This week’s recommended reading: Girl to City, Amy Rigby’s just-published memoir of the two decades that took her from newly arrived art student in 1970s New York to divorced single mom and creator of the acclaimed debut album Diary of a Mod Housewife. (Disclosure, I guess: I edited an early version of one chapter for the Village Voice last year.) I picked up my copy last week at the launch of Rigby’s fall book tour, and whether you love her music or her long-running blog (guilty as charged on both counts) or enjoy tales of CBGB-era proto-gentrifying New York or coming-of-age-stories about women balancing self-doubt and determination or just a perfectly turned punchline, I highly recommend it: Like her best songs, it made me laugh and cry and think, often at the same time, and that’s all I can ask for in great art.
But first, read this news roundup post, because man, is there a lot of news to be rounded up:
Three days after evicting the indie minor-league baseball Kansas City T-Bones from their stadium for nonpayment of rent, the city of Kansas City, Kansas welcomed new owners of the team with a new lease that will provide $1 million in tax money to help pay for $1.5 million in stadium upgrades. If this doesn’t quite feel like tough negotiating to you, does it make you feel better that the new team president is promising to bring shuffleboard, pickleball, sand volleyball, and bocce ball to the stadium as well? Can anyone truly put a price on getting to watch professional (?) pickleball?
Most of the $30 million the Los Angeles Angels have spent on stadium “maintenance” over the last seven years actually went to building a new scoreboard, which has sports economist Roger Noll worried that the team is skimping on actual upkeep of the building as it negotiates a new lease. Also, the long-hidden appraisal of the Angel Stadium parking lots that team owner Arte Moreno wants development rights to has reportedly been leaked, but not to anyone who’s actually made it public, which isn’t really my idea of what “leaked” means.
Still nobody is quite sure how much money St. Louis taxpayers will have to put up for a new MLS stadium, or for cost overruns that the city has promised to cover, or even where the stadium will be built. These are maybe things St. Louis might have wanted to work out before approving the funding plan, but it did land the city an MLS expansion franchise, and not everybody gets those. Not quite yet, anyway.
Were you wanting an article whose headline reports that “new stadium buzzing is getting louder” for the Tampa Bay Rays when the only actual news in it is about a Rays stadium lobbying group shutting down? Florida Politics has got you covered!
With the Oakland A’s looking at building a waterfront stadium because fans dig waterfront stadiums, the Washington Post has investigated whether it’s really such a good idea to be building waterfront stadiums when sea level is projected to rise by several feet in coming decades thanks to the climate crisis. My favorite bit is where a University of Miami geologist does say that Miami is “not a long-term option” — not Miami’s stadium, mind you, but Miami itself, which should be a sobering notion for anyone concerned about the future, which of course is where we’re going to spend the rest of our lives.
And speaking of Miami, please enjoy this moment in the Miami city commission’s continuing debates over Inter Miami‘s new stadium in which a city commissioner said to Miami’s mayor, “Let me call you Lord Mayor, so you get even happier!” I’m truly going to miss Florida when it’s gone.
Also, a clause in Nashville’s lease with Nashville S.C. requiring the soon-to-be MLS team to play at least one game in Nashville in any 24-month period has the team’s financiers balking at loaning money for the stadium — presumably because they’re afraid MLS will up and disappear for a couple of seasons, maybe as part of a labor stoppage, who knows — so the city may just delete that clause. Seriously, lord grant me the negotiating powers of a mediocre rich man.
The U.S. Supreme Court has given a final dismissal to a case charging that the car rental tax used by Arizona to fund sports facilities was unconstitutional because the money wasn’t being used for transportation projects.
The city of Santa Clara has voted again to remove the San Francisco 49ers as manager of their stadium, after the first vote might have been illegal because it took place in closed session. Glad we worked that out!
The Hamilton County Commission approved a plan that will involve spending $30 million to relocate a concrete plant so the county can build a music venue next to the Cincinnati Bengals stadium, with the Bengals helping out by forgoing $30 million in future payments from the county, though the team will also now get free parking space on the land. The music venue is reportedly needed because the waterfront is “an area starved for attention outside of Bengals and Reds games,” which maybe is something to keep in mind the next time you hear that a sports stadium will be enough to revitalize an underused area.
In completely unrelated news, here’s an article about a Columbus bar owner who is hoping that the new Crew soccer stadium being built nearby will be a windfall for her business.
Starting early this year, as city department heads planned for the stadium, documents show they didn’t have one budget, but two: costs included in the $50 million and those outside of it, spread across various departmental budgets and funding sources…
In one spreadsheet circulated among city officials in March titled “Updated Project Budget and Timeline,” City Auditor Megan Kilgore tallied up what at the time were the project costs — almost $98 million, split between two “buckets”: ”$50 million” and “Other Projects.”
“This is our best effort at keeping track of projects,” Kilgore said in the March email to which she attached the spreadsheet. “The above will dictate how we continue to push expenditures that EXCEED the above amounts into the ‘Other Projects — outside of $50 million bucket’ pot.”
The “Other Projects” budget includes such items as building a 600-car parking garage for the stadium and moving electrical lines underground, items that a city spokesperson insisted would be happening with or without the stadium. (Burying the electrical lines, for example, has been assigned to the costs of a Chipotle Mexican Grill headquarters a half-mile away.)
This is all some great reporting that required digging through piles of public records requests, and could have been improved only by including the total public cost of the project to city and county taxpayers: The Dispatch itself previously reported this as $140 million plus land costs, and while I got $130 million with my adding machine, this would still mean the total public cost of the project is now more like $178 million. Or, if you prefer, $130 million, plus $48 million for a really vital Chipotle headquarters.
(Note, by the way, that this isn’t directly about inflation: Even if inflation were zero, a dollar spent 30 years from now would still be less of a cost than a dollar spent now, simply because you can put a fraction of a dollar in the bank now and end up with a dollar in three decades.)
$28 million in cash payments from the city of Columbus, plus $12 million to build a new public sports park.
A county contribution of $2.5 million a year for 30 years, which comes to $45 million in present value.
A state contribution of $20 million.
$25 million in property taxes that will be diverted to the stadium.
???????? for purchasing the stadium land, which is supposed to be figured out by August 15, though that deadline could be extended.
The Dispatch actually seems to have done a good job of accounting for present value, but unless I’m missing something, they’ve done a less good job on addition: $40 million + $45 million + $20 million + $25 million = $130 million, not $140 million. Which isn’t to say the public cost won’t reach $140 million — the public land costs could easily drive it that high — but it seems like the current price tag should be “$130 million plus land,” so that’s what I’m going with.
The Crew, meanwhile, would according to the Dispatch “market, control and have the rights to all revenue from the new stadium,” including naming rights, paying just $10 a year in rent. You might think that with the public putting up about half the cost of the building, they should get something like half the revenues — but if so you clearly haven’t read the subtitle of the book that launched this website. Silly you!
The Columbus Crew‘s new downtown stadium, which is getting $90 million or so in cash grants and tax breaks to replace the Crew’s 20-year-old non-downtown stadium, now won’t open until at the earliest July 2021, instead of at the start of the 2021 season, because reasons. (“Some paperwork needs to be finished,” according to the Columbus Dispatch.) Which is maybe interesting to diehard MLS fans, but far more interesting to me is what team president Tim Bezbatchenko said about the new stadium’s impact when it finally does open:
″[The stadium is] going to change the trajectory of this club forever,” Bezbatchenko said. “There’s going to be so many ancillary positive consequences to this that you can’t even approximate and can’t guess about in terms of the culture change that the fans are going to go through.”
That is a lot of buzzy words; let’s attempt to unpack them:
Change the trajectory of this club forever: This sounds like a vague promise that the Crew will stop losing quite so many games once they get a new stadium, which is questionable in any sport, but doubly so in one with a single-entity ownership model where team owners don’t get to plow profits directly back into improving the club.
So many ancillary positive consequences to this that you can’t even approximate: “Ancillary” means “subordinate” or “supplementary,” so here Bezbatchenko is presumably talking about things outside of actually playing and watching soccer. Or not talking about them, as the case may be, since he says he can’t even begin to guess about them! Though there will be very many of them, of that he is sure!
The culture change that the fans are going to go through: “Culture change” is one of those terms that business management types love to throw around, and here is presumably a reference to the shift to a more urban location. How exactly that would significantly change things from the “drive to game, watch game, drive home” model isn’t entirely clear — Columbus is famously the largest American city without a rail transit system — but again, clearly it’ll be yuge!
All of these would have been outstanding followup questions for the Dispatch, or really for any other reporters interested in reporting and not just taking stenography. It really can’t be overstated how much the functioning of anything like a democratic system depends on robust media outlets to shed light on what’s going on. In the absence of that, we just get a whole lot of press releases, and I guess comment sections of people complaining about the press releases, which is okay but not precisely the same thing. So if you have a local (or even non-local) media outlet that is doing a decent job, please send them some money, because just imagine what it would be like if news coverage got even worse than it is already.
The Franklin County Board of Commissioners toppled the final domino for a new Columbus Crew stadium today, voting unanimously to hand over $45 million in public funds over the next 30 years — that’s about $23 million in present value — to pay for … stuff. Not stadium stuff, because everyone involved has agreed that public money shan’t be used for actual stadium construction, but all kinds of other stuff that the developers want, because that’s totally cool.
This is one of the more difficult stadium deals to evaluate in recent memory, in part because there are so many different funding streams and so many super-vague things they’re being spend on (“infrastructure,” “public improvements”), and in part because all this money is just getting dumped into a New Community Authority with a broad mandate to spend on … stuff. (“The Deposit shall be paid to the NCA to be used by the NCA, as determined by the NCA in cooperation with Franklin County, to fund or assist in funding any qualifying community facilities.”) Almost certainly, by the time anyone knows where the money is going, it will be far too late to do anything about it — I mean, after today’s vote it’s already too late to do anything about it.
This is a very good thing if you’re Crew and Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam or someone who thinks spending more than $88 million — the county Memorandum of Understanding notes that the stadium will be exempt from property taxes, too, so that’s an added cost — to move the local MLS team across town and stay there for … okay, the county’s MOU says the team will have a 30-year lease, but it’s still to be “mutually agreed upon by the parties,” so no clue if it’ll have an out clause or what. It’s a bad thing if you don’t think this particular pig in a poke is worth that as-yet-unspecified sum, or if you’re just a fan of local governments figuring out what they’re buying before promising to provide the money. At least Crew fans will get to enjoy MLS’s crappy new playoff system while waiting to find out how long Haslam waits to threaten to leave again!
A funding plan for a new $230 million downtown stadium for the Columbus Crew began to come into focus this week, though admittedly not very much focus. The plan as constituted involves cash from new team owner (and Cleveland Browns) owner Jimmy Haslam, money from the city, money from the county, and money from the state, which Columbus Business First helpfully lays out as follows:
$50 million from the city, for “land acquisition, infrastructure and public improvements,” plus turning the old stadium into a “community sports park” (which would also serve as a training ground for the Crew).
$45 million from the county, paid out over 30 years, for “infrastructure and public improvements” around the new stadium.
$15 million from the state, also for infrastructure and public improvements.
This is hazy enough, given that “infrastructure” traditionally can mean lots of things, from stuff that the government does for pretty much anyone (say, extending sewer lines) to things that more normally would be on the developer’s tab (say, building parking garages).
But it gets even more confusing from there, because Haslam and his partners would only put up $150 million of the $230 million cost, with the rest coming from a new state authority (in Ohio amusingly dubbed an NCA, for “New Community Authority”) that would collect the county and state money. Which doesn’t add up to $80 million, you will notice. Plus, the NCA would have to backfill any property taxes due from the surrounding private development, which is in a Community Revitalization Area and so eligible for 100% tax abatements.
That is an opaque fiscal soup, one that makes it nearly impossible to come up with a dollar figure for how much of a subsidy the Crew owners would be getting from taxpayers. Which is to the Crew owners’ benefit, no doubt, but it’s the kind of thing that hopefully we’ll get more clarity on before any governmental votes on — whoops, looks like the Columbus city council and Ohio state house already voted to approve their share of the money. Well, maybe we’ll learn more about where the money will be coming from and what it will be spent on before the Ohio state senate [UPDATE: too late!] and Franklin County board of commissioners vote, anyway. Or they can always vote first and ask questions later, that always works out great!
Franklin County, Ohio, says it plans to build a new Columbus Crew arena … somewhere, costing … something, with the county putting up $50 million in cash — part of which would go toward turning the old Crew stadium into a “public sports complex” — plus land and infrastructure worth … something. But Franklin County commissioner Marilyn Brown told the Columbus Dispatch that “it will have mixed-use included, so it’s an economic-development deal that will include apartments, retail along with it. So it will have enormous economic-development benefit,” so it’s all good, because who can put a price tag on enormous?
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says he’s “disappointed” that Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is backing out of a downtown arena deal, and offered to provide league help in cutting a new deal. Hands up anyone who thinks that means “Leaning on Melnyk to pay for the arena he said he would” and not “Leaning on Ottawa to bail Melnyk out with public dollars”?
A paid consultant working on a new downtown arena for Saskatoon says it could have a “catalytic effect,” because of course he does, really, Global News, you ran an entire article that’s just interviewing one guy employed on the project? For this you want me to disable my ad blocker?
Forbes’ Mike Ozanian reports that “a person with knowledge of the deal to keep Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew in that city” says the new owners will pay $150 million for the franchise and spend $150 million toward a new downtown stadium, while “the public would foot the other $100 million.” Nobody else seems to be reporting on this, so maybe we should wait to be sure that Ozanian didn’t get his plus and minus signs mixed up again.
The Atlantic’s Rick Paulas suggests that we end stadium extortion by forcing pro sports leagues to massively expand and then institute promotion and relegation, which would sort of work, if there were an easy way to accomplish this through antitrust legislation, which you’d think if Congress could manage that they could manage the much more straightforward measure of taxing sports subsidies out of existence, but who knows, maybe a “market-based” solution would go over better in these times, sure, what the hell. “Of course, cities could also elect leadership that will defend them against bad deals,” notes Paulas, which isn’t a bad idea either.
Anaheim has signed a lease extension to keep the Ducks in town through 2048, involving the city selling the team 16 acres of land for $10 million — which if the stymied Angels deal is any guide would probably be a small discount, though Anaheim officials claim it’s market value — but the city will get a cut of arena profits after the first $6 million a year instead of the first $12 million, a threshold that’s never been hit. There are a lot of (small) moving pieces here, but I’m willing to say this is probably not too bad a deal, especially compared to some of the much, much worse lease extensions that cities have agreed to. Next is to to see about getting Angels owner Arte Moreno to accept the same logic, now that newly elected mayor Harry Sidhu is vowing to change “the hostile political environment in Anaheim” and “keep the Angels in Anaheim where they belong,” okay, Anaheim residents are probably going to have to settle for just a good Ducks deal.
Atlanta Falcons COO Greg Beadles tells NPR it’s not team owner greed that causes stadium food prices to be so high, it’s just that after teams force concessions companies to bid as high as possible for stadium contracts, the only way they can make money is to charge through the nose for food! Anyway, NPR gets busy talking to fans at a Falcons game about whether they’re happy the team lowered its food prices, and they’re happy about it, so no time to fact-check whether team execs’ statements make any damn sense. Free refills on soda, woohoo!
I posted the week-ending news roundup late on Friday, but still not apparently late enough for the stadium news cycle, which promptly exploded in the afternoon, starting with the news that Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was finalizing a deal to buy the Columbus Crew from owner Anthony Precourt so that it can stay in Columbus in a new stadium and Precourt can get an expansion team to move to Austin, Texas.
That takes us up to Friday, when it was revealed that Haslam — plus some local investors — had negotiated with Precourt and MLS to instead buy the Crew and have them stay put; Precourt will still get an expansion franchise in Austin, and everybody is happy. At least, maybe everybody is happy? There are still a bunch of unanswered questions here, like:
Who’s paying what to whom for what here? MLS is a “single-entity” structure, meaning that the league owns the actual teams, and the team “owners” only control operating rights. The Columbus Dispatch reports that the deal likely involves “the local investors purchasing the Columbus MLS rights from the league and current Crew operator Precourt Sports Ventures transferring its equity interest in the league to an Austin franchise, presumably an expansion team” — presumably this means Haslam and friends are paying something close to the $150 million expansion fee price that the league won’t be getting from Precourt. Unless maybe Precourt is paying the difference? This is all rich dudes shuffling money around themselves, so whatever, but it’d still be interesting to know.
What happens with the other cities looking for expansion teams? MLS already had a long list of cities angling to get the next two expansion franchises set to be announced, but it appears that Precourt and Austin have jumped the line. Media outlets in Sacramento, thought to be one of the expansion frontrunners, are already wringing their hands over the prospect of now only having one expansion slot to compete for. Assuming MLS doesn’t decide to keep both of next year’s expansion slots and make Austin its 29th team, or throw David Beckham back under the bus, or really anything, because MLS can decide whatever it wants here. (My bet would be on making the remaining cities compete for one slot, but if multiple cities come up with viable ownership groups and lucrative stadium subsidies, announce, “We changed our mind — everybody gets bees!”
Who’s going to pay for this new Columbus stadium, anyway? The Columbus Dispatch reports that there’s no deadline for a new Crew stadium to be in place, and that the team will continue to play in its old stadium until then, which would seem to reduce Haslam’s leverage if he wants to get public cash to help with his stadium plans. But it’s always possible Haslam has already been working things out along these lines with Columbus officials — news reporting on all this is fairly lousy so far, as to be expected when news drops on a Friday afternoon.
So what’s the upshot here? That MLS was more scared of moving the Crew to Austin than we’d been led to believe, either because of the Modell Law or because they didn’t want to be seen pissing off an established fan group or just because they saw the opportunity to get another NFL owner on board, and they just love those guys. Regardless, that Columbus will apparently get to keep its MLS team without having to pony up huge subsidies for a stadium for an expansion team has got to be seen as at least tentatively good news, and a sign that public mobilization can impact the battles of elephants. There are still many, many more shoes to drop, however, so glass-half-empty advocates, keep hope alive that this will still suck for someone! Anything is possible in the topsy-turvy world of MLS!