.

All of which is to say: Sternberg probably bought the Rowdies just to buy the Rowdies, but if it helps keep alive some semblance of a bidding war between the two counties, he’ll surely be happy enough to take that as a bonus. He hasn’t done a great job of shaking loose public subsidies for his team so far — he managed to get out of his lease clause that prevented him from looking for new stadium sites in Hillsborough, but that’s only given him a site with a giant funding hole that shows no signs of going away — but where there’s competition, there’s hope. And Rays fans had better hope it comes soon, because the team is … er, actually, coming off a surprisingly resurgent season with a host of exciting young players and turning a tidy profit to boot, so what was the big deal about the stadium again?

Tampa’s tax surcharge plan for the Rays doesn’t seem entirely thought out

Check it out, there’s an actual plan afoot to help pay for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium in Tampa!

“[We will be] working with the landowners to create a CDD type of environment for an entertainment district. Every hot dog, beer purchased in that district will go toward the stadium so it’s not taxpayer money, it’s a fee-based structure,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, the county’s chief negotiator with the Rays.

A CDD, for those unfamiliar with this particular facet of Florida law, is a Community Development District, which effectively places a tax surcharge on a certain area in order to pay for new amenities. (CDDs for a Rays stadium were previously floated as a possibility back in the spring.) If done correctly, it shouldn’t cost taxpayers extra, since this is genuinely money the local government wouldn’t be collecting without the new tax — it should just come out of any windfall profits that property owners would otherwise make as a result of the new project.

There are, however, a couple of problems here. One is that it’s not entirely clear whether a new stadium is the kind of amenity that actually makes nearby land more valuable — and if it doesn’t, you could end up seeing property values plunging as nobody wants to buy land that comes with a whopping surcharge, or even see the CDD go into default, as has happened from time to time. So if this does end up part of a Rays stadium funding plan, it’s going to be hugely important who’s on the hook for those payments if the CDD money falls short.

Then there’s that puzzling statement by Hagan that “every hot dog, beer purchased in that district will go toward the stadium.” He also said “we are not going to raise sales taxes,” so presumably there won’t be an actual surcharge on sales of stadium-district beer, just on property taxes for stadium-district beer gardens. Which is a pretty indirect and hand-wavy way of ensuring that the stadium will in some way pay for itself, probably because without the hand waving, it’d be immediately clear that there aren’t enough windfall hot dog profits to build a near-billion-dollar stadium.

In short: There’s a still a mammoth hole in any Rays stadium budget, one that local business owners pledging to buy season tickets is not going to fill. The haggling over a site for a potential Rays stadium may have seemed like the hard part, but now that actual money has to be put on the table, this is when the game really begins.

 

Friday roundup: Leaky fountains, cheap stadium beer, and the magic of computers

The world may be on vacation this week, but the stadium news decidedly is not:

Friday roundup: Delayed votes, poorly considered tributes, and a no-LeBron loan offer

Greetings from my undisclosed location! I have time for an abbreviated news roundup this week:

Friday roundup: D.C.’s ballpark boom, Rays’ stadium “ingenuity,” and other logical fallacies

You know how the New York Times now offers The Week in Good News, to remind you that not absolutely everything is awful? This is not that, not at all, though it does include a nice oblique shoutout to this site:

  • I think at this point just about every reader out there has emailed or tweeted me about this Washington Post article on development around the new Nationals stadium, variously headed “Ballpark Boomtown” or “The promise: Nationals Park would transform the city. Did it?” or “Nationals Park brings growth, worries to Southeast Washington.” The hook is that construction is booming around the new stadium — one former local opponent is even quoted as saying “Nats Park has been a tremendous boon to the region and the city and even to our neighborhood” — so doesn’t this disprove the idea that sports venues don’t create economic growth? The short answer: It’s hard to say from the anecdotal stories in this article, as it could be that the stadium sparked development that otherwise wouldn’t have happened, or it could be that it redirected development that otherwise would have taken place elsewhere in crane-happy D.C. (a point made in the article by economist Dennis Coates, who says, “This is not income growth; it’s redistribution”), or it could be that the Navy Yard would have gotten developed with or without the stadium. I’ve been poring over the big lists of logical fallacies and cognitive biases and haven’t yet found one that exactly describes the tendency to only look at what did happen thanks to a decision and not what would have happened without it; if this doesn’t have a name yet, the Stadium Catalyst Fallacy has a nice ring to it.
  • The city of Louisville and the state of Kentucky are projected to end up spending more than $1 billion in up-front costs and interest payments on the University of Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center, and while that’s not the best way to determine public costs — really you want to translate future payments into present value, and include not just arena debt service but operating costs and what have you as well, a calculation that this Louisville Courier-Journal article doesn’t attempt — holy crap, one billion dollars is still an acceptable response. (Sports marketer Jim Host, who helped devise the arena plan, has his own response — “If you allowed yourself to be deterred by the negative aspects, nothing would ever get done” — which probably belongs somewhere on that logical fallacy list as well.)
  • Andrew Barroway, who bought half of the Arizona Coyotes in 2015 for $152.5 million and the other half in 2017 for $120 million, and who has complained that his team “cannot survive” without a new arena because of annual losses that are “not sustainable,” now wants to sell half the team for $250 million. Just think on that one for a while.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred thinks Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg will get a new stadium built, despite not having any idea how to pay for one, thanks to his “creative ability and persuasive ability in terms of getting something done,” while Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper says “with ingenuity, solutions can be found” — like how about building school offices into a stadium and selling off school administrative buildings, huh, didja think of that one, smartypants? “There always will be naysayers who dismiss every idea and every project with cynicism,” writes Hooper — hey, it’s the Jim Host Fallacy!
  • Another Tampa Bay Times columnist, Daniel Ruth, had a far more acerbic take on the Rays’ stadium plans, boggling at the $892 million price tag for what would be MLB’s smallest stadium at a time when “public transportation is barely above the level of rickshaws.” Then he closed with the suggestion that Tampa could build “a museum dedicated to the history of architectural renderings of all the stuff that’s never happened,” called “the Field of Schemes Institute of Higher Chutzpah.” Which is a lovely thought and much appreciated, but shouldn’t it really be the Field of Schemes Center for the Study of Vaportecture?
  • Finally, huge thanks to everyone who kicked in toward the summer FoS Supporter drive — your generosity toward a site that delivers a daily dose of reminders of the world’s injustice remains a wonder to me. In appreciation, here is a video of my own cat leaping headlong into a seltzer box. Don’t ever say I don’t provide any good news here:

Rays owner proposes new $892m domed stadium, says he “hasn’t looked at” who’d pay for it

After what seems like a lifetime of false starts and saber-rattling and playing footsie with every locality in the Tampa Bay region, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg finally unveiled actual plans for a new stadium in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa yesterday, complete with renderings. And oh, what renderingsYep, Sternberg is proposing to build a giant glass trilobite, with the best seats right behind the plate removed to make way for some kind of triumphal entryway, and Tropicana Field’s much-hated fixed roof replaced by a different fixed roof, only this time translucent, because we know how well that worked at the Astrodome. (For those who don’t want to click through: Outfielders couldn’t see flyballs, the dome’s skylights were all painted over, the grass all died, and Monsanto had to invent Astroturf.) Also some gratuitous lens flare even though the shadows indicate the sun should be way off to the left, because nothing says “ooh, shiny” like lens flare. It may not be a Brancusi sculpture, but it’s certainly something.

And from there, the stadium details just get more … audacious? unexpected? wackadoodle? … let’s go with one of those:

  • The stadium would be by far the smallest in MLB, holding only 28,216 seats, while another 2,600 people could stand or sit in folding chairs or something. That sort of makes sense when you consider Rays attendance, which hasn’t topped 23,148 per game since their inaugural season, though less so when you consider that the whole point of this new-stadium exercise is to attract more fans in a better location.
  • In place of a retractable roof — or no roof at all — the stadium would expose fans to the elements with a retractable wall, which I guess would remind them that the outside world still exists by letting the occasional breeze in, without actually making them vulnerable to rain or sun or the sky or any nuisances like that. It’s still likely to sound like you’re inside an airport hangar, which in my experience is the worst part of domes, but maybe that next-generation translucent roof material will be permeable to sound, too, who knows?
  • A smaller capacity and a non-retracting roof could both be ways to keep costs down, but if so, they weren’t kept down very far: The price tag on this arthropod of dreams is an estimated $892 million.

And, all renderings that will invariably change later aside, here’s the part we’ve really all been waiting for: How does Sternberg expect to pay for this thing? Let’s listen in:

I mean … I mean … I mean … seriously? Rays execs had, depending on how you count, somewhere between five months and ten years to come up with some ideas, any ideas at all for how to pay for a stadium, Sternberg and friends came up with, well, this:

Reactions from the rest of the world were similarly nonplussed, as a trip down Noah Pransky’s Twitter feed shows:

https://twitter.com/noahpransky/status/1017015178079166466

Okay, so the Tampa Bay Times was enthralled, at least.

If you want tough questions from the Tampa press corps, here’s Pransky himself asking Sternberg himself about how on earth he actually plans to build this thing that he’s been dreaming and talking about for years upon years:

Pransky: 892 million. Can you afford it?

Sternberg: Well, potentially.

Pransky: What do you need from the public sector?

Sternberg: I haven’t even looked at it at this point really.

Pransky: You guys haven’t looked at it all?!?

Sternberg: Not to the point that’s necessary. We’ve been focused on what you saw today, which is in itself a huge, huge undertaking.

So we are supposed to believe that the owner of a pro sports team, who for years has been demanding a new stadium as a way of improving his bottom line, went into designing and pricing out a new stadium with no thoughts at all of how it would be paid for or whether it would make money. Or the other possibility is that he thought, Hey, asking for hundreds of millions of dollars is a bad look — let’s just give the public lots of pretty pictures and hope they’ll be distracted enough not to worry about where the money will come from. I bet it’ll work on those stenographers at the Tampa Bay Times, anyway!

This, needless to say, is only the beginning of what is sure to be a long, painful battle. I’ll be on The Beat of Sports with Marc Daniels at 10 am ET today to talk about the Rays’ announcement, and more if we have time — tune in here. I’ll try to have more to say than just leaving my jaw hanging open in flabbergastment for the entire segment.

Friday roundup: Bucks say arena can fight racism, Rays in line for federal tax breaks, Falcons to get glowing bridge

Slow news week thanks to the holiday, but there were still a few items of note:

  • Milwaukee Bucks president Peter Feigin thinks his new publicly funded arena will help fight segregation because it’ll have a public plaza. The Chicago Tribune notes that the Bucks owners once released a strongly worded statement of support for one of their players after he was tased by Milwaukee police, so … nope, I don’t get the connection either, unless this reporter was assigned to cover Feigin and couldn’t find much else to say about his bizarro statement, so just googled “Milwaukee and race and basketball” and dumped the results into a Word file.
  • The Sacramento Kings owners are going to use computers at their arena to mine cryptocurrency for charity, which mostly serves as an excuse for the team to issue a press release mentioning themselves in the same sentence as blockchain, because we know that’s a thing. Too bad the earth is going to burn as a result, but everything’s a tradeoff, right?
  • Ybor City, where the Tampa Bay Rays want to build their new stadium (price and funding still TBD), has been tabbed as a federal “economic opportunity zone,” meaning developers can use it as a short-term tax shelter for profits that are reinvested into the area. The program is way too complicated for me to calculate at the moment just how much U.S. taxpayers would end up paying toward a Rays stadium, but suffice to say it’s one more piece of the funding puzzle that team owner Stuart Sternberg doesn’t have to worry about himself.
  • Speaking of the Rays, they’ve announced they’ll release new renderings of their stadium plans next Tuesday, which I guess makes this announcement itself vaporvaportecture?
  • The Atlanta Falcons pedestrian bridge that will now cost Atlanta residents $23 million is going to glow! And who can put a price on that, really?
  • Since it was a slow stadium news week, here’s a bonus article on how Nevada giving $1.4 billion to Tesla to open a battery factory there is looking to be a disaster, with the state ending up losing its entire budget surplus while new workers attracted to the area have driven up rents and increased local government’s police, fire, and schools costs, leaving residents with a higher cost of living and fewer services. One unemployed local who was forced to move into a motel room listed for the Guardian things she now considered unaffordable luxuries: “Ice cream. Bacon. A movie ticket.” It’s a fun weekend beach read!

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: