I’ve been trying to ignore this one all day (because see below), but it’s on the front page of the New York Post staring up at me from newsstands, so fine, okay then: The owners of the New York Mets proposed building a casino in the Citi Field parking lot as part of the shopping-mall development they and developer Related Cos. want to build there. The casino would be run by Long Island’s Shinnecock Indian Nation.
“Would be” because the Mets owners proposed this way back in 2011, and it was rejected by the city as too difficult to get approvals for. Casino gambling being illegal in New York state, you see, other than on tribal lands, which the onetime Corona Ash Dump certainly is not.
There is a bill in the state legislature that would legalize gambling in New York, so it’s always conceivable that this casino plan could end up being revived. Even then, though, it’s hardly big news, since the idea of a casino on the site was already reported last summer. There are plenty of interesting questions about the Related/Mets development plan — my City Limits colleague Pat Arden raises a bunch of them in his in-depth article today — but “Mets Are Proposing To Build A Casino (Two Years Ago, And Not Anymore)” isn’t really front-page material. Though I suppose any opportunity to show Mr. Met in a green visor playing craps (do people wear visors for craps? isn’t that just poker?) with giant novelty dice is one not to be passed up.
In this week’s New York City soccer news, the New York Mets owners say they’d be “open to discussing the use of Citi Field for a potential MLS team,” while MLS officials call the idea a “nonstarter.” Which is news, that is, if you missed all the other times the Mets owners have expressed interest in owning an MLS team, or all the times MLS commissioner Don Garber has said he only wants teams to play in soccer-only stadiums. Though I suppose this is the first time the Wilpons have explicitly offered to host a soccer team at Citi Field itself, and so the first time MLS could reject it.
On the one hand, soccer at Citi Field is a pretty terrible idea — though it’s fine as a plus-sized venue for the occasional international friendly, it’s way too big and oddly shaped to be ideal for an MLS franchise. On the other, it doesn’t require spending $300 million or taking public parkland, so as an interim measure to test whether there’s really a big market for MLS in Queens, you could do worse.
Except, of course, that right now “build it, or we won’t come” is the only leverage that MLS has to extract approval for a new stadium from the city, so they’re not going to give it up and risk having their interim solution stretch on for years, like things have with D.C. United. Of course, New York City has leverage, too — city officials could easily say, “Play in the place that’s already built, or take your act to some smaller media market” — but it’s not clear how willing they are to use it. Right now negotiations seem aimed at finding a way to make everybody happy, which is a nice goal, but when you’re talking about a building that will cost $300 million, plus $100 million in tax breaks, plus relocating public soccer fields and public parkland, there’s not going to be a lot of extra happy to go around.
I haven’t had much to say here about the New York Mets owners’ Bernie Madoff-related financial woes, but there is one potential way they could have a major impact on stadium issues: In the unlikely (but not that unlikely) case that the Mets owners declare bankruptcy, the payments on Citi Field stadium bonds would be thrown into disarray.
As I just wrote this morning for the Village Voice website:
To get people to nonetheless buy these bonds backed by nothing more than the promise of the Wilpons, the Mets took out bond insurance with a company called Ambac Assurance Corporation, which pledged to pay out if the Mets defaulted. Which would have worked great, except that Ambac — like so many of the financial insurers caught up in the economic meltdown — filed for Chapter 11 in November, and doesn’t actually have $500 million to pay out to anybody. And after Ambac, there’s nobody: Anyone who bought Mets stadium bonds thinking that their money was safe with the nation’s third most valuable baseball team would be left holding worthless paper.
At that point, the [city Industrial Development Agency] would be faced with a choice: Tap the city treasury to make good on the bonds, or risk future bond buyers growing wary of city-related bond offerings. Disclaimers about “faith and credit” be damned, it’d be a tough call for an agency already facing one high-profile stadium-related default.
Do I really expect this to happen? Probably not. But nobody expected the Texas Rangers to end up in bankruptcy court either. It’s a situation that bears watching, let’s just say that.
Not to keep picking on the New York Times’ Ken Belson, but it’s just so easy, especially when he writes stuff like this:
Every time the Mets compile an impressive homestand, they undo the good feeling with an atrocious road trip. And because many fans consider the team’s most recent performance when deciding whether to attend a home game, the Mets’ buzz-killing road losses (including the game-winning grand slam that sunk the Mets on Wednesday in San Diego) have taken their toll. … It seems the team’s contrasting home and road records are making it harder for fans to justify running out to Citi Field.
The notion that fans are staying away from Mets games, not because the team was terrible last year or ticket prices are too high or the stadium honeymoon has worn off, but because they win too many games at home might seem too plainly demented to debunk … but I’ve done so anyway for the Village Voice. The short version: All teams coming off of lousy years draw lousy, and the Mets’ attendance was artificially inflated last year already with curiosity-seekers looking to check out their new digs. But why settle for facts when you can instead choose the contrarian wisdom that Mets fans are being driven away by the bad taste of giving up 18 runs in a road game that ended at 1:20 pm local time?
The fine folks at Internets Celebrities have released their latest video, titled “Stadium Status,” and I can say without hesitation that it’s the finest (and funniest) web video ever made on the subject of stadium scams.
Featured are myself (in the role of talking-head stadium expert) and Killian Jordan (as the angry Bronx resident), plus IC hosts Rafi Kam and Dallas Penn providing an 18-minute tour of the machinations behind the new Yankees and Mets stadiums and Nets arena. Find out why the the New York Times called them a cross between Michael Moore and Dave Chappelle! (Not that Moore has been funny in years. Or Chappelle, for that matter. Hey, wait, was the Times actually dissing them?)
Seriously, it’s a great video, and you couldn’t ask for a better primer on the ill effects of new stadiums on both our cities and sports fandom. At least, not until I finally get permission to upload video of the Shoddy Puppet Company’s shadow puppet play based on Field of Schemes. It’s hard to beat shadow puppets.
The New York Mets have seen the largest drop in attendance from last year of any MLB team, and somebody thinks they’ve spotted a trend:
“The problem is last year the tickets were really expensive and the team stunk and that can really stick with fans for a while,” said Jon Greenberg, the executive editor of Team Marketing Report, an industry publication.
In the mid-1990s, Greenberg said, teams could count on new stadiums to help them boost ticket sales for several years, but that trend has ended.
“Stadium fatigue sets in much faster than it did before,” Greenberg said, noting that new stadiums built in Baltimore and Cleveland in the early 1990s led to long periods of increased attendance for both franchises. “When Camden Yards and Jacobs Field were built, they were a big deal and were a complete change. The novelty has worn off.”
That last note about stadium fatigue isn’t entirely untrue, but it’s also worth noting that the Orioles and Indians both got really good on the field around the same time they opened their new stadiums, which is the main reason their attendance honeymoons were so long. Cellar-dwelling teams have not been so lucky: The Pittsburgh Pirates jumped 41% in attendance the year they opened PNC Park, then fell 28% the next year after losing 100 games in 2001; the Cincinnati Reds had a similar but less-dramatic drop two years later.
Some of this is no doubt stadium fatigue &mdash Camden Yards could have drawn fans in the early ’90s even if the Orioles had been playing like, well, the Orioles — but mostly it’s just an expression of the same principle at work as always: If your team is winning, you can stretch a honeymoon out for a few years; if not, it’ll likely fizzle in two to three. Every stadium draws curiosity-seekers its first season, and every stadium is pretty much back to baseline attendance levels ten years down the road. Florida Marlins, you have been warned.
More rumors of rumors, but: New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon tells Newsday (via its new sister publication Gothamist, since Newsday has hidden all its articles behind a $5/week paywall) that he’s “had conversations with Islanders owner Charles [Wang] and we’ve talked about Queens,” and that he’s also talked to MLS commissioner Don Garber about a soccer stadium, though “we probably can’t do both.”
Any hockey or soccer venue would presumably be built in the Citi Field parking lot, though Willets Point is always a possibility as well if New York City follows through with its redevelopment plans. The bigger question — who would pay for it — Wilpon and Newsday left undiscussed.
If nothing else, anyway, this gives Wang some added leverage on his move threats to kick Nassau County into approving his plans there. And who knows, maybe Wilpon is just doing his fellow owner a favor by tossing out some red meat to the tabloids — though right now it’s not like his team doesn’t have its own ways to get itself into the paper.
Because everyone is emailing me about it: The New York Post ran an “exclusive” report yesterday that the Mets used contractors with suspected mob ties in the construction of Citi Field:
The Mets shelled out $51.6 million in taxpayer money to contractors shunned by the city for their ties to the Mafia, labor corruption or bribery, The Post has learned.
At least seven contractors the city avoids were hired by the team to build Citi Field between 2006 and 2009, according to government records.
The tainted companies were paid from a $91 million pot the city Economic Development Corp. gave to the Mets.
This is big news — or at least, it was back in April, when the New York Times first reported it. The Post did uncover some additional names of questionable companies that worked on Citi Field, though these were because of bribery allegations and other unethical practices, not specifically mob ties. But then, the Post has a notoriously hazy notion of what constitutes an “exclusive.”
The New York Mets sent out a press release over the weekend announcing that they’re naming Citi Field’s VIP entrances after former Mets greats, renaming the stadium’s outfield footbridge “Shea Bridge,” and otherwise adding more Mets-specific stuff (orange-and-blue flowers in planters!). This should please Mets fans who’d griped that the new stadium seemed to have more homages to the Brooklyn Dodgers than to the pre-2009 Mets, though as the blog Loge 13 wonders: “This is all great news but it is stunning that everyone else but the Mets realized this was a good idea long before Citi Field ever got built.” One possibility: Mets execs may not have wanted to rename entrances for the likes of Casey Stengel and Gil Hodges before they’d seen if they could sell off naming rights to corporate sponsors first.
With the New York Mets‘ season long since having passed the laughingstock stage, the media have turned their sights on their new stadium: Yesterday’s New York Post reported that the new $830 million stadium “has been plagued by water damage to several luxury suites — including Jerry Seinfeld’s — as well as mold, falling signs and concrete, flooding in outfield seats, faulty electrical wiring and shoddy tile work, sources said.” One “insider” (hey, remember when newspapers weren’t going to rely on anonymous sources anymore?) told the Post: “Shitty Field — that’s what we call it.” Get in line, pal.
To be fair, this is the sort of thing a lot of new buildings go through when they first open, and all the problems seem fixable. Still, after taxpayers devoted more than $600 million to building the place, water dripping on Jerry Seinfeld’s head must seem like adding insult to injury and injury and injury…