Every concentration of humans on earth now bidding to build MLS stadiums

Nashville is looking to build a new MLS stadium, and Indianapolis is looking to build a new MLS stadium, and San Diego is looking to get a new MLS stadium, and Detroit is considering providing free land for an MLS stadium, and St. Louis is still looking to build an MLS stadium after rejecting it once, and a guy in Charlotte is still looking to have an MLS stadium built for him, and Tampa is looking to get an MLS franchise but already has a stadium.

These are mostly terrible ideas, notes the Guardian, at least where they involve public money. And if the newspaper slightly overstates the case that there’s growing pushback on MLS subsidies (truth is, they’ve never been an especially easy sell as sports subsidies go, mostly because MLS isn’t as popular yet as the Big Four sports), it does contain a classic defense of them from Peter Wilt, the Chicago Fire founder who now heads later headed the Indy Eleven NASL team and wannabe expansion franchise:

“It is about image and plays into making a city cool to live in, a good experience for young professionals, and reducing the brain drain on a community. Things like that are sometimes not taken into account. If Oakland loses the A’s and the Raiders, which is a possibility, then no one will hear about Oakland in any positive terms for the foreseeable future.”

Things like that actually are taken into account in economic studies of teams and stadiums, which overwhelmingly find that if sports teams make cities “cool,” it doesn’t show up in things like per-capita income or jobs or economic activity or tax receipts. Plus you’d then have to explain how a city like Portland, for example, which until recently had only basketball as a major-league sport and famously turned down a domed stadium in the 1960s that would have brought an NFL team, nonetheless became one of the hippest cities in America. (It has MLS now, but the hipness predated that.)

Anyway, with MLS set to announce four more expansion franchises in the next year or so, the league can probably count on some cities stepping up to throw money at new stadiums, so long as they’re not too picky about which ones. (Cincinnati, Raleigh/Durham, Sacramento, and San Antonio are also in the mix.) Bulk-mailing extortion notes is kind of a strange business model, but hey, whatever works.

Charlotte’s $100m MLS subsidy wins county approval, but city kills it

One day ahead of a scheduled Charlotte city council vote on $43.75 million in subsidies to billionaire racetrack owner Bruton Smith for a proposed $175 million MLS stadium, Mecklenburg County approved kicking in its own $43.75 million plus $13 million in free land — only to have the city immediately cancel its own vote, apparently because stadium supporters had determined the proposal wouldn’t pass:

City Council’s cancellation after the county vote on the $175 million stadium threw the deal into limbo. A council majority had been expected to oppose the deal. A “no” decision by the city would have killed the deal.

Mayor Jennifer Roberts said in a statement that “while this (proposal) is very promising, it is clear that we are not prepared to move forward at this time on the current soccer proposal.”

Since the mayor, you’ll recall, had said she didn’t have time to have her staff testify before a council hearing on the stadium plan, the only council hearing was scheduled for today before the vote, and that’s canceled now as well, so we can’t really say what councilmembers’ objections were (one announced she didn’t approve of “the location in addition to the other things,” which doesn’t really help), or whether they could be swayed by a revamped deal. County manager Dena Diorio said yesterday that “we don’t have a city partnership right now, so I need to go back and talk to the team ownership to see what they want to do at this point in time.” All those who think the answer is “reach for their wallets and pull out a spare $43.75-million bill,” raise your hands!

Charlotte mayor tells council to email MLS stadium questions, because no time for hearings

Today in everybody and their sister wants to build a damn MLS stadium to get a damn expansion team news:

  • Charlotte’s plan for $100 million in city and county subsidies for a $175 million stadium could receive a Friday city council vote, just two weeks after the proposal first surfaced. If that seems rushed, you don’t know the half of it: Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said there isn’t time for a public council hearing on the plan, and that members should email their questions to city staff instead. Roberts later called for a council meeting on the subject at 4 p.m. on Friday, which should give plenty of time for everyone to process any testimony before a vote, right?
  • Something Charlotte council members might want to fire up their email clients about: WTF was the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority smoking when it estimated a billion dollars in new visitor spending over 25 years and 600 new jobs as a result of building a soccer stadium? Not that $40 million a year in economic activity — which amounts to maybe a couple million a year in new tax receipts — would be any great shakes for $100 million in expense, nor is a cost of $166,000 per job. But still, substance abuse is a serious problem, and if you see something, you should say something.
  • Over in St. Louis, meanwhile, that city’s all but dead $129 million MLS stadium subsidy proposal has turned into a $60 million subsidy plus an entertainment-tax kickback of unknown value. The new plan still doesn’t have much support — the bill stalled in committee last week, after city budget director Paul Payne testified that he wasn’t confident the plan wouldn’t end up dipping into the city’s general fund — but supporters are still hoping to somehow get it approved by the council and a circuit court judge in the next four weeks to get it on the April ballot, at which point St. Louis voters can express how much they hate it.

San Diego group says it can build MLS stadium and housing at Qualcomm site with no public money

Apparently this is just the way it goes now: Your NFL team leaves town, and immediately thereafter somebody proposes building an MLS stadium as a booby prize. Next up, San Diego:

$1B soccer redevelopment initiative announced for ‘Q’ site

Mmm, not quite, San Diego Union-Tribune. First of all, the redevelopment was just proposed, not announced — there will have to be a ballot initiative, and then either a city council vote or a public referendum to make the thing happen. And only about $200 million of the money would be for the soccer stadium, which would be shared by an MLS expansion franchise (everybody thinks they’re getting an MLS expansion franchise, and everybody is probably right) and San Diego State University’s football team; the rest would go for a mixed-use development on the rest of the property currently taken up by the Chargers‘ now-former stadium, and is only estimated at $1 billion.

Still, the plan sounds promising, at least the way its boosters describe it: The developers, a group called FS Investors that has helped build everything from real estate projects to small-batch popcorn, say they would pay for all construction, buy the land at fair market value, and even set aside room for a new NFL stadium if San Diego ever got the chance to bring in a team to replace the Chargers. There’s no word about any public money involved, which could mean they’re not asking for any, or it could mean they’re not mentioning that part yet. (Involving a public university, for one, seems like a potential route to requesting state funds.)

This plan certainly seems worth exploring, though — and if it can work without taxpayer cash, it would be a sign that the problem with past Qualcomm Stadium redevelopment plans wasn’t the redevelopment part, it was the expensive-ass football stadium that was being required to go at the center of it. Soccer stadiums may not be any better as economic anchors than football stadiums, but they are a hell of a lot cheaper, which has its advantages.

Charlotte taxpayers now only being asked to spend $100m on a private MLS stadium, maybe

Great news, everybody! Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is located, is now only being asked to spend $100 million on a soccer stadium for which the nonexistent team’s owner has only offered to put up $50 million, instead of being asked to spend $113 million:

Commissioners, meeting in closed session Wednesday night, were told the county and the city would each be asked to pay $43.75 million toward a $175 million stadium. That’s down from the $50 million each that was sought in the initial proposal in early January.

The report in the Charlotte Observer leaves out $13 million in land costs that county taxpayers would cover, bringing the total to $100.5 million. It also doesn’t explain who’d pay the additional $25 million that the stadium would now be expected to build since this was first proposed, if those are real costs and not just other stuff larded in to make it look like the public portion is a smaller share of the whole nut.

Also not mentioned is what the team’s lease would be like — except that “team owners would control [the stadium] in much the way the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets do the city-owned Spectrum Center” — so it’s entirely possible that this $12.5 million cut in county spending would be offset by $12.5 million more towards future renovations, or something. The Mecklenburg county commission is expected to vote on this plan next Thursday at a private retreat, after holding just a single public forum at 3 pm next Tuesday, when surely lots of folks will be free to testify about this proposal that doesn’t appear to be even mentioned on the commission’s website.

One commissioner critical of the plan, Pat Cotham, remarked, “I’m struggling with this rushed process. Rushed deals of any sort are not good deals, because you need to have time to vet things.” Crazy talk! In America, we vote on stadium deals first, and figure out the details later, and nothing’s gone wrong yet, right?

Charlotte MLS backers asking for $113m in public cash for stadium, isn’t this where we came in?

So, let’s see, anything else been going on while we’ve all been focused on where the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders were going to end up? How about Charlotte, North Carolina being asked for $113 million for a soccer stadium for a team that doesn’t exist yet?

A proposal presented to Mecklenburg County commissioners in closed session last week calls for the city and county to each spend $50 million toward a $150 million stadium in Elizabeth just outside of uptown. The local ownership group of Bruton Smith, the billionaire race track owner, and his son, Marcus, CEO of Speedway Motorsports, would spend $50 million for the stadium.

The county would also demolish Memorial Stadium and the Grady Cole Center to make room for the stadium. The county would also provide the land – assessed at $12.9 million – for the new stadium.

That’s about equally as bad as the historically awful St. Louis soccer stadium proposal that that city mercifully killed earlier this week. If this is the new baseline ask for would-be MLS owners, we could be seeing the gradual end to the days when public subsidies in that league were generally lower than in other sports. (Though if cities keep saying no to them, maybe it’ll just be an indication that no matter if lots of kids are playing soccer now, that still hasn’t translated into the public or politicians feeling like landing an MLS franchise bestows that major “major league” feeling.) Already the Charlotte Observer has raised its eyebrows at the cost, and Charlotte Magazine contributing editor Greg Lecour has urged the city and county to drive a way harder bargain. Though it’s way more likely that MLS just packs up and tries its shtick on the next city down the road. How’s that legislation to end the Economic War Among the States going?

Revolution stadium plans being ruined by greedy teachers union, says pro-stadium columnist

Speaking of death notices for MLS stadium plans, New England Revolution owner Robert Kraft’s proposed Dorchester soccer facility is also being declared “all but dead,” at least by Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung. This, though, may be a slightly different story than in St. Louis:

The finger-pointing has begun, and if Kraft goes away, blame the Boston Teachers Union. At issue are the 2.7 acres the union owns on the site where Kraft would like to put his sports venue.

The union, I am told, is asking for a deal that Kraft, a billionaire who also owns the New England Patriots, thinks is too rich.

That’s the start of a long column that comes down to: Kraft wants the teachers union’s land, the union is driving a hard bargain, and Kraft may walk away from the site in response. The entire thing is completely unsourced, except for one reference to “according to people briefed on the matter,” and given that Leung writes that if the deal dies it would be “a shame,” that she goes out of her way to praise Kraft as “credited with saving football when he helped broker a deal with players that ended the NFL’s 136-day lockout in 2011,” and that she’s previously admitted in print that “some may say I have never met a stadium I didn’t like,” there’s a fairly high likelihood that this column was prompted by Kraft’s side griping to her about those damn union leaders refusing to come down on their land asking price. Leung writes that Kraft has “a reputation for being a tough negotiator” — if he can save a few million by getting a friendly journalist to paint his opponents as obstructionists, that’s a phone call well worth making.

St. Louis soccer stadium plan sponsor kills funding plan, ball’s in MLS’s court, uh, pitch

Looks like we can downgrade the St. Louis MLS stadium plan’s condition from critical to dead, after the sponsor of a city bill to fund $80 million of the cost said she’s withdrawing the legislation:

“That bill will not be moving forward,” Alderman Christine Ingrassia, 6th Ward, said at Tuesday’s meeting of the aldermanic Ways and Means Committee…

Ingrassia said she wanted SC STL to show a proposal that was at least “revenue neutral” on the city’s budget over time.

“It looked like to me, and in the conversations I had with people who have more expertise in the field of public financing, that they were basically just repackaging the same subsidies in different ways,” Ingrassia said. “So they were asking for way more than I feel like we could support here in the city.”

“Repackaging the same subsidies in different ways”? I’m sure I’ve never heard of anything like that before.

It’s not entirely clear what changed Ingrassia’s mind — you go and sponsor a bill to spend $80 million on a soccer stadium, then turn around and say that this is “way more” than you can support? — but it’s worth noting that after newly elected governor Eric Greitens ruled out state funding as “corporate welfare,” Ingrassia started backing away as well. Elected officials are just so susceptible to peer pressure, you know?

If the soccer stadium plan really is dead, at least in this iteration — Mayor Francis Slay held out hope of still getting a proposal on an April ballot, but time’s running out and there’s now no funding plan at all — it’s worth noting that this would be one of the largest MLS stadium subsidies in history, all for a team that doesn’t actually exist yet. Top-level pro soccer in St. Louis isn’t a bad idea — it’s not a bad idea most places, which is why the league is handing out franchises to just about anyone who asks — but providing a near-record subsidy just so that MLS can get away with charging $150 million expansion fees was a terrible one. This alone won’t change the league’s business model, but maybe if Greitens has started something and a few more prospective expansion cities push back against subsidy demands … friends, they’ll call it a movement?

New Missouri gov says no state stadium funding, no way, no how

Sorry for the radio silence of the last few days: I was traveling, and while intending to get back to the stadium grind yesterday, a red-eye flight proved to be incompatible with a regular morning posting schedule. (Though I did find time to finish up some music writing I’d been working on, if that interests you.)

Thankfully, Missouri governor-elect Eric Greitens didn’t take the holidays off, greeting us to 2017 by upping the ante on his comments that MLS stadium funding would be “welfare to millionaires” with a great big raised middle finger to plans for state tax breaks for a St. Louis soccer stadium, telling journalists on Monday: “To be very clear, I have completely ruled out state funding for stadiums.”

Greitens reiterated his description of state aid for stadiums as ”welfare for millionaires” but said he “looks forward to meeting with the leaders of the MLS project to see if there’s a way for them to bring private-sector funding to bring a soccer team to the state of Missouri.”

“We are not going to use money from the people of the state of Missouri for what I believe is corporate welfare,” Greitens said. “We’ve got far too many core priorities of government that have to be invested in.”

That’s about as clear as clear can be. Without the $40 million in state tax credits, the MLS proposal has a (wait for it) $40 million hole in its budget, one that neither the city of St. Louis (which would already be putting up $89 million of its own public cash) nor the team’s prospective owners (who would already be, uh, paying the league’s $150 million expansion fee, what do you want from them, blood?) seems eager to fill. Stadium bill sponsor Ald. Christine Ingrassia remarked following Greitens’ remarks, “I was hoping to get to the point where this proposal made sense for St. Louis, but I’m feeling that less and less,” while Mayor Francis Slay’s chief of staff said, “It will be tough to get this done without the state’s support.”

Not that this kills the St. Louis MLS plan dead: $40 million isn’t an insurmountable gap, and the team owners aren’t likely to just walk away from that $89 million in city subsidies without trying to make it work. But with only three weeks before the deadline to get a vote on the April ballot, there isn’t much time to go back to the drawing board if they’re hoping to get something approved this year. Time for everybody to watch Lewis Reed really, really closely.

Either St. Louis MLS stadium funding is in trouble, or democracy is

That proposed MLS stadium for St. Louis that may be about to lose its $40 million state tax kickback could be facing trouble for its planned city subsidies as well, as apparently nobody gave the board of aldermen time to actually discuss funding bills before putting them up for an April vote:

One measure would raise the city’s sales tax by a half percent, with the revenue going to mass transit, public safety and economic development. A second measure would direct the corresponding increase in the use tax to the new stadium…

If [St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis] Reed waits until next year to make those [committee] assignments — something that he’s well within his rights to do — aldermen would have just two weeks to pass the bills if they want the measures on the April ballot.

“I received the bills an hour before they wanted me to assign them,” Reed said. “We should have gotten that information a little bit earlier to really have an opportunity to take a look at the bills, understand what they are, their total impact, and the best assignment for them.”

This could easily be a screwup by the stadium’s sponsors, or it could be intentional: Corporate subsidy advocates haven’t been above throwing bills at legislators at the last minute to avoid scrutiny (or even leaving time for legislators to read the damn things), after all. Reed steered carefully down the middle on the proposed St. Louis Rams stadium subsidy, so it’s probably unlikely he’ll use this as an excuse to throw roadblocks in the way of the MLS deal; whether he’ll use this as an excuse to ram it through with little debate, we’ll see — though the fact that he’s griping publicly about not having enough time doesn’t seem promising for stadium subsidy backers.