Poll shows D.C. residents opposed to soccer stadium 59-35%, mayor gripes that it’s just badly worded

The Washington Post may be getting beaten up for letting Ezra Klein go to the Seattle Mariners Vox Media, but at least they should know how to conduct a poll, right? So when the Post reported Sunday that six out of ten D.C. residents oppose Mayor Vincent Gray’s D.C. United stadium deal, including opposition across “virtually every demographic and political group,” that should be big news.

And it is, but both Gray and United supporters immediately called foul, noting that the poll asked if people “favor or oppose using city funds to help finance a new soccer stadium,” and complaining that this isn’t a fair cop:

“The poll question is, do you support public financing for a stadium in general?” says spokesman Pedro Ribeiro. “Not even the mayor supports that, because what the mayor has proposed is not public financing for a stadium.”

Um, yes, that is what he’s proposed, to the tune of about $200 million in city-funded land costs and tax breaks. It’s not financing of the whole project, no, but the question does say “help fund,” which is a reasonable shorthand for what Gray is proposing, even if obviously it would have been nice if the Post had spelled out the details of the funding plan in their poll. (Hopefully without putting any of the respondents to sleep.)

In any event, the Post poll shows D.C residents opposing the project by 59-35%, which is probably a way bigger margin than you’re going to erase by a mere tweak in wording. And it’s certainly not going to change the minds of respondents like this woman:

Rosalind Jackson-Lewis, a 57-year-old Riggs Park resident, said she is “absolutely, positively against it.”

“There are more pressing problems in the city, and soccer is not going to add value to the city,” said Jackson-Lewis, a retired accountant. “Any extra money the city gets should go into education. . . . We need a better education system.”

Beckham’s Miami MLS stadium doesn’t even have a site, actually

Reader challenge! Pretend you are a TV news reporter writing for this whole new Interweb thing. Finish this sentence:

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Miami-Dade County will begin talks this week with a group led by David Beckham to hammer out details of a pro-soccer stadium.

The big question is

Your options are:

  1. …why they need it?
  2. …who will pay for it?
  3. …where to put it?

Okay, that was an easy one: It’s #3, because who cares about money when you can look at Google Maps and throw darts? (Note to readers: Don’t actually do that. You could damage your screen.) Not that CBS Miami’s Gary Nelson actually mentions any specific sites, mind you, not even the site that prospective team owner David Beckham was reportedly eyeing back in November, but he does cite county commissioner Xavier Suarez as being able to “envision a stadium at the port and a network of pedestrian walkways and overpasses tying it and all of downtown’s parks and art and sports venues together,” which if you close your eyes, yes, yes, I can see it too!

County commissioner Bruno Barriero also promises: “The stadium is definitely going to be built out of the private sector’s wallet. We are not, under any circumstances, going to fund the construction of the stadium.” That’s pretty unlikely given recent MLS stadium projects, all of which have at least included free land and/or tax breaks, but it’s a nice promise, anyway. Now to see whether the commission can be held to it — and by “now” I mean of course “not until several months from now when the stadium is a fait accompli and people can actually discuss how to pay for it.”

Orlando City SC latest team to evict church via eminent domain for stadium

Orlando City Soccer Club may have gotten its $20 million in public stadium money, but it hasn’t acquired the land it needs yet. So, naturally, it wants to evict a church to make way for its stadium, because that’s how things are done these days. And also naturally, now that the city can’t settle on a price for the church land (the city offered $1.5 million, Faith Deliverance Temple countered with $35 million), it plans to use its eminent domain powers to acquire it:

Jonathan Williams, son of the church’s founder, said city officials jumped the gun by ending negotiations and saying they had to settle it in court.

“If they want it, they’ll pay more for it than it’s actually worth. We used that [$35 million price] as a basis to start conversations,” Williams said. “I was shocked — I thought we were still in negotiations. There was a high ball and a low ball, so let’s work it out. They initiated the disconnect.”

Silly church founder’s son: There is no “high ball” and “low ball.” There is only  hardball.

Minor-league soccer team that hasn’t started play yet already wants a state-funded stadium upgrade

It’s official: Every single minor-league soccer team in North America now has a plan for joining MLS by getting a new stadium built. The latest candidate: The Indy Eleven, a team in the third-tier minor-league NASL that hasn’t even played its first game yet, but whose owner Ersal Ozdemir said Friday that it could totally join MLS if only it had an $87 million, 18,500-seat stadium.

And who’s going to pay for it?

Ersal Ozdemir said Friday night that he understands why Indianapolis taxpayers wouldn’t want to pay for yet another sports venue.

“I totally get that. People are just tired of that,” said Ozdemir, a local real estate developer. “Because of that, really, we were being very thoughtful of that.”

Right. And who’s going to pay for it?

Lobbyists are trying to find a lawmaker willing to shepherd a bill that would allow the team to capture ticket-tax revenue, plus sales taxes and state and local income taxes, to help it finance the project.

So by “very thoughtful,” Ozdemir meant “we’re still going to use tax dollars, but we’ll be thoughtful about actually coming clean to the public about this.” (He told the Indianapolis Star that, in their words, “debt for stadium construction could be paid off by accruing taxes from the downtown Professional Sports Development Area,” aka a TIF, aka developers’ favorite confusing hidden tax subsidy.) Though at least that’s more thought than he put into coming up with the team name.

Toronto FC proposes $120m expansion, “majority” to be funded by team

Toronto F.C., the MLS team owned by the Maple Leafs, is planning a major expansion of the city-owned BMO Field in time for next year’s Pan Am Games, with “the majority of the burden” promised to fall on the private sector, according to team CEO TIm Leiweke — hey, that’s where Tim Leiweke ended up!

As for specifics on who would pay for what how, Leiweke couldn’t have been more hand-wavy:

The total, he said, could amount to “twice” the price tag for the original [$63 million] project. He said Toronto taxpayers would probably make some initial payment. But he said MLSE would later return money to the public purse.

“I think if there is any contribution, it’ll be one where they get paid back over a period of time and get a healthy rate of return. So the significant majority portion of this is going to end up being us, and we get that,” he said.

“One of the things the city’s asked for is that we backstop a minimum revenue stream annually that would get their money back, plus some, over the period of the lease. So the city wants certainty. We’re working through that.”

The city fronting the money and getting paid with interest over time is certainly a legitimate investment model, though you really have to wonder why Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (which also owns the Raptors) couldn’t just borrow from a bank, given that they’re a $2 billion company. The trick here is assuring that the money being repaid is real revenue from the team, and not, say, increased tax revenue that would be going to the city regardless of how the expansion was financed.

This is Canada, not the U.S., so those kinds of shenanigans are trickier to get away with, though as we’ve seen elsewhere, not impossible. Hopefully Toronto’s elected leaders will be on the ball enough to keep on top of the situation and assess the costs with a calm, clear — oh, right.

Bronx residents at NYCFC stadium meeting: We like soccer, but what’s in this for us?

I arrived at last night’s scheduled town hall meeting on the proposed Bronx NYC F.C. soccer stadium 15 minutes before the appointed 7:30 pm start time, and was greeted by a man informing a crowd of residents, elected officials’ representatives, and press that the doors were closed. “We’re at capacity,” he explained. “A hundred construction workers got on line at 5:30.”

Eventually, enough room was found in the basement community room/cafeteria to squeeze in about 300 people, for what turned out to be an open-mic session presided over by 161st Street Business Improvement District director Cary Goodman. Speakers were roughly split down the middle between pro and con — WINS reporter Holli Haerr said opinion was slightly in favor, while I thought it was slightly opposed, especially if you discounted people from outside the Bronx who’d been invited by NYC F.C. and theYankees — with passions running high, though the only time they actually boiled over was when one local delivered a confused rant about how “capitalism is bullshit” and ended up dragged off by off-duty police officers.

Some highlights of the testimony:

  • Several elected officials or their representatives showed up (including one person from council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s office, but no one from the mayor’s office unless I missed it), but most chose only to listen. One exception was Javier Lopez, district director for U.S. Rep. José Serrano, who declared: “The Congressman will not support a stadium deal that includes any public subsidies whatsoever. That includes tax loopholes, that includes PILOTs, that includes anything where the city of New York loses tax dollars to build a stadium. In addition, the Congressman will not support a stadium proposal that is not going to be fully transparent from beginning to end, and not have a community participatory process.”
  • Representatives of several youth sports teams and other groups that get funding from the Yankees testified what a great partner the team has been, with one talking about how they’ve helped fund local school programs even as the city has cut budgets, and how important soccer is to local kids. There was a bit of a quid-pro-quo vibe to much of this, though, especially when Chad Roberson, vice-president of the New York Urban League Young Professionals soccer league, said, “The New York Yankees organization has been an esteemed partner with the New York Urban League for many decades now. They have given over $20 million to fund our causes,” then added: “All that we ask is that everyone in this room continue to be honest as well as extremely thoughtful with regard to this particular benefit.”
  • A couple of speakers countered that a pro soccer stadium wouldn’t actually do much to benefit soccer-loving locals. In response to several speakers who argued that the stadium should be approved “for the children,” Reynaldo Punzalan, who lives down the street from the proposed soccer site, said, “What makes you think that your kids are going to be allowed to practice in the stadium?” And a board member of the Uptown Soccer Academy across the Harlem River in upper Manhattan (possibly this guy, though his name was hard to hear) declared that while he’s a “huge soccer fan,” “the stadium is a terrible idea for soccer fans and all New Yorkers. … Do you know how many soccer fields you could build instead of a 30,000-seat soccer stadium? [My kids] don’t need a soccer stadium; they need soccer fields to play on.”
  • Several speakers pointed to the recently announced Kingsbridge Armory ice center project as a better model for development. “The most important question, I think, is is this the best possible use of a piece of city-owned property?” said local resident Killian Jordan, noting that the Yankees stadium project provided a community benefits agreement with dubious benefits: “The only attraction that I can see is the appeal of community benefits, and I don’t think that will have a happy ending. Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice…”
  • Greg Bell, a local community activist who was initially opposed to the Yankees deal but later came to support it, offered less ambitious preconditions for supporting a stadium, saying the community should “use the stadium as a wedge to say, look, you have missed some things that we deserve to have,” naming in particular the long-delayed 153rd Street bridge across a railyard to replace one demolished in the 1980s, plus a “world-class restaurant” so “a man can take his lady out to dinner.”

In all, it was certainly enough opposition for the elected officials who’ll be deciding on this project (which decidedly does not include Rep. Serrano) to say it shouldn’t go ahead as announced if they want, or enough support for cutting a deal for them to push forward in that direction if that’s what they prefer. A third option, which seemed to have a decent amount of support in the room, would be to pursue other possible uses of the land (currently occupied mostly by a 1970s-era Yankees parking garage), and see what looks like the best deal for the city and the neighborhood.

One advantage here over the rushed-through Yankees stadium project is that here there’s time to do that kind of research: The only actual plan that’s been developed is a draft document that supposedly is circulating in the city’s Economic Development Corporation, but which I’ve yet to find anyone who’s actually seen. Even NYC F.C. CEO Ferran Soriano has indicated that things aren’t close to fruition in the Bronx, saying last Friday that a deal is “not close” and if we could play in the Bronx, it will be perfect. But we have other ideas and other opportunities.” That could be partly a scare tactic to try to frighten Bronx officials into grabbing whatever deal they can; but if last night is any indication, many residents are concerned that any redevelopment of the garage site to be done right, not that it be done for pro soccer by any means necessary.

 

Crunching the Bronx soccer numbers: Total city subsidy now at $206.5m

I finally tracked down some figures for the value of the 99-year property tax break that New York City F.C. is looking to get as part of its Bronx soccer stadium deal, and the good news is that it’s not quite as spendy as I’d initially estimated. According to calculations by Ana Champeny of the New York City Independent Budget Office, the lots currently occupied by the triangle garage building and the GAL Manufacturing elevator parts company building have a market value of about $32 million, and an assessed value of about $14 million. This would make their annual property tax liability about $1.4 million currently, which, if you assume it will grow about 3% a year and apply a discount rate of 5%, comes to a present value of about $60 million for the 99 years of lost tax revenue.

(Note that most of the property in question — the garage — doesn’t actually pay property taxes, as it’s owned by the city. But there would be no reason not to charge property taxes if it were used for a private soccer stadium. Actually, there’s no reason for it not to pay property taxes now, but that’s a separate issue.)

Under the deal being proposed by the team (worked out with the administration of now-no-longer-mayor Michael Bloomberg), the project would also get $21.5 million in other tax breaks, plus 38 years of free rent — since we know how much the team would have to pay just to buy the property outright, we can probably assume the present value of fair market rent would be worth slightly less than that, say $25 million. That puts the total value of the tax and rent breaks for NYC F.C. at $106.5 million. If you add in the $100 million in garage rent IOUs that the city would be tearing up, we get a total subsidy of $206.5 million.

Even if a large chunk of that is admittedly money the city would likely never see regardless, that’s still a pretty hefty housewarming gift to be handing over to a project that’s only expected to cost $350 million to build. It’ll be interesting to see if this gets raised at Wednesday’s town hall, or if the focus remains solely on what’s in it for the Bronx.

Sports subsidy critic wins top spot on NYC council

Melissa Mark-Viverito was elected speaker of the New York city council yesterday — over the objections of the New York Post and the carriage horse industry — which means she will now have even more sway over projects like the proposed NYC F.C. soccer stadium deal that she was already going to have plenty of sway over thanks to it being in her district. As I said the other day, this doesn’t put an end to that project by any means, but it does make it more likely that NYC F.C. and the Yankees will face some tough bargaining on the other side of the table.

And speaking of what that bargaining is likely to look like, Cary Goodman of the 161st Street Business Improvement District will be hosting a town hall meeting next Wednesday, January 15, at 7:30 pm at 900 Grand Concourse (corner of 161st Street) to discuss what neighborhood residents and business owners think of the plan, and what they’d like to get out of it. I’m planning on going, so I’ll report back here afterwards on how it goes.

New council speaker could be formidable foe for Bronx soccer stadium

The proposed NYC F.C. soccer stadium adjacent to new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx already was facing “real concerns” from new mayor Bill de Blasio, demands for community benefits from local residents, and a rising subsidy price tag, but it just hit what could be an even more formidable obstacle: Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, the current frontrunner to be city council speaker, just saw her district lines redrawn to include the proposed stadium site, and is not happy with the current form of the deal, according to Capital New York’s Dana Rubinstein:

[Mark-Viverito] believes the incentives reportedly negotiated as part of a possible deal between the Bloomberg administration and the New York City Football Club are too generous, according to two sources familiar with her thinking.

It’s worth noting that in addition to being co-chair of the council’s Progressive Caucus, Mark-Viverito also has a record of skepticism about stadium subsidies: During the council’s rubber-stamping of the Yankees‘ own stadium plan in 2006, she was one of the few members to ask tough questions about the deal, and was one of only two members to vote against the team’s now-collapsing garage financing plan (though she voted for the stadium itself). While it’s unlikely she’d oppose an NYC F.C. stadium on ideological grounds — especially if local community leaders end up backing it — she’s certainly likely to drive a hard bargain.

Of course, it’s still possible that Mark-Viverito’s speaker campaign will fall apart: Already this week she’s been charged with failing to report income from apartments she owns on city disclosure forms, accused of having her allies threaten councilmembers with retribution if they didn’t vote for her, and sued for having a santeria chicken head painted on a rival’s building. (Her rival Daniel Garodnick just has the real estate industry casting aspersions on his behalf.) Even if she’s not speaker, though, as local council representative for the stadium site, she’ll have huge pull in deciding what happens to the project. And suffice to say she’s not likely to be a Maria del Carmen Arroyo.

Absolving Yankees garage debt could raise NYC’s Bronx soccer arena subsidies to more than $250m

New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez reports on an until-now overlooked piece of the proposed $350 million NYC F.C. soccer stadium deal in the Bronx, which is that it would require the city to give up its future rent payments from parking garages built for the Yankees:

Under the bailout plan approved Dec. 18 by Bronx Parking’s board of directors and the holders of its debt, the reorganized company would pay no rent until 2056 for more than 20 acres of city-owned land where its other stadium garages are located.

The Yankees garages, which received $70 million in state funding, were supposed to be paying $3.2 million a year in rent to the city (initial reports had it as $2.3 million, but the city Independent Budget Office confirms that it’s actually $3.2 million), but when the garages went all but bankrupt, city officials effectively gave up on ever collecting on its debt, given that there are a whole lot of angry bondholders in line ahead of them. So the city could argue that it’s just burning some IOUs it’s never going to collect on.

For the garage company, though, it’s still getting out from under debt, even if it’s debt it was planning on skipping out on. Gonzalez notes that the city is already owed about $50 million in back rent; the IBO, meanwhile, calculates that tallied up through 2056, the forgiven rent payments would add up to about $150 million, though in present value it’d be closer to $50 million. So if we count the forgiven garage rent as $100 million total, and add in probably another $150 million or so in tax breaks and free land for the stadium, we’re now looking at the city — if new mayor Bill de Blasio goes ahead with the deal started by his predecessor Michael Bloomberg — providing more than $250 million in subsidies for a project that only costs $350 million to build. Now where have we seen this before?