Precourt picks Austin stadium site, mum on whether he’ll pay city for it

Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt has settled on a preferred site for his proposed Austin soccer stadium, and it’s McKalla Place, a 24-acre former chemical dump that looks like this:

On first glance, that certainly seems like the kind of unwanted property that is the perfect place to dump a soccer stadium. Except that it’s owned by the city, and already targeted for future development, and there’s no indication Precourt is willing to pay market value for the land:

“I’ve been pushing for private land, but public land keeps the city in the conversation,” said [councilmember Leslie] Pool, whose District 7 includes McKalla Place. “I’d rather see practice fields at McKalla and the stadium somewhere else.

“I’m open to it. I’m agreeable to participating in the analysis. I just don’t want to be taken to the bank.”

The week before last, Precourt declared that a new stadium would bring $400 million in economic benefits over the next 25 years, “in the form of community investments, park improvements, soccer wellness and programming, wages and construction services, among others” — a statement that was widely derided, especially after Precourt refused to provide details on it other than to say that “we have a spreadsheet that breaks it down and line-itemizes it” but that he wasn’t going to release yet.

As we’ve seen lately, free land is the flavor of the month when it comes to stadium subsidy deals, so Pool is right to be skeptical until Precourt provides more details. The site has road and rail access, but needs things like sidewalks, and Pool says any infrastructure should be on Precourt: “Every dollar and penny in community benefit needs to come back to the community. Let’s have staff do the analysis. If it turns out to be a great idea, I’ll be all for it.” Words to live by!

Friday roundup: Crew claps back at Modell Law suit, Cincy mayor thinks his citizens are dumb, Wrigley Field is a construction zone again

This week brought thundersnow that led to a fireball in a subway tunnel, but the stadium and arena news was reasonably exciting too:

  • Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt says the lawsuit to force him to offer the team for sale to local owners before moving it to Austin is groundless, since he made “significant investments” in the team “both on and off the field” and yet the team isn’t making money hand over fist like he’d like it to. I would have gone with “fine, you can buy the team if you want, my asking price is one quattuordecillion dollars,” but that’s why Precourt pays himself the big bucks.
  • Oakland Raiders management says it has identified room for 27,000 parking spaces within 1.5 miles of its Las Vegas stadium, and 100,000 spaces within three miles. “Now, obviously, people don’t want to walk three miles, so you have to have a pretty strong infrastructure program and transportation plan in place,” said Raiders president Marc Badain. “We’re working on all of that.” Cool, get back to us!
  • Residents of the West End opposed to building an F.C. Cincinnati soccer stadium on the site of a revered high school football stadium there are all about “maintaining disinvestment, maintaining the status quo and not closing racial and economic gaps but keeping them divided,” Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said this week. “I think that’s wrong.” But enough with the pandering to your constituents, Mayor Cranley what do you really think about them?
  • Because no arena project can truly be cost-free for the public, the new Muni Metro stop being built at the Golden State Warriors‘ new San Francisco arena has now risen in cost to $51 million, and the city of San Francisco hasn’t figured out how to pay for $17 million of that yet. Not that a new mass transit stop isn’t a public benefit for people other than Warriors fans, but just saying.
  • This is what Wrigley Field looked like as of a couple of weeks ago. There’s still time before opening day, so hopefully this renovation will go better than the Chicago Cubslast big one.
  • Does an “asteroid the size of a sports stadium” zooming past Earth count as stadium news? It does to my custom RSS feed for “stadium” news, so enjoy!

Ohio AG and Columbus sue under “Modell law” to block Crew’s move to Austin

And away we go: Three months after hinting he’d sue to block Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt from relocating his team to Austin, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has joined with the city of Columbus to do just that, under the “Art Modell Law” passed after the Cleveland Browns owner decamped for Baltimore that requires sports owners to offer their teams up for sale to local investors before moving them out of state:

DeWine argues that the Crew accepted $5 million in state taxpayer-funded improvements to their parking lot, tax exemptions for MAPFRE Stadium, a “well below market rate lease” on state-owned land, and other reimbursements.

According to the lawsuit, a 1996 statute in the Ohio Revised Code “prohibits these owners from moving their teams elsewhere unless they give at least six months advance notice of the intention to move and give the city, an individual, or group of individuals, who live in the area an opportunity to purchase the teams.”

All of the above is true: The Crew did get state subsidies for their stadium, and the Modell law does prohibit that! As I noted when DeWine first brought this up, though, there are still two big issues:

  • The Modell law just says local buyers have to be given “the opportunity to purchase the team,” not that the seller has to agree to a fair market price or anything. Which, sure, I guess a clever lawyer can argue that “You may buy my team for 200 squillion dollars” isn’t really an “opportunity,” but that’s a lot less cut and dried than one might like.
  • The statute doesn’t include a penalty clause, so it’s unclear what the state could do if Precourt thumbed his nose at the court and moved to Austin anyway.

A way more interesting case might be if Columbus tried to use eminent domain laws to condemn the Crew franchise and seize it as a public good that’s being endangered — eminent domain has been successfully used for dumber reasons than that, and while eminent domain seizure attempts failed in the Baltimore Colts and Oakland Raiders cases, there’s reason to believe that those instances didn’t set a firm legal precedent. (In the case of the Colts, it was ruled they’d already left town hours before the suit was filed, so there was nothing left to seize control of.) Since no one seems interested in that option, though, the Modell law is an interesting Plan B — even if there are a lot of steps between this and actually forcing the Crew to remain in town, if there’s even a chance that it makes relocation problematic enough that Precourt decides to stay, any statute in a storm, right?

Columbus Crew owner pushes back Austin stadium site decision three more months

The city of Austin and Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt have agreed to a three-month delay from a planned Feb. 15 council vote on selecting a site for a new soccer stadium, which, guys, this really isn’t going to be ready for a relocation for 2019, and maybe not even for 2020. So either the Crew are looking at multiple lame-duck seasons in Columbus, or playing at the University of Texas’s soccer field, or … wait, why can’t they play at UT’s field anyway?

Or the Crew could just stay put in Columbus, where it has a sweetheart lease deal on a reasonably new stadium and a fan base that isn’t speculative, at least. I still don’t understand Precourt’s obsession with Austin — maybe he didn’t hear that Dean Schlabowske moved back to Milwaukee?

Friday roundup: Islanders close to Nassau deal, Olympic stadium to be razed after four uses, and it’s rethink your MLS stadium site week!

And in other stadium and arena news this week:

Have a great weekend, and see you Monday!

Friday roundup: Naming-rights woes, Austin update, and the World’s Largest Chest of Drawers

It’s Friday already? Seems like we were just doing this, but the pile of stories in my Instapaper queue says otherwise, so away we go:

  • The Florida state house has again passed a bill that would ban building or renovating private sports facilities on public land, which would potentially affect the Tampa Bay Rays, among others. This is kind of a dumb idea, as we discussed back in October, since there’s nothing wrong per se with putting stadiums on public land so long as the public gets a good deal for it; a far better plan would be a Seattle-style bill to require that local governments get a return on their investment in any sports lease project. But then, this bill already passed the Florida house last year and died in the senate, so probably not worth getting worked up over too much just yet.
  • Sports Authority agreed in 2011 to pay $6 million a year for 25 years for the naming rights to the Denver Broncos stadium, and now Sports Authority is bankrupt, and Metropolitan State University of Denver marketing professor Darrin Duber-Smith is saying I told you so: “My big warning was, ‘I’m not sure Sports Authority is a big enough or healthy enough company to commit that much money from their marketing budget each year.’ And I was right.” The Broncos are now looking for another company to pay $10 million a year for naming rights, and haven’t found any takers yet, hmm, I wonder why?
  • Chelsea F.C. will get to move ahead with its new-stadium plans after the town council used a compulsory purchase order — like eminent domain, surely you’ll remember it from that Kinks song — to clear an injunction that a nearby family had gotten on the grounds that the new stadium would block their sunlight. The purchase order isn’t actually seizing their home, but the land next to it, which is enough to invalidate the injunction; not that this doesn’t raise all kinds of interesting questions about the use of state power for private interests, I’m sure, but man, don’t you wish this were the only kind of stadium controversy we had to put up with in North America? League monopoly power over who gets a franchise is a bad, bad thing.
  • High Point, North Carolina is spending $35 million on a stadium to bring an indie minor-league Atlantic League baseball team to town, and City Manager Greg Demko says this will help the city’s commercial tax base recover, because “the construction of a stadium is like an anchor for the revitalization and development of a downtown.” Demko is going to be so disappointed, but at least he got mention of his city in a Bloomberg article as “home to the World’s Largest Chest of Drawers,” and you can’t buy publicity like that.
  • New Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan says that while it’s “a longshot,” it wouldn’t be impossible for Chris Hansen to build his Sodo arena while OVG renovates KeyArena at the same time. I’m going to interpret the tea leaves here as “Hey, if you want to spend your money to try to compete with another arena across town, be my guest,” but stranger things have happened, maybe?
  • The city of Austin has issued a report on eight possible sites for a stadium for a relocated Columbus Crew, and are now waiting on Crew owner Anthony Precourt to tell them which, if any, he likes. A consultant for Precourt has since ruled out a site or two, but it looks like nothing might be ready for the city council to vote on February 15 as planned; Austin MLS lobbyist Richard Suttle says the problem is “between the holidays, flu season and winter storms, it’s been slow going.” It’s not quite helping to spark women’s suffrage, but the flu still reminds us who’s boss from time to time.
  • Now that Amazon has announced its short list of cities that will get to bid on its new second headquarters, it’s time for another look at how to stop corporations from launching interstate bidding wars to be their homes, which once again leads us to David Minge’s 1999 bill for a federal excise tax on public subsidies. “Of all those offers [made to Amazon] there’s one obvious one that should have been made and it should have come from Congress,” University of Minnesota economist and former Minneapolis Federal Reserve research director Arthur Rolnick, who helped Minge concoct that bill, tells CityLab. “Now if that offer were on the table it would end it, it would end the bidding war. Then Amazon would simply base its decision on where location is best for business.” It’d work for sports leagues, too!

Columbus could try to use “Art Modell Law” to force Crew to stay put

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine thinks he has a way to save the Columbus Crew from moving to Austin, and it involves a 21-year-old piece of legislation known as the Art Modell Law, officially Ohio Revised Code 9.67:

9.67 Restrictions on owner of professional sports team that uses a tax-supported facility.

No owner of a professional sports team that uses a tax-supported facility for most of its home games and receives financial assistance from the state or a political subdivision thereof shall cease playing most of its home games at the facility and begin playing most of its home games elsewhere unless the owner either:

(A) Enters into an agreement with the political subdivision permitting the team to play most of its home games elsewhere;

(B) Gives the political subdivision in which the facility is located not less than six months’ advance notice of the owner’s intention to cease playing most of its home games at the facility and, during the six months after such notice, gives the political subdivision or any individual or group of individuals who reside in the area the opportunity to purchase the team.

This was passed in 1996 in the wake of Art Modell moving the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore and the city coughing up big money for a new stadium to get a new Browns franchise, though it’s the first I’m hearing about it. (Joanna Cagan researched and wrote the Cleveland section of the opening chapter of Field of Schemes, so my knowledge of that deal isn’t quite as encyclopedic as it might be.) DeWine says his office has reviewed the law and believes it applies to the Crew, and is “prepared to take the necessary legal action under this law” to enforce the provision that team owner Anthony Precourt give Columbus six months to either find a local buyer or buy the team itself.

The law applies, according to state representative Mike Duffey, who asked DeWine to look into it, because, as the Columbus Dispatch puts it, “it is paying a below-market rate to lease state land for parking, the stadium sits on land that is tax exempt, and the state in 2009 provided $5 million for parking upgrades at the Ohio Expo Center, where lots just south of the stadium and are used by Crew SC fans.” Which all sounds reasonable enough to me, though I am not a lawyer, and in any case “reasonable” isn’t going to stop Precourt from going to court to fight it.

Of course, if the state or city were to sue and win, they’d then have to find an owner willing to buy the Crew. That actually may not be so difficult — if all else fails, Franklin County already owns the Clippers, so it has some experience hiring a professional manager to run a publicly owned sports franchise — and might actually be cheaper than ponying up for a new stadium would be, especially since then they’d get whatever profits the Crew are currently earning. Except, uh, there’s nothing in that law that I can see that says a team owner has to agree to sell the team to local owners at any particular price, is there? So what’s to stop Precourt from saying, “Fine, you win, but despite expansion franchises going for $150 million and my only spending $63 million to get my team four years ago, it’s such a glorious franchise that I won’t take a penny less than $400 million”?

And also, the law doesn’t seem to specify penalties, so what happens if Precourt just picked up and leaves? Does Ohio just have to sue to get back its past subsidies? Can it seize the team by eminent domain? I still have not gotten my law degree since two paragraphs back, so maybe these aren’t really such big worries, but it sure seems like there are a lot of lawsuits ahead for this project. Might be easier if Austin voters just tell Precourt to take his MLS-stadium-in-a-public-park plans and go back to Ohio.

Friday roundup: CFL in Halifax, Columbus ghost stadium, Sydney is the new Atlanta, and more!

Are any of my American readers even out there, or are you all too busy tormenting retail workers with your demands for discounted goods? If so, you’re missing out, because we’ve got all your goods right here, at our everyday discount of free!

  • The CFL is considering expanding to Halifax, which means Halifax would need a CFL stadium, which means somebody would have to pay for a Halifax CFL stadium. Halifax Mayor Mike Savage says a stadium is “not a capital priority at this time” and would have to be built “without putting taxpayers at risk.” The Ottawa RedBlacks stadium model is being floated, which is slightly weird because that ended up costing taxpayers a bundle of money plus free land, but maybe “taxpayer risk” is defined differently in Halifax. Anyway, we’ve been this far before, so grains of salt apply.
  • Remember how I wasn’t sure what would be included in the $75 million in public “infrastructure” spending that F.C. Cincinnati is demanding? Turns out that’s because nobody’s sure: WCPO notes that the team hasn’t provided any cost estimates or a traffic study, which “leaves us wondering where, exactly, FC Cincinnati came up with its figures.” I’ll take “nice round number, slightly less than the $100 million elected officials balked at previously” in the pool, please.
  • A guy in Columbus came up with an idea to use county sales tax money to build a new stadium to keep the Crew in town, then the next day said it was just an idea he came up with over the weekend by himself and never mind.
  • The city of Worcester is still trying to lure the Pawtucket Red Sox to town, and the state of Massachusetts may be getting involved, with one unnamed source telling the Worcester Telegram that stadium funding would need to be a “a three-legged stool” among the city, state, and team. You know this article is just going to be waved around in the Rhode Island legislature as it heads toward a vote on public funding for a PawSox stadium there, and what was everyone just saying about the role of enablers in abuse, again? (Not that stadium swindles are morally equivalent to sexual harassment, obviously, but you get my point. Also, why are all the articles about the role of enablers in sexual harassment a month old, are we not going to pay attention to that after all?)
  • The state of Connecticut may spend $40 million on upgrades to Hartford’s arena and some retail properties near its entrance, on the grounds that it might make it more attractive to buyers. If this seems like getting it backwards to you, yeah, me too, but at least it’s better than spending $250 million on the arena and then not selling it.
  • Laney College students, faculty, and staff all hate the idea of an Oakland A’s stadium on their campus. “They want to disrupt our education by building a ballpark across the street with noisy construction, traffic gridlock, pollution, and alcohol consumption by fans,” Associated Students of Laney College President Keith Welch told KCBS-TV. “We will not sacrifice our education so that the A’s owners can make more money.” Pretty sure they won’t get a vote, though.
  • “Industry experts” say that the new Milwaukee Bucks arena will charge more for concert tickets because … it’ll draw bigger-name acts that cost more, I think they’re saying? That doesn’t actually seem like a detriment, though they also note that the new arena has a higher percentage of seats in the lower bowl, which people will pay more for even if they’re way in the back of the lower bowl, and helps explains why arena and stadium designers are so obsessed with getting as many lower-deck seats as possible even if it makes for crappier upper-deck seats. Which we kind of knew already, but a reminder always helps.
  • And move over, Atlanta, there’s a new planned stadium obsolescence king in town: The state of New South Wales is planning to spend $2 billion Australian (about $1.5 billion U.S.) to tear down the Sydney stadium it built for the 2000 Olympics, along with another smaller stadium in Sydney built in 1988, in order to build newer ones that are more ideally shaped for rugby, I think? Because nobody thought of that in 2000? I need to wait for my Australian rugby correspondent to return from holiday break for a more authoritative analysis, but right now this is looking like one of the worst throw-good-money-after-bad deals in stadium history, and it’s not even in America, the land that has perfected the stadium swindle. Crikey!

Friday news: Phoenix funds Brewers but not Suns, brewers float crowdfunding Crew, and more!

So, so much news this week. Or news items, anyway. How much of this is “news” is a matter of opinion, but okay, okay, I’ll get right to it:

  • Four of Phoenix’s nine city council members are opposed to the Suns‘ request for $250 million in city money for arena renovations, which helps explain why the council cut off talks with the team earlier this week. Four other councilmembers haven’t stated their position, and the ninth is Mayor Greg Stanton, who strongly supports the deal, meaning any chance Suns owner Robert Sarver has of getting his taxpayer windfall really is going to come down to when exactly Stanton quits to run for Congress.
  • Speaking of Phoenix, the Milwaukee Brewers will remain there for spring training for another 25 years under a deal where the city will pay $2 million a year for the next five years for renovations plus $1.4 million a year in operating costs over 25 years, let’s see, that comes to something like $35 million in present value? “This is a great model of how a professional sports team can work together with the city to extend their stay potentially permanently, which is amazing, and we’re doing it in a way where taxpayers are being protected,” said Daniel Valenzuela, one of the councilmembers opposed to the Suns deal, who clearly has a flexible notion of “great” and “protected.”
  • And also speaking of Phoenix (sort of), the Arizona Coyotes are under investigation by the National Labor Relations Board for allegedly having “spied on staff, engaged in union busting and fired two employees who raised concerns about pay.” None of which has anything directly to do with arenas, except that 1) this won’t make it any easier for the Coyotes owners to negotiate a place to play starting next season, when their Glendale lease runs out, and 2) #LOLCoyotes.
  • A U.S. representative from Texas is trying to get Congress to grandfather in the Texas Rangers‘ new stadium from any ban on use of tax-exempt bonds in the tax bill, saying it would otherwise cost the city of Arlington $200 million more in interest payments since the bonds haven’t been sold yet. (Reason #372 why cities really should provide fixed contributions to stadium projects, not “Hey, we’ll sell the bonds, and you pay for whatever share you feel like and we’ll cover the rest no matter how crappy the loan deal ends up being.”) Also, the NFL has come out against the whole ban on tax-exempt bonds because duh — okay, fine, they say because “You can look around the country and see the economic development that’s generated from some of these stadiums” — while other sports leagues aren’t saying anything in public, though I’m sure their lobbyists are saying a ton in private.
  • A Hamilton County commissioner said he’s being pressured to fund a stadium for F.C. Cincinnati because Cincinnati will need a sports team if the Bengals leave when their lease ends in 2026 and now newspapers are running articles about whether the Bengals are moving out of Cincinnati and saying they might do so because of “market size” even though market size really doesn’t matter to NFL franchise revenues because of national TV contracts and oh god, please make it stop.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says the proposed Oakland A’s stadium site has pros and cons. Noted!
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the Calgary Flames‘ arena “needs to be replaced” and the team can’t be “viable for the long term” without a new one. Not true according to the numbers that the team is clearing about $20 million in profits a year, but noted anyway!
  • Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley is set to announce his proposal for city subsidies for F.C. Cincinnati today, but won’t provide details. (Psst: He’s already said he’ll put up about $35 million via tax increment financing kickbacks.)
  • The Seattle Council’s Committee on Civic Arenas unanimously approved Oak View Group’s plan to renovate KeyArena yesterday, so it looks likely that this thing is going to happen soon. Though apparently the House tax bill would eliminate the Historic Preservation Tax Credit, which the project was counting on for maybe $60 million of its costs, man, I really need to read through that entire tax bill to see what else is hidden in it, don’t I?
  • The owners of the Rochester Rhinos USL club say they need $1.3 million by the end of the month to keep from folding, and want some of that to come from county hotel tax money. Given that the state of New York already paid $20 million to build their stadium, and the city of Rochester has spent $1.6 million on operating expenses over the last two seasons to help out the team, that seems a bit on the overreaching side, though maybe they’re just trying to fill all their spaces in local-government bingo.
  • There’s a crowdfunding campaign to buy the Columbus Crew and keep them from moving to Austin. You can’t kick in just yet, but you can buy beer from the beer company that is proposing to buy the team and then sell half of it to fans, and no, this whole thing is in no way an attempt to get free publicity on the part of the beer company, why do you ask?

Crew owner claims Columbus is bad for business, actual numbers show otherwise

SBNation’s Elliott Turner dug into Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt’s claim that he needs to move the team to Austin because the “business is struggling,” and, surprise surprise, it turns out this is not so much the case:

  • The Crew currently pay a piddling $72,000 a year in rent. In fact, they’ve only paid $1.14 million in rent their entire 19-year history.
  • The team pays no property taxes on its stadium, an annual savings of $414,000. The New York Red Bulls, by comparison, pay more in property taxes each year than the Crew have paid in their lifetime as a franchise.
  • The Crew brought in around $11 million in ticket revenue in 2017, plus about $1 million in parking revenue, plus an undetermined share of naming rights money. Turner doesn’t provide comparable figures for other MLS teams, but it’s worth noting that the Crew were right in the middle in terms of team revenues in past rankings.

Is that thriving? The team’s total payroll is under $6 million, so … really, it depends on how much it costs to run the rest of the operation. But the Crew’s costs and revenues are pretty comparable to other MLS teams, so this means that either 1) Precourt is lying about needing to move in order to turn a profit, or 2) pretty much all MLS teams are struggling financially. And either way, there’s no reason to think he’d be better off in Austin. It’s almost as if he’s trying to come up with an excuse to threaten to leave, in order to get subsidies for a new stadium out of Columbus — hmmmmmm.