Friday roundup: Graceland seeks arena money, Marlins and Cards seek spring-training stadium money, guy in Raleigh seeks MLS stadium money

In no particular order, or as we call it in New York, Mets style:

Columbus Crew owner sets end of June as Austin stadium deadline-ish-esque thingy

Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt is shooting to finalize a new stadium deal in Austin in June, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Or, well, not actually finalize per se, but maybe preliminarize:

Although June is not considered a drop-dead deadline for a deal, PSV officials said that some kind of agreement, such as a letter of intent, needs to be reached with the city by the end of next month. After a June 28 meeting, the City Council takes a summer break until Aug. 9. PSV aims to move the club by the start of 2019.

This isn’t actually much of a revelation at all, then — we’re gonna propose something in June, either approve it or don’t — but now that Precourt has picked out the city-owned land that he’s decided he wants but maybe doesn’t want to pay for, it does serve as a kind of two-minute warning, to let the Austin city council know that if nothing gets done by June 28, then … something. Something bad. And we know it’s working, because the American-Statesman summed things up with this one-line paragraph:

The clock is ticking.

That’s just what clocks do, man!

How cities haven’t actually fallen out of love with funding sports stadiums

The May issue of Governing magazine has an article with the provocative headline, “How Cities Fell Out of Love With Sports Stadiums,” though it’s really mostly about why St. Louis balked at throwing money at an MLS stadium and fought back against paying for arena upgrades for the Blues after getting burned when the Rams got the most sweetheart lease deal in history and then used a lease loophole to move back to Los Angeles just 21 years later.

All that is good and fine, as is the article’s discussion of how “the economic impact reports singing the praises of sports development have largely been discredited.” But in the service of trying to make the story into “regular folks used to fall all over themselves to hand money to sports teams, but now they’ve smartened up,” writer Liz Farmer oversimplifies or just plain gets wrong a number of things about the stadium subsidy game and how it’s played, which is going to be a problem if any people in the business of actual governing take it as gospel. Let us count the ways:

“When [Rams owner Stan] Kroenke came along and had the gall to start making demands for a football team that hadn’t had a winning record since 2003, the city was — quite literally — spent. St. Louis was suffering under the same socioeconomic and fiscal pressures as Cleveland, Detroit and most other Rust Belt cities. Its population was declining rapidly, and it was stuck paying off debt for the existing stadium until 2022. Residents were increasingly skeptical when it came to investing in gaudy entertainment amenities the lower-income population couldn’t afford to use.”

St. Louis’s population has been declining since 1950 — if anything, it’s leveled off some in recent years — though its county population has soared as more people moved to the suburbs. And residents were pretty darned skeptical before, too: Way back in 2002, St. Louis citizens approved a referendum requiring that all public subsidies for sports facilities would need to go to a public vote. Unfortunately for voters, courts ruled that the target of that referendum — the Cardinals stadium deal that had just been approved prior to that — was grandfathered in, but it’s not like public resistance in St. Louis is anything new.

“The era of taxpayer-financed stadiums came about almost by accident. Seeking to limit the use of government bonds in stadium financing, the federal Tax Reform Act of 1986 included a provision that capped at 10 percent the direct stadium revenue — mostly from ticket sales and concessions — that could be used to pay for the cost of the facility. That meant that governments would have to raise broad-based taxes, such as on sales or business, to cover the rest of the cost.”

Not quite. What the 1986 tax reform law was attempting to do was to rein in cities’ use of federally tax exempt bonds for private projects — not just stadiums, but all kinds of development — by saying, “Look, only really public amenities, okay? Don’t just offer discounted bonds to anybody who asks and then stick federal taxpayers with the bill.”

Unfortunately, the way that Congress chose to address this was by defining public amenities as things that were paid for by the public — if more than 10% of the cost was paid off by private funds (or special taxes that were just private funds masquerading as public dollars to get eligibility), low-cost federal bonds were off the table. Unfortunately, what that did was to increase the leverage of sports team owners, who could now say, “Yeah, sorry, we would love to put in more money of our own, but then it would increase the financing costs, and we can’t have that, can we?”

This is by no means what started the era of taxpayer-financed stadiums, though: Team owners were already demanding new stadiums and arenas left and right, using the usual playbook of methods to do so (move threats, claims of economic benefits, etc.). The tax reform law further titled the scale toward bigger demands, but it didn’t create the demands in the first place — and while getting rid of tax-exempt bond subsidies would be a nice step, it wouldn’t put an end to stadium subsidies in the slightest.

“But Congress didn’t account for the fan loyalty and pride that — at the time — made raising local taxes more acceptable.”

Fan loyalty and pride are still on full display, but sports fans are taxpayers, too, and have been resisting handing their tax dollars over to sports team owners as much as anyone since the beginning. Just ask Frank Rashid.

“The boom was driven in part by demand from teams and fans for a more sophisticated sports experience than the drab concrete coliseums they were used to.”

If by “more sophisticated sports experience” you mean “more pulled-pork sandwiches and nicer cupholders,” sure. But plenty of sports venues have been torn down in recent years to make way for new facilities that are arguably even drabber than the ones they replaced.

“The Washington, D.C., soccer team, D.C. United, spent years negotiating with the nation’s capital over a new soccer-specific stadium. Those talks effectively shut down once the economic downturn hit in 2008, and the team spent another seven years shopping around in the surrounding counties — even going as far as Baltimore — trying to find a local government that would pay for the facility. None would bite. Ultimately, the team stayed in D.C. and is paying to build a stadium on land the city spent $150 million acquiring. The deal includes a non-relocation agreement.”

In addition to that free land, D.C. United is also getting $43 million in property tax breaks, making it the most expensive MLS soccer stadium subsidy in history. The tide is turning!

“Kiel Center Partners, the firm that owns the NHL Blues, had asked the St. Louis City Board of Aldermen for $64 million to finance upgrades to the Scottrade Center. Had the city’s voters not been distracted by the soccer stadium proposal and by a heated mayoral election, the financing might have met more resistance. Some aldermen did question whether the city’s 1994 lease with the team required it to pay for upgrades, but still the proposal narrowly passed. If it had been submitted to a popular vote, it most likely would have failed.”

Again, “if voters had been asked, they would have voted it down” is likely true of all of St. Louis’s past sports subsidy deals. (Possibly not the original Rams deal, though if they’d known that it would allow the team to move away by claiming their two-decade-old stadium was no longer “state of the art,” they might have balked at that, too.) And voters didn’t get to vote because the city council just up and decreed that they wouldn’t be allowed to, despite that 2002 referendum, so it’s tough to see how this is a sign of increased political resistance.

“So the hockey team got its way. Things like that still happen. But they don’t happen easily, and they don’t happen with broad public support. Several years ago, for instance, when the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings wanted a publicly funded stadium, the state legislature rejected the proposal. Eventually the team got its money, but with a state law capping public contributions to the $1 billion project at $498 million.”

OMG, the Vikings owners actually had to ask for stadium subsidies multiple times! And then they had to settle for a mere half-billion dollars in cash, except counting tax breaks and other hidden goodies it’s actually costing taxpayers more like $1.1 billion, so, uh.

In the end, the Governing article isn’t a terrible one, and it does touch on a lot of details of the stadium scam that Governing likely wouldn’t have been caught dead discussing 20 years ago. (Now there’s some progress.) But if the takeaway is that the general public loved sports stadium plans, but now have realized they were duped, that’s not the story at all: Actually it’s been a battle from the beginning between team owners trying to extract as much public money as possible, and taxpayers and some of their local representatives trying to push back. And while maybe a few more elected officials are pushing back harder, there’s pushback against the pushback, too. So this whole mess isn’t ending anytime soon, much as I wish it were so I could retire this blog and go back to treating sports as the purely apolitical, fun pastime that it never really was.

NYCFC: South Bronx waterfront stadium? What South Bronx waterfront stadium?

When somebody (presumably the developers) leaked plans last week for a South Bronx development plan that would include an NYC F.C. soccer stadium — and as much as $422 million in land subsidies — the state Empire State Development agency immediately disavowed any notion that it was a done deal, while the soccer team itself remained mum. They’ve broken their silence now, though, and appear to be backing away from the plan as fast as humanly possible:

New York City FC president Jon Patricof says that a tract of land at Harlem River Yards is not an area of focus for a proposed stadium site…

“We submitted something to the State [of New York] as part of a request for expressions of interest,” said Patricof about the Harlem River Yards site. “But that’s it. That site is not an active site.”

That’s not a definitive “no way, no how,” but it’s pretty close — after all, if Patricof just wanted to say that lots of sites were still under consideration including the Harlem River yards, he could have just said that. “Not an active site” is as much cold water as he can possibly throw on it without shrieking “No, no, a thousand times no!”

If I had to take a wild-ass guess, I would say that it sounds like the developers were looking to place a bid on the South Bronx land, thought, “Hey, I bet we could get some additional support for this if it looked like we were solving NYC F.C.’s stadium problem,” asked the team, “Mind if we include you in this?” and the team owners said, “Sure, what the hell.” But now that it looks controversial — in addition to the hugely discounted land price, local organizers have long sought this parcel to be part of a waterfront greenway — NYC F.C.’s owners (the Abu Dhabi royal family and the Yankees, pretty much) figure there are better places to cast their bets. Even if this plan did have some affordable housing to make the mayor happy and light-up bridges to please the governor.

Friday roundup: Spending on training facilities is a bad idea, Portland seeks MLB team, Jays game postponed after roof hit by falling ice

I can’t believe none of you wrote in to ask why I hadn’t reported on a Toronto Blue Jays game getting postponed due to falling ice puncturing a hole in the stadium roof, but I guess you’re all acclimated to waiting for the Friday roundup now for that sort of thing. But wait no longer! (Well, wait a few bullet points for that one in particular.)

NYCFC Bronx stadium plan could hit $422m in subsidies, isn’t even a formal proposal yet

I spent a good chunk of yesterday researching that report of a new NYC F.C. stadium to be built in the South Bronx for this Village Voice article, and uncovered a few more things:

  • Not only did developer Keith Rubinstein (who’s actually part of the development group behind the new plan, along with NYC F.C. and Stephen Ross) pay $58 million for five acres of adjacent land just three years ago, but he sold it again for $165 million earlier this month. At that price per acre, then, the 12.8-acre site being targeted for the soccer stadium should be worth $432 million — and yet the development proposal offers New York state a mere $10 million (in present value) worth of future lease payments.
  • And that’s not even counting any tax breaks the project would get from not paying property taxes, thanks to being built on state land. The state could always demand payments in lieu of taxes as part of any deal, but there’s no guarantee that would bring in as much revenue as if the land were delivered to private hands and put on the property-tax rolls.
  • Though the New York YIMBY article that leaked the stadium plan made it sound like all but a done deal, it’s far from that: The state Empire State Development agency has only issued a Request for Expressions of Interest, which is what it does while trolling for potential bidders for a formal Request for Proposals, and it doesn’t even have a timetable yet for issuing an RFP. So the Ross/Rubinstein/NYC F.C. proposal isn’t even really a proposal yet, more like a brightly colored press packet with delusions of grandeur.

And speaking of that press packet, I got it last night from ESD, and oh man, is it over the top. Some highlights:

  • The soccer stadium “is an essential element of our transformation plan, bringing an iconic, facility – unique in the City –that will give this too-often under-appreciated community a distinctive identity and widespread recognition.” (All weird-ass grammar and punctuation in the original.) I thought giving Port Morris/Mott Haven a “distinctive identity” was what the Piano District fiasco was supposed to be all about, but I guess you can’t have too many distinctive identities, or something.
  • Under “Stadium Benefits,” the proposal includes: “Stadium cost is estimated to be $75m more expensive than a stadium built on a development site without rail tracks to build over.” They’re building an extra-spendy stadium just so freight trains can keep passing through like they already do now! It’s like money in your pocket!
  • KidZania, a “miniature kids’ size city that combines inspiration, fun and learning through realistic role play for children 4-14.” And in case you don’t give a crap about kids, it would also “generate economic activity in all seasons, and local job opportunities.”
  • There will be no dedicated parking, thanks to all the subway stations within a few blocks; instead, fans who insist on driving “will be directed to park at the nearby Yankee Stadium and arrive via a dedicated stadium shuttle network, which could include rail, bus, ferry and bicycle.” Yankee Stadium is almost two miles from the proposed soccer stadium site.
  • This, whatever this is:

And there is so much more — the damn thing goes on for 159 pages, though many of them are just such things as photos of kids holding astronaut helmets. (See for yourself at the links to the full proposal below.)

It looks like ESD has only received one other proposal for the rail yards so far — from a housing developer that is interested in building there, but doesn’t give a proposed sale price for the land — but that’s not unexpected at this stage of the game, especially when the two biggest Bronx developers (plus NYC F.C., which is part-owned by the Yankees, who are the big dogs in the South Bronx) are already in cahoots on a single plan. Real estate monoculture is bad for taxpayers and other living things.

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NYC F.C. could get its own nine-figure state land gift, for a Bronx stadium

And then there’s this, via the real estate blog New York YIMBY:

YIMBY has the first look at an enormous project coming to the South Bronx waterfront, dubbed Harlem River Yards, submitted to the city by a Related-led partnership. The plans would rise adjacent to Somerset Partners’s assortment of new towers already in the works, adding another major affordable housing building, as well as the City’s first dedicated soccer stadium, with 26,000 seats, designed by Rafael Viñoly. The total cost is projected at $700 million.

The partnership is comprised of Related, Somerset Partners, and the New York City Football Club, which would be the occupying team for the new stadium.

The railyard RFP actually was open for expressions of interest more than a year ago, so if NYC F.C. and its partners — Related is the realty giant run by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross — have been secretly planning this, they’ve been secretly planning it for a while. The YIMBY report doesn’t say anything about any public money being involved, though it does say Related and Somerset would pay $500,000 a year on a ground lease for 12.8 acres of state land; developer Keith Rubinstein (of “Piano District” fame, and also the principal of Somerset Partners) spent $58 million for five acres just one bridge over a couple of years back, so if that’s any gauge, the state should be getting more like $10 million a year in rent, which would a total state subsidy of about $130 million in present value.

There’s also the question of whether an MLS stadium can even fit on the site without some major reworking of the Harlem River waterfront. Here’s the rendering of the site provided by YIMBY:

And here’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, pasted over the site by me via Google Maps and Photoshop:

I mean, maybe, if the architects are super-creative and trim the corners just right? But soccer pitches only come in one size, and Red Bull Arena is pretty compact already, so I’d like to see something with actual measurements before saying for sure that this wouldn’t require closing streets or moving navigable shipping lanes.

Plus, keep in mind this is only a proposal — the state Empire State Development agency still would need to approve it as the winner. In any case, expect lots more on this tomorrow once the rest of the New York media gets hold of it…

Beckham’s Miami MLS team has yet another stadium site frontrunner

If it seems like David Beckham’s would-be MLS franchise — which, let’s not forget, only exists because he was promised one at a cut-rate price in exchange for gifting the league with his then-aging-but-still-good-for-MLS talents — has been wandering the Miami wilderness in search of a stadium site forever, it’s really only been less than five years, which is still pretty long. But after announcing last month that it would be looking at “five or so sites,” Beckham’s ownership group may be settling on a new frontrunner, the site of a Pepsi distribution center in suburban Doral west of Miami — at least, according to the mayor of Doral:

“In this transaction, It seems like it would be a cleaner process,” said Doral Vice Mayor Ana Maria Rodriguez , who supports a stadium in the growing suburban city. “And no public money would be expended on it.”

Unlike the last frontrunner, a publicly owned (but privately operated) golf course in Melreese, the Doral site wouldn’t have issues with getting in the way of flights landing at the airport, which could allow for taller hotels and such that Beckham and his partners the Mas brothers want to build adjacent to the stadium.

If you’re scoring at home, this would be something like the fifth stadium site to be anointed as the likely stadium site (Miami waterfront, adjacent to Marlins stadium, Overtown, Melreese … are we counting the Marlins site twice since it keeps cropping up?). Doral certainly sounds like it would involve less red tape and has a willing mayor, but until there are more specifics, it’s hard to take any of this too seriously. Wake me when you can actually buy Miami MLS souvenir jerseys.

Friday roundup: Marlins claim British residency, video football with real humans, and the White Sox stadium that never was

Busy (minor) news week! And away we go…

  • Derek Jeter’s Miami Marlins ownership group, facing a lawsuit by the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County over the team stiffing the public on the share of sale proceeds they were promised, are trying to stave it off by claiming that (deep breath) because one of the owners of an umbrella company of an umbrella company of the umbrella company that owns the Marlins is a business incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, the case should be arbitrated by a federal judge who handles international trade issues. Maybe the Marlins should quit trying to sell tickets to baseball games and sell tickets to the court proceedings instead.
  • Tampa Bay Rays chief development officer Melanie Lenz, in response to concerns that a big-ass baseball stadium wouldn’t fit into the Ybor City historic district that it would be on the border of, said that “we expect to build a next-generation, neighborhood ballpark that fits within the fabric of the Ybor City community,” though she didn’t give any details. That’s vague enough to be reassuring without actually promising anything concrete, but it’s worth making a note of just in case the historic district ends up becoming a stumbling block in stadium talks, which, stranger things have happened.
  • A guy wants to start a football league where fans vote on what plays to run via Twitch, and build an arena in Las Vegas for people to watch … the players? The voting? The Las Vegas Review-Journal article about it was a bit unclear, though it did say that the organizers want to “create the experience of playing a football video game with real people,” which isn’t creepy at all. It also reports that the league plans to use blockchain technology, which is how you know it’s probably a sham.
  • Something called the Badger Herald, which I assume is a University of Wisconsin student paper but which I really hope is a newspaper targeted entirely at badgers, ran an article by a junior economics major arguing that the new Milwaukee Bucks arena will be a boon to the city because during the first few years “many will come from across the state to watch the Bucks play in this impressive new facility” and after that it will “continue giving the people of Milwaukee a reason to be optimistic.” The author also says that the arena was built after “the NBA gave the Bucks an ultimatum — either obtain a new arena, or the NBA would buy the Bucks and sell the franchise to another city,” which, uh, no, that’s not what happened at all.
  • Here’s a really nice article for CBS Sports by my old Baseball Prospectus colleague Dayn Perry on the Chicago White Sox ballpark proposed by architect Philip Bess that never got built. Come for the cool pictures of spiders, stay for the extended explanation of why supporting columns that obstruct some views are a design feature that stadium architects never should have abandoned!
  • The Los Angeles Rams are trying to pull a San Francisco 49ers, according to Deadspin, by making a run at a Super Bowl in the same year they’re selling personal seat licenses for their new stadium. More power to ’em, but prospective Rams PSL buyers, check how that worked out for 49ers fans before you hand over your credit card numbers, okay?
  • The state of Connecticut has cut $100 million for Hartford arena renovations from the state budget, at least for now, so that it can use the money toward a $550 million bailout of the city of Hartford itself. Is that what they call a “no win-win situation“?
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the New York Islanders need to move back to Long Island because Brooklyn’s Barclays Center “wasn’t built for hockey,” which he actually pointed out at the time they moved there, but did anybody listen?
  • Alameda County is moving to sell its share of the Oakland Coliseum complex to the city of Oakland, which should make negotiations over what to do with the site slightly simpler, anyway.
  • That Missouri governor who killed a proposed St. Louis MLS stadium subsidy, calling it “welfare for millionaires,” is now under pressure to resign after his former hairdresser claimed he groped her, slapped her, and coerced her into sex acts. Maybe we should just stop electing men to public office? Just a thought.

Friday roundup: Warriors rail stop turns pricey, West End stadium undead again, Montreal mayor meets with would-be Expos owners

Superbrief mode today:

  • Expanding light-rail service to the Golden State Warriors‘ new arena is now expected to cost at least $62 million, which is a lot for Muni Metro, though not for some other transit systems. The Warriors owners are kicking in $19 million, but the rest will be funded by tax money from the arena district, which may or may not be enough to cover the entire nut. Tim Redmond saw this coming.
  • F.C. Cincinnati owners are officially pivoting back to the West End stadium site that it had declared dead last month after not getting offered enough property-tax breaks on the land. How come? Team CEO Jeff Berding said of the other two options, Oakley is “not as close to the urban core as desired,” and the team couldn’t secure land in Newport, Kentucky. Sounds like the West End has the club over somewhat of a barrel, which it should be able to use to ensure the team pays full property taxes, at least, though some residents may be more concerned about keeping out a stadium entirely over fears it will further gentrify their neighborhood.
  • The mayor of Montreal is meeting today with an ownership group that wants to bring a new Expos MLB team back to town. “We don’t need a cent from the city of Montreal, but we need a little help,” prospective co-owner Stephen Bronfman said earlier this week; your guess is as good as mine what that actually means.
  • Minnesota taxpayers have spent $1.4 billion on new or renovated sports venues over the past 20 years, if anyone is counting.
  • The Pawtucket Red Sox‘ stadium demands continue to be stalled, if anyone is keeping track.
  • “A deputy in one of Russia’s 2018 FIFA World Cup host cities has claimed that a latest inspection by the world’s footballing body has neglected a missing column at a newly built stadium.” You’ve just got to read the whole Moscow Times article now, don’t you?