Charlotte won’t get county money for MLS stadium, expansion race now bigger mess than ever

The Mecklenburg County commission voted 5-3 on Wednesday to hand over the site of 83-year-old Memorial Stadium to the city of Charlotte for a new soccer stadium for a potential MLS team — but no money for building it, which is what the ownership group had been hoping for. Commissioners said they wanted to see a soccer stadium built, but, you know, by the city, not them:

“They manage stadiums and they have a division in the city that deals with pro sports teams,” [Commissioner Jim] Puckett said. “They have a dedicated tax revenue stream that’s for entertainment and can be used for pro sports. They have the expertise and funding stream to deal with that.”

The team’s original plan was for a $175 million stadium where $101.25 million of the costs would be paid off by the county, with the team repaying the public via $4.25 million a year in rent payments. (Note to readers who can do math: No, $4.25 million a year is not enough to repay $101.25 million in bonds unless you get a 1.5% interest rate, which I know they’re low but get serious.) Now they’ll instead have to try to hit up the city of Charlotte alone, which has already indicated that its maximum contribution is $30 million.

That would leave the team to shoulder $145 million of the cost, plus MLS’s nutso $150 million expansion fee, which is a hefty chunk of change. On the other hand, the team wouldn’t have to make those rent payments, so maybe it could just go to a bank and borrow the cash, and make mortgage payments instead? Or maybe the rich NASCAR track heir who wants to launch the MLS team would rather have somebody else on the hook for loan payments if his team, or MLS as a whole, went belly-up at some point as a result of its pyramid-scam spree of handing out expansion franchises like candy to anyone who wants to pay $150 million for candy? Yeah, probably that.

If you’re keeping score, the MLS expansion candidates are now:

That’s a whole mishmash of stuff indeed, and I don’t envy the job of the MLS officials tasked with having to pick two winners this fall (and two more next fall, because they can’t cash those $150 million expansion-fee checks fast enough). You have to wonder if commissioner Don Garber doesn’t think to himself sometimes, maybe it’d be easier just to stick the expansion franchises on eBay and take the highest bids. It would mean giving up on the pretense that they’re actually selecting the best soccer cities or something, but get real, nobody believes that anyway.

Raleigh MLS team wants $91m in state land, will pay for it by hey look over there!

We have a price tag on that 13 acres of state-owned land (with state-owned buildings on it) that would-be MLS owners in Raleigh want for a stadium, and it’s $91 million, at least. Which the MLS backers say they’ll pay for by, um, er, something about a “public-private partnership”:

State Property Office Director Tim Walton … told Department of Administration officials in an email last month that $7 million an acre would be the “minimum starting point” for the 13-acre parcel of state land the club hopes will become home to a new Major League Soccer franchise.

Rather than buy the land outright, NCFC wants to form a public-private partnership with the state to use the property, which is bounded by Peace, Salisbury and Lane streets just north of downtown.

“Public-private partnership,” for those not familiar with the term of art, can mean lots of things — anywhere from “we’ll get together with the government and share profits on a joint investment” to (more commonly) “we’ll be the partner that gets the money, and you be the partner who spends it.” While details haven’t been released yet, clearly this would be an easy way to stick to a “no public money” pledge while still collecting lots of public money — either by promising to repay the state for its land with revenues that aren’t a sure bet to turn up, or by charging the state a premium to rent space for new offices in a joint development, or really any of a million other ways that could be hidden deep within a development agreement.

Is this 100% absolutely surely a scam? No! Is it something that we should be raising an eyebrow at until enough details are released to tell if it’s a scam? Hell yeah! Billie Redmond, chief executive Trademark Properties, the company tasked with site selection for North Carolina F.C. (nice way to include the state name when you’re seeking state money, btw), said, “What we are proposing is complicated, but it’s an opportunity to do something extraordinary”; whether that’s extraordinary in terms of “a win-win for all concerned” or “I can’t believe they fell for that!” is yet to be determined.

Raleigh MLS bidders want state to raze government buildings to build them a stadium

Another day, another prospective MLS team looking for a “public-private partnership” to build a stadium. Today’s contender: Raleigh, where the owners of North Carolina Football Club (catchy name) want the state to raze a government office complex and give them the land for a soccer venue:

The 13-acre site, bounded by Peace, Salisbury and Lane streets, is part of the sprawling state government complex and houses several offices, including the Archdale Building and the State Capitol Police station.

NCFC wants to lease the land from the state, but it’s unclear whether government leaders are on board.

Yeah, it should be unclear, considering here’s what the site looks like now, per Google Maps:
That is a whole mess of stuff that is already built and would have to be replaced! Me, that probably wouldn’t have been my first ask, but maybe the team owners are thinking they can negotiate down to a public park or something.

Aside from this, there aren’t many details on how the funding for a stadium would work, other than that it would cost $150 million and, according to the News & Observer, “would generate $262 million a year in economic activity for North Carolina and create 1,960 jobs, according to Economic Leadership, an economic development consulting firm in Raleigh. It would generate $5.6 million in annual tax revenue for the state.”

A soccer team selling 20,000 seats a game for 19 home games at, let’s be generous and give them $30 a pop, plus $30 in concessions and parking, apply a 2x multiplier just for the hell of it, that’ll almost come to $5.6 million a year at Raleigh’s 7.25% sales tax rate. Assuming, of course, that all the North Carolina F.C. fans would otherwise be spending that money out of the state, which, um, yeah. This seems like almost as terrible an idea as that time El Paso tore down its City Hall to build a minor-league baseball stadium, so I really hope it happens, because I need new laughably tragic stories to tell during radio interviews.

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.