Friday roundup: Trump tariff construction cost hikes, Beckham lawsuit tossed, Elon Musk inserts himself into headlines yet again

Lots of news to report this week, and that’s even without items that I can’t read because of Tronc Troncing:

Austin approves final MLS stadium talks, Columbus Crew to move sometime or another probably maybe

Well, that was anticlimactic: After several weeks in which the Austin city council put off a decision on providing more than $100 million in property tax breaks for a new soccer stadium to lure the Columbus Crew to town, with four members in favor, four opposed, and three swing votes, yesterday the swing votes all swung toward “yes” and the measure passed 7-4. The Crew will now relocate to Texas at some point in the next year or two or three, unless the lease talks that were authorized yesterday collapse (unlikely at this stage), or Columbus wins its Modell Law suit to block the team from moving (who knows), or Crew owner Anthony Precourt changes his mind for some reason (also unlikely given how happy his press statement sounded after the vote, but also who knows).

The council also voted on 19 amendments to the stadium bill: I can’t find full coverage of what passed and what didn’t — it’s not helping that there’s no WiFi on this train even though there was supposed to be, clearly they need to tear down the train system and build a new one — but the Austin American-Statesman does report that the one to double the team’s rent to just under $1 million a year was defeated after Mayor Steve Adler warned that this was “the best deal of its kind in the country” and warned that asking for any concessions could kill it. I would beg to differ — Orlando S.C.‘s stadium deal was a fair bit better, for one. The Austin deal isn’t horrible as these things go, but that doesn’t make it reasonable either, but rather in that broad swath of “at least we didn’t get screwed over as bad as some other cities” that makes up most stadium deals. But then, soccer fans are used to celebrating pyrrhic victories.

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:

Four Austin councilmembers seek to cut Crew subsidy by $37m

Four members of the Austin city council have proposed revised lease terms for a proposed MLS stadium for the relocated Columbus Crew, two days in advance of a council vote on the subject. The new terms:

• Raising the team’s rent from $412,500 a year for 20 years (present value: about $5 million) to $958,720 a year rising by 2% a year (present value: about $14 million).

• Annual payments equal to the rent, to go toward local school systems (present value: $14 million).

• Having team owner Anthony Precourt pay for the cost of a Capital Metro rail station, (estimated cost: $12 million).

• A $3 per ticket surcharge, of which one-third would go to various public needs (present value: depends on how many tickets are sold, but let’s guesstimate $200,000 a year, which would be worth a bit over $2 million total).

If I can do simple addition this early in the morning, that’s about $37 million worth of additional money that would be flowing from the soccer team owners to the public. That would still be significantly less than the more than $100 million in property taxes that the team is looking to dodge (again, in present value; the total nominal amount over 25 years is likely to be more than $250 million), but at least it would reduce the value of the tax break somewhat.

Unfortunately, if I’m also doing math right, those four councilmembers are a minority of the 11-member city council, so unless they can swing a couple more votes their way, this proposal isn’t going anywhere. We’ll find out tomorrow.

Friday roundup: Untangling NYCFC’s stadium plan, fighting over the Crew’s future, and what to do with a luxury suite

Sorry for the radio silence the last couple of days — it was a combination of not much super-urgent breaking news and a busy work schedule on my end — but let’s remedy that with a heaping helping of Friday links:

  • Part of that busy schedule was wrapping up work on my Village Voice article trying to unravel NYCFC’s latest stadium plan, and while the upshot remains what it was a month ago — this is a Rube Goldberg–style proposal with so many moving parts that it’s hard to say yet if it would involve public subsidies — it also involves city parks land that isn’t really parkland but is really controlled by another city agency that isn’t really a city agency and denies having control over it … go read it, you’ll either be entertained or confused or both!
  • The state of Maryland has luxury suites at the Baltimore Ravens and Orioles stadiums, and Gov. Larry Hogan mostly uses them for family members and political cronies. This should come as a surprise to no one, but it’s a reminder that getting government use of a suite as part of a stadium deal is less a public benefit than a, what do you call those things?
  • Based on questions asked at a Monday hearing, The Stranger concludes that most King County council members aren’t opposed to the Seattle Mariners‘ demand for $180 million in future county upgrade spending on Safeco Field, in exchange for the team signing a new lease. That could still change, obviously, but only if all of you readers turn toward Seattle and shout this post in unison. Three, two, one, go!
  • MLS commissioner Don Garber says talks are “ongoing” with the city of Columbus about replacing the Crew if they move to Austin, and by “with the city of Columbus” he apparently means the local business council the Columbus Partnership. And even their CEO, Alex Fischer, doesn’t sound too in the mood to talk, noting that Garber has called for a new downtown stadium in Columbus while not requiring the same of Austin: “I find it extremely ironic that the commissioner wants a downtown stadium at the same time that the McKalla site is the equivalent of building a stadium in Buckeye Lake.” MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott retorted that Fischer’s remarks are “certainly a strange way to demonstrate an interest in working with us.” The lines of communication are open!
  • The owners of Nashville S.C. would have to pay $200,000 a year in city rent on their new stadium, which is … something, at least. Except, reports the Tennessean, “Parking revenue collected from non-soccer events at the new MLS stadium, such as concerts or football games, would go toward the annual base rent and could potentially cover the entire amount.” So maybe not really something.
  • Glendale has extended its arena management deal with AEG through 2026, which will mean continuing to pay $5.6 million annual management fees, but also collecting about $1.6 million a year in shared arena revenues. That’s not good, but it is significantly better than the lease that had the city paying the owners of the Arizona Coyotes more than $7 million a year after revenue shares, so yay Glendale for tearing up that lease and bidding out the contract to at least cut their losses.
  • Here’s Austin’s lead negotiator with Crew owner Anthony Precourt over a new stadium, Chris Dunlavey of Brailsford and Dunlavey. on whether the deal is fair to taxpayers: “All around, I don’t know how it could get characterized as favorable to [Precourt Sports Ventures]. I think the city of Austin has negotiated this to as favorable for a city as PSV could stand to do.” Uh, Chris, you do know that “good for the public” and “as least awful for the public as we could get” aren’t the same thing, right?
  • Former U.S. senator Barbara Boxer has thrown her weight behind Inglewood residents opposing a new Los Angeles Clippers arena because it could cause gentrification and displacement. Which, not all arenas do, but in hot urban areas like L.A. it doesn’t take much to cause gentrification and displacement, so I can certainly see why there’s concern.
  • An otherwise unidentified group calling itself Protect Oakland’s Shoreline Economy has issued flyers opposing the A’s building a stadium at Howard Terminal because, among other things, it could displace homeless encampments to make way for parking lots. This is getting David Beckham–level silly, but also it’s getting harder and harder not to feel like the A’s owners should just give in and build a stadium at the Coliseum site, since at least nobody seems to mind if they do that. Yet.

Precourt offers to pay Austin more rent if it’ll pay some of his repair costs, still thinks paying your property tax is for chumps

The city of Austin released its term sheet with Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt on Friday, and it would involve the city owning the stadium (but not getting a share of stadium revenues) and leasing it back to the team, sparing Precourt any property taxes. He would pay rent, but it’s not much: $550,000 a year, not starting until the sixth year of the lease, which is worth less than $10 million total in present value.

All of which we knew already, except for the rent amount, which had previously been set at $1. (We also know that Austin residents are not fans of the property tax break.) That’s an improvement, obviously, but Precourt is demanding his pound of flesh in return, as he now wants the city to chip in $975,000 over years 6 and 7 of the lease, and $125,000 per year afterwards, toward a capital repair fund. That won’t eat up all of the new rent payments, but it certainly takes a bite out of them.

The big question remains how much the property tax break would be worth to Precourt, and the best estimates are a whole hell of a lot more than he’d be paying in rent. It is yet another reminder that when evaluating stadium subsidies, just looking at construction costs is for chumps; savvy negotiators hide their free cash in the lease terms.

Friday roundup: Bad spring training math, Beckham’s curse, and the opening of Megatron’s Butthole

No time for quips today, just the news:

  • A study by Arizona State University found that spring-training baseball was worth $373 million to the Arizona economy in 2018. I can’t find the actual report itself, but it looks like they came up with this number by interviewing a sample of out-of-town visitors at spring training games about how much they were spending on their trips — which would be a perfectly good methodology if not for the fact that lots of people travel to Arizona and then think “I’ll go see a baseball game while I’m there,” instead of traveling there just for baseball and thinking, “Sure, I’ll check out that big canyon, too.” Which is why when spring-training games have been canceled for labor conflicts, the observed impact on local economies has been pretty much zero. I wonder if the people who wrote this Arizona State report are actual economists, at least.
  • Nashville is getting an MLS franchise because it promised to build a soccer stadium, but it still might change its mind and not build a soccer stadium, and this is going to be great fun to watch if it does. (Not if you’re a Nashville MLS fan, I guess. But [insert requisite jibe about anything being more fun to watch than MLS soccer].)
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said last week that he hopes MLB expands by two more teams during his lifetime (or during his tenure as commissioner — he wasn’t exactly clear), specifically mentioning “Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville in the United States, certainly Montreal, maybe Vancouver, in Canada. We think there’s places in Mexico we could go over the long haul.” That got people in those cities all excited, which is presumably the point in saying such things — of course, none of those cities have MLB-ready stadiums (unless you count Olympic Stadium in Montreal), so prepare for a stadium arms race sometime before Manfred dies.
  • Megatron’s Butthole is now fully operational.
  • The estimated cost of renovating Key Arena has risen from $600 million to $700 million, but the city won’t have to pay any of that because their deal with the developers says those guys have to pay any cost overruns. Kids, when signing your next arena deal, do that.
  • A Florida man was arrested for setting fire to golf carts at the golf course where David Beckham wants to build his soccer stadium, but police say it was just arson and has nothing to do with the stadium proposal. Except insomuch as David Beckham is cursed, okay? If construction on this place ever begins, I fully expect it to be interrupted by all its milk cows going dry.

Beckham wins vote to hold vote on holding talks on Miami soccer stadium

Well, lookie there, a David Beckham stadium project has actually taken a step forward:

On Wednesday, Miami commissioners voted to hold a November referendum to ask voters if the city should negotiate a no-bid lease with Beckham’s ownership group to build a $1 billion commercial and soccer stadium complex on the city’s only municipal golf course, Melreese Country Club. Voters will decide if the city should make an exception to its competitive bidding law to allow the administration to negotiate the no-bid deal with the Beckham group, a for-profit private entity, to develop 131 acres of public land.

In other words, Miami city commissioner Ken Russell switched his vote to “yes,” after Beckham’s partner Jorge Mas agreed to phase in a minimum $15 an hour wage requirement for commercial tenants at the stadium complex. So score one for being the squeaky wheel.

The stadium plan will now be up to voters, which, you know, it’s tough to complain about — if Miami residents think giving up a golf course for a reasonable price is a fair swap for getting a soccer stadium, then more power to them. (One still has to hope that Mas and Beckham won’t sway them with campaign ads making phony economic claims as the Heat did 22 years ago, but that’s a bridge we’ll cross this fall.) Technically, the commission still has to negotiate an actual deal if the vote passes, but since Beckham and Mas already got three votes to hold the vote, it’s unlikely those votes will flip back against them if a referendum passes.

So congrats to Beckham for finally, after so many long years, taking an actual step forward toward the MLS expansion franchise he was promised in exchange for signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy, and — sorry, what’s that?

A lawsuit has been filed against the city of Miami claiming that it broke its charter when it entered into a no-bid deal to put a Major League Soccer stadium on city-owned property.

Well, it was an unreservedly good day for Becks for an hour or so, anyway.

Beckham kicks in sweeteners for proposed Miami MLS stadium, swing vote still holding out for more

David Beckham and Jorge Mas’s Miami MLS ownership group issued a revised set of proposed stadium terms last night in hopes of winning over balky city commissioners, in particular offering to pay any cleanup costs for the toxic waste that sits under the golf course he wants to use as a site. He’s tweaked his offer in other ways, too, though, as the Miami Herald reports:

  • The rent the team pays to the city would now be the greater of either what was determined by two independent appraisers or 5 percent of gross rent revenue collected from tenants at the site.
  • The team owners would provide an additional $5 million toward funding the city’s Baywalk and Riverwalk.
  • Team employees would be guaranteed a minimum wage of $15 an hour if they didn’t get health insurance, or $13.19 an hour if they did.
  • The city would get 1% of any sale price for the team or other team interests on the site.
  • Any lost parkland would be replaced by the team owners.
  • First Tee Miami, a golf youth empowerment program, which is apparently actually a thing, would be guaranteed access to a new driving range at the former golf course site.

The Beckham/Mas plan already looked pretty reasonable for the Miami public, and this sweetens the pot slightly more. And it appears to resolve questions 1 and 3 of the five questions the Miami New Times asked about the deal on Sunday; the biggest remaining one is “How much money is this thing going to make, really?“, but if the owners really are covering all the costs and kicking in for some extra parks and such on top of that, it shouldn’t really matter too much whether the tax benefits to the public aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

According to the Herald, swing vote Ken Russell was still undecided when he left a meeting with Mas after midnight last night, and still holding out to make sure the living-wage provision applied to all employees on the stadium site. Which is his right: This is the only chance the city commissionhas to leverage the no-bid land sale to get concessions from Beckham and Mas, so by all means, haggle over the fine print. And while you can quibble over the details — “Is a golf course or a soccer stadium or something else the best use of land?” is an inherently subjective question depending on what you mean by “best” — we can at least applaud the city of Miami for recognizing that they have Beckham over a barrel, and insisting that he provide something to local residents in exchange for their approval. If every set of local officials would do even just that, we’d have a lot saner world in terms of city development policy — hey, maybe we have something to thank Jeffrey Loria for after all!

Lions owners, Dan Gilbert discuss adding retractable roof to make Ford Field somewhat less crappy for soccer

Dan Gilbert’s pitch for a Detroit MLS expansion team was declared dead as soon as he gave up on his $300 million–subsidy land swap plan and switched to wanting to have the soccer team play at the Lions‘ stadium instead, but he never exactly gave up on it. So it’s not surprising that he now has a Plan C to get back on the future expansion list — but as for what that plan is, well:

Detroit Lions president Rod Wood said on WJR-AM (760) Monday morning that he and other Lions executives are looking into a retractable roof to help bring a Major League Soccer team to Detroit.

This is not the first time the idea of a roof for soccer has been raised — Gilbert himself mentioned it to Sports Business Daily last month, saying, “If we get that worked out, I think we have a pretty good chance” of getting an MLS team. Wood provided some more details yesterday, though, kind of:

Wood also explained adding a retractable roof is something that would be easy, saying the cost could be “With a ‘M’ and an ‘S’ and maybe three digits in front of the ‘M.'”

“We’ll figure out who’s going to pay for it after we figure out the cost,” Wood said.

For those who aren’t fans of cryptic crosswords, that first sentence translates as “it’ll cost at least $100 million,” which given that the U.S. Open’s new retractable roof cost $150 million and the Tampa Bay Rays owners are talking about a fixed roof that would cost $245 million seems like an underestimate at best. (Of course Wood didn’t say what those three digits would be.) Whereas the second sentence is either one of the most hilariously inept things a sports executive has said, or else code for “we don’t know who’s gonna pay for it, but it sure won’t be us.”

The idea behind adding a retractable roof is that it would enable the Lions to add a grass field, which would make MLS happy. That’s not an outright requirement, though — Atlanta United, for example, was okayed as a new franchise despite an artificial turf field — and it wouldn’t really address other reasons why MLS prefers soccer-specific stadiums, which is that having maybe 10,000 fans rattling around inside a 65,000-seat soccer stadium feels kind of crappy and looks even worse on TV. (The Falcons modified their stadium for soccer by building in moving sections of seats and retractable curtains to cover the upper deck.)

And while I’m always happy to see sports team owners looking to adapt existing stadiums rather than build entire new ones, at anything other than the very low end of this price point, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense — other cities are building whole new soccer stadiums for only about $200 million, so if a roof would end up costing something similar, that seems like kind of a waste, though I suppose it does save on land acquisition costs, and let you get twice the bang for your buck on maintenance and operations on your building.

MLS hasn’t even set its next deadline for expansion bids, so there’s plenty of time for the Lions owners and Gilbert to work this out. But for the moment, I’m categorizing this plan of action as “screwy.”