San Diego pulls large number out of butt, calls it SoccerCity economic impact

So last week this happened:

SoccerCity could deliver an annual $2.8 billion economic boost to the region at full buildout of the Qualcomm Stadium site, according to projections released Thursday by the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.

I’m not going to go to the trouble of showing you all the EDC’s calculations, because it’s easy enough for you all to join me in hollering, “NO IT WON’T!” Adding up all the future wages paid at a complex and calling that an “economic boost to the region” only makes sense if all of those jobs would only exist in the region with the complex, and nobody believes that.

This proposal started out really promising, with a soccer stadium and housing and light industry all for no public money, but between the possible $240 million infrastructure and land cleanup cost and this overblown economic impact study, it’s starting to look less like the exception than the rule. Not that it would necessarily be a disaster for San Diego, but it requires a hard, hard look before it goes before voters for approval.

San Diego MLS stadium with “no public money” pledge could demand $240m in infrastructure cash

One of the key attributes of the plan to build an MLS stadium on the site of the San Diego Chargers‘ old stadium was that it would not only require no public money, but also the developers would pay “fair market value” for the 80 acres of land involved. So how much would that be? How about maybe … $10,000?

The sale price would be linked to the fair market value, yet to be determined, but it would have to take into account the cost of demolishing Qualcomm, estimated at perhaps $15 million, and other environmental issues and other problems, such as flooding and habitat preservation. Also taken into consideration would be the potential of setting aside room for an NFL stadium, and other “extraordinary costs.”

If these conditions reduce “the fair market value…(to) a negative number,” the initiative says, then FS would be required to pay the city $10,000 as a one-time lease payment.

In effect, then, the soccer developers are asking the city to pay for the cost of prepping the land for new development, which could eat up the entire $240 million market value of the parcel. If that sounds crazy to you, that’s exactly the word one real estate expert uses to describe the proposal:

“If I was the city, I’d say this is crazy,” [real estate development consultant Gary] London said this week. “The city is selling the property as if it was distressed property (under the FS initiative).

“This is not distressed property,” he said. “This is almost an empty piece of land, with the exception of one stadium, that is practically flat. This is in the center of San Diego and is probably the most valuable land asset, public or private, in the city of San Diego right now.”

And then there’s this:

Greg Shannon, chairman of Sedona Development and current chairman of the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute, said a private landowner would “never sell” land the way the FS initiative proposes.

“From what I can tell, it’s a huge giveaway from the city to the developers,” Shannon said. “They’re saying there’s no taxpayer subsidy. That’s a huge taxpayer subsidy.”

One hopes that this is just a butt-covering clause to indicate what happens on the off chance that infrastructure costs get out of control, and not something the team actually anticipates. Even so, though, this is a potentially whopping hidden public cost that the developers really should have mentioned when they first announced their plan, though I guess then people might not have been quite as excited about it. We’ll see how excited voters are if and when this thing goes up as a ballot initiative later this year.

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.

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.

MLS to double expansion fee to $200m, hopes world doesn’t run out of rich guys

Major League Soccer is preparing to announce another round of expansion — this time to a whopping 28 teams — and is clearly determined to grab all the money it can in the process, as deputy commissioner Mark Abbott says the league is preparing to double its expansion fee to $200 million.

That’s a whole bunch of money for membership in a league whose own commissioner says it’s losing money, and which Soccernomics author Stefan Szymanski has called a “pyramid scheme” that’s eventually going to collapse. Given that the leading counterargument appears to be that “no, no, even if teams always lose money owners will count on making money when the sale value of the franchise appreciates,” it’s exactly a pyramid scheme — the only question is whether it’s the kind of bubble that eventually collapses, or one that can continue indefinitely.

The argument for the latter — and, presumably, the MLS business plan — goes back to the billionaire glut, which posits that there are so many rich people wanting to own a pro sports franchise these days, and such a limited number of opportunities, it’s going to be a seller’s market for the foreseeable future. With that the case, it’s understandable that MLS would want to get everything it can for new franchises while the getting’s good, even if it means becoming by far the largest soccer league in the world. (Most other leagues cap membership at 20 and relegate the teams that do the worst to a second division, something that MLS has resisted because it might limit the number of people lining up to sign expansion checks.) And with a list of prospective expansion cities that includes way more than they can possibly fill in this round — Sacramento, Detroit, Cincinnati, San Diego, St. Louis, San Antonio, Charlotte and Oklahoma City are all reportedly on the list — it makes total sense to weed out the winners from the losers by seeing who’ll balk at a higher price tag.

Clearly this isn’t sustainable in the long run, but MLS isn’t thinking about the long run right now, which is its prerogative. If you’re a city thinking about building a stadium for a new MLS franchise, though, you might want to at least keep in the back of your mind that there’s a decent chance the league could, years down the road, eventually contract again — or at least split into upper and lower divisions — and that your shiny new team could end up without a chair when the music stops.