Friday roundup: Beckham sued over MLS land purchase, Browns’ flammable stadium, and more!

It’s Friday roundup time! Let’s get started:

  • A local Miami landowner is suing Miami-Dade County over its plan to sell land to David Beckham’s would-be MLS ownership group for a new stadium, arguing that the no-bid deal violates state law requiring public land to be sold to the “highest and best bidder.” Bruce Matheson, who owns land nearby the planned stadium site in the Overtown neighborhood but “spends most of his time aboard his 72-foot Argosy yacht,” according to Miami New Times, has previously blocked the use of a public park for expansion of the Miami Open tennis tournament, so he might just know what he’s doing here. Also, David Beckham is clearly cursed, so that can only help Matheson’s case.
  • In case it wasn’t clear that Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center subsidy deal was a complete disaster from last October’s report that the city was losing almost $10 million a year and the arena was in danger of going bankrupt, Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center is a complete disaster. One big reason why: sales-tax projections were based on past sales-tax growth, which included a sales-tax rate hike in 1990, which wasn’t going to happen again. Whoops! The latest plan is to have the city bail out the arena by taking on an extra $100 million in debt, which tenants the University of Louisville could pay off with less than four years’ worth of the profits they’re making on running the place, but won’t because finders keepers, losers weepers.
  • Wichita is about to spend $60 million on a new stadium for the indy-minor-league Wichita Wingnuts — slogan: If You’re Gonna Go, Then Go Nuts! — and the manager of nearby Picasso’s Pizza is excited about it: “People from all over the Wichita area love some Picasso’s,” says Efrain Ramirez. “Because we’re Picasso’s, you gotta make it look cool, it’s gotta be artistic. You gotta put your flair on it.” Well, excited about something, anyway. Spare a thought for the poor small-city reporter who has to wring a quote about economic development out of a pizzeria manager, okay?
  • Speaking of sports venues and local businesses, some bar owners near the Detroit Red Wings‘ new downtown arena are excited about it, while others are worried they’ll get “trampled” by the “big guys.” No interviews were conducted by the Detroit News with bar owners near the Red Wings’ old downtown arena, which will now close. This has been your moment in 21st-century journalism.
  • The Cleveland Browns‘ stadium is covered in the same flammable cladding that caused the deadly Grenfell Tower fire, but Cleveland’s top building official promises this poses “zero risk to the fans.” Presumably because if you’re watching a Browns game, death will come as sweet release.
  • The turf at the San Francisco 49ers stadium in Santa Clara continues to suck.
  • The Roma soccer club is owned by Americans, so they are naturally inclined to levy stadium threats. It also plays in Italy’s Serie A, which like all soccer leagues outside the U.S. works by promotion and relegation, so if the team threatened to move, Rome could just start a new team to replace it. So instead team president James Pallotta is threatening that if the ownership group doesn’t get approval to build a new stadium, they’ll sell the team to … someone who won’t demand a new stadium? You may not have thought this entirely through, James.
  • A Russian farmer has built a stadium out of straw to poke fun at the $700 million St. Petersburg is spending on a new World Cup soccer stadium. Cost of the straw stadium: $675. Be sure to click the link above for a truly bizarre Russian video for 2016 with a giant straw bear and a straw sphinx and … watermelons? Guys, I am slightly worried about whoever’s in charge of media links for ESPN.

Cleveland to Browns, Cavs, Indians: Everybody gets $57m in tax money, now play nice

And it’s official: The Cleveland Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers will get equal cuts of the “sin tax” extension voters approved back in 2014:

Each team will get $4.6 million per year for the next 20 years. The money can be used to upgrade the stadiums and arena where they play.

Via the magic of net present value calculators (even those that don’t know how to spell “principal”), we can determine that this revenue stream will be worth about $57 million in today’s dollars to each team. It shouldn’t be hard for each of them to find ways to spend that down — especially with the Cavs already asking for another $70 million to pay for a new super-spendy glass exterior wall — but if all else fails maybe they can just buy some IBM “Internet of things” gewgaws and call it “infrastructure.”

County official proposes diverting one-third of tourist dollars to build Cavs a glass wall

It’s been almost eight months since the Cleveland Cavaliers asked for a $140 million expansion of their arena to add more public space and give it a glass exterior wall, and Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish said, “Let me get half of that for you.” Now, Budish thinks he may have found some of the money, asking the local tourism agency to use hotel tax money to pay for the Cavs’ renovations.

Destination Cleveland collects about $15 million a year in hotel taxes, and paying off $70 million in Cavs expenses would cost about $4-5 million a year, so this would clearly be a hefty chunk of change, unless Budish has other revenue sources in mind as well. The Cavs are already getting a cut of the alcohol-and-cigarette-tax extension that county voters approved back in 2014 — Budish recently proposed splitting the proceeds evenly among the Cavs, Indians, and Browns, as nobody bothered to work that out beforehand — and since that amounts to about $170 million in total present value, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is effectively asking for $70 million on top of the $60 million he just got two years ago for renovations. But really, who can put a price on the enjoyment that local sports fans get from a glass wall?

No crazy stadium renderings released today, Internet is sad

Slow news day today, to the point where the only remotely stadium-related news is a minor-league soccer team signing a lease to play in San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium — which once hosted the 49ers, but now is a public park, so that was somewhat controversial — and the news that if you ask Siri where to find sadness in Cleveland, it will give you directions to the Browns‘ stadium.

Enjoy your Friday and your weekend, and may we be rewarded with more wack-ass stadium renderings on Monday.

Business leaders want Ohio to spend $5m to move Browns training camp from different part of state

We may have a new definition of chutzpah, courtesy of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam:

The Cleveland Browns and the Columbus business community want Greater Cleveland taxpayers to help pay $5 million for the Browns to move their training camp to a site on or near the Ohio State University campus…

The request from Columbus business leaders says the $5 million is to help pay for an “athletic practice training facility.”

It then describes the project this way: “The Athletic Practice and Training Facility will serve as a backdrop for collegiate athletic teams and community youth programs to utilize throughout the year. It will also attract professional athletic teams and franchises to our region.”

Translated: We’re going to disguise this as a tax request to help kids, but it’s really about the Browns.

The request was actually from the Columbus Partnership, a local business group, which submitted it as part of a list of funding requests for the state’s capital budget. (I know what you’re thinking: My state never asks me what I want its capital budget spent on! Yes, but you do not have the awesome clout and political mandate of the Columbus, Ohio business community.) Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Brent Larkin says that “the funds are being sought with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam’s knowledge and approval,” though he doesn’t cite a source for that other than that Haslam has been talking to Columbus about moving his team’s training camp there.

The gross part here, really, is that the state of Ohio would be paying to move a business operation from one part of the state — the Cleveland suburb of Berea, which has already spent $25 million on the Browns’ current training camp — to another. The economic war among the states is bad enough without the states themselves encouraging in-state skirmishes.

Cuyahoga exec says subsidy-for-wins plan just one option: “Hey, I’m open to ideas”

As promised, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald held a press conference yesterday to propose taking 20% of the public “sin tax” subsidies approved for the Cleveland Cavs, Indians, and Browns last month and making them contingent on the teams winning games. Under FitzGerald’s plan, which he called a (wait for it) “win tax,” a “fan advisory council” would come up with the actual criteria for how the $52 million in tax money would be divvied up among the teams based on wins and losses.

A couple of hours after that, no doubt spurred by my description of his idea as “walking the fine line between stupid and clever” (politicians just can’t resist a good Spinal Tap reference), FitzGerald called me to explain further just what the heck he was thinking. Among the questions he answered:

What on earth made you come up with this idea? “The tax issue that passed didn’t set up a distribution method,” he explained. When his staff got together after the vote to talk about how to divide the $260 million pie among the three teams, one idea he came up with was to “do something to address performance of these franchises over the past 50 years.”

Do the teams really need an added incentive to win, given that they’re already rewarded with 1) wins and 2) added revenue from people buying tickets to see winning teams? “I don’t think this is something that is going to be of such force that it’s all of a sudden going to take a team not inclined to care about winning and turn it around,” said FitzGerald. Not that he wanted to imply that Cleveland’s sports team owners didn’t care, mind you — the man’s a politician after all — but, as he put it, “Have there ever been instances in America of team owners not caring about winning? Yes.” Adding an additional economic incentive might tip some kind of balance, or at least let teams know that Clevelanders want their teams to win, in case the Indians’ attendance numbers didn’t tip them off.

Is winning games really the most important thing to be paying teams for? What about economic impact or something more tangible? FitzGerald said he’s open to ideas for tying subsidy levels to other factors as well, such as economic development or local hiring. (I threw out Jay Weiner‘s old suggestion for requiring a certain number of affordable tickets in exchange for public subsidies, and he said that could be part of the mix, too: “Hey, I’m open to ideas.”) There’s still that other 80% of the money that needs to be handed out, after all, so somebody needs to come up with some criteria for how to do that.

Is all this legal? FitzGerald’s lawyers think so. Scoring systems for payment are something that “happens with construction contracts all the time,” he said, so why should this be any different?

Did he really say that Cuyahoga County had to adjust its budget when LeBron James left?That’s what he said. More specifically, overall ticket tax revenues went down the year that James bolted for Miami, something he attributes to suburban fans spending their money closer to home rather than going to Cavs games: “It doesn’t mean they all stayed home on their couch.”

In short, FitzGerald made clear that he’s mostly just trying to start a conversation here, though you’re welcome to wonder how much his big ideas are motivated by wanting to reform the process and how much by wanting to juice his gubernatorial campaign. (Not that you can really ever separate the two when someone is running for public office.) Nothing’s going to get decided until the county council signs off on it, which doesn’t need to happen until the sin tax extension kicks in next spring, so this is likely to be a long conversation.

On the stupid side of the ledger, none of this really matters, because the teams are going to get the $260 million regardless — any funding criteria will just determine who gets what. (In other words, if all three teams continue to lose, they’ll still get paid.) And as Deadspin points out, paying based on straight wins could encourage bad long-term decisions, since “there are often times when it’s good to lose, like when tanking for a draft pick.”

On the clever side, though, it’s never bad to be talking about what you can demand from team owners in exchange for public funds, even if it’s just a matter of trying to get them to compete with each other for a pool of preexisting money. Yes, it might have been better for FitzGerald — who signed off on the sin tax referendum back in January — to bring all this up before the vote, so that taxpayers would actually get their money back if the teams didn’t live up to their promises of creating economic development and winning championships. But, you know, baby steps.

UPDATE: Just noticed that WCPN’s Nick Castele (whose show I appeared on yesterday — listen to it here) points out that Ohio state senator Shirley Smith did propose a subsidies-for-wins formula before the sin tax vote. It went nowhere, but credit for trying.

Cuyahoga official wants to tie Indians, Cavs, Browns subsidies to teams actually winning games

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald has an idea for deciding how to hand over those $260 million in new cigarette and alcohol taxes approved last month to the Cleveland Indians, Cavaliers, and Browns, and it’s a doozy:

FitzGerald is expected on Thursday to propose tying distribution of 20 percent of the county’s sin tax to on-the-field performance from Cleveland’s professional sports teams, according to sources briefed on the plan.

The 20 percent — estimated to be at least $2.6 million a year — would be awarded to FirstEnergy Stadium, Progressive Field or Quicken Loans Arena based on the success of the teams using the facilities.

That’s … kinda crazy, but it just might work? An example of walking the fine line between stupid and clever? On the upside, if part of the value of a sports team to taxpayers is getting to jump up and down when your team wins, then creating an incentive for your team to win — other than the normal incentive of, you know, winning — makes a kind of sense. On the other hand, I have no idea how they’d write this into law — subsidy dollars based on winning percentage? bonuses for making the playoffs? — so right now it seems a bit like pandering to sports fans unhappy with their favorite teams’ owners getting money when the teams all suck. Tune in this afternoon for more details, maybe.

Voters approve $260m in new sin tax money for Cavs, Indians, Browns

The extension of Cuyahoga County’s “sin tax” on alcohol and cigarettes passed yesterday by a 56-44% margin (with 97% of precincts reporting), providing an estimated $260 million over the next 20 years to fund venue improvements — including in at least one case a new scoreboard — for the Cleveland Cavs, Indians, and Browns. If the tax had failed, the teams had threatened to … well, we’ll never know what they were threatening to do now, will we?

With the votes counted, the next challenge is to figure out whether this ballot lives up to the 100-to-1 rule, where stadium funding is only approved in public votes if the proponents outspend opponents by more than that margin. At first glance this rule still holds — the three teams spent “at least $1.8 million” on the pro-sin-tax effort through early May, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, while opponents reported raising only $6,500 — but another group spent $125,000 on last-second TV ads opposing the plan, which would make the spending ratio more like 13:1. Unless the teams had a last-second spending splurge of their own, which is always possible. We’ll just have to wait for the final box score.

Cleveland votes on sin tax as teams lobby heavily for measure they say isn’t to benefit them, heaven forfend

It’s Cleveland sin tax vote day today, with opponents decrying what they say is a $260 million giveaway to the city’s sports teams (more like $160-200 million in present value), and proponents saying the city will give the money to the teams anyway, so the sin tax extension is just a way to pay the public’s already-accrued bills.

If the latter is true, though, you have to wonder why those teams that would get the money regardless are working so damn hard to get this ballot measure to pass:

The three teams are fighting to ensure that sin tax money will help assuage those costs—of the $1.4 million raised by Keep Cleveland Strong, the pro-sin-tax PAC, more than $1 million has come from the Browns, Cavs, and Indians. The opposing PAC, Coalition Against the Sin Tax, has raised a mere $6,500.

Teams aren’t just tossing in cash to make sure taxpayers help foot the bill for new scoreboards. The Indians instructed ushers to wear pro-sin-tax stickers on Opening Day, according to an employee instruction sheet a former usher gave to Cleveland.com. While the Indians had told reporters that the stickers were purely voluntary, the handout reads, “An Issue 7 Keep Cleveland Strong sticker is part of your uniform. Place it chest high on your outermost layer.” The former usher, Edward Loomis, said he was fired by the team after refusing to wear the sticker.

Even as Cuyahoga County voters cast their ballots, they still don’t have an answer to the question: What happens if the sin tax extension fails? Depending on how things go today at the polls, we could have an answer starting tomorrow.

Cleveland council prez says ad that calls giving tax money to teams a gift is “far from honest”

The Cuyahoga County vote on a sin tax extension to fund venue improvements for the Cleveland Indians, Cavs, and Browns isn’t until next Tuesday, but we already have supporters of the measure accusing opponents of dirty pool:

The Coalition for Greater Cleveland’s Future says in a complaint filed Wednesday with the Ohio Elections Commission that an ad paid for by the Citizens Against Unfair Taxes (CAUT) makes several false claims about the proposed countywide tax on alcohol and tobacco sales. Among them is the assertion that Issue 7 will give the owners of Cleveland’s professional sports teams “$260 million more.”…

“CAUT has been caught misleading the public,” Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley, the chief spokesman for the coalition, said in a statement. “Their commercial inaccurately gives the impression that money from extending the tax on alcohol and cigarettes would go to the team owners. That is false. Honest argument is always welcome. This is far from honest.”

The rhetorical pin head that everyone is dancing on here is this: The sin tax will raise an estimated $260 million over 20 years, which would be used to pay renovation and upgrade costs of the teams at their publicly owned buildings. But according to Kelley, the county would have to pay those costs anyway, according to the crappy leases that public officials agreed to with the teams. So it’s not that “money from extending the tax on alcohol and cigarettes would go to the team owners,” it’s that money from extending the tax on alcohol on cigarettes would go to replenish the county’s general fund, and that would be given to the team owners.

Kelley has made this kind of “we have to spend it either way, so we might as well have a way to pay for it” assertion before, but to my knowledge has never actually come out and said that if the sin tax extension is defeated, he and the council will just allocate the money anyway and take it out of other county spending. For that matter, the team owners have never said what they’ll do if the county just up and refuses to pay for venue improvements, even when asked point blank. These issues — as well as whether funding mechanisms that would hit the teams’ bottom line instead of the public’s, such as ticket taxes, are allowable under the lease — would seem to be worthy of discussion in the days leading up to the sin tax vote, but instead we just get each side trying to bash each other public. Ah, democracy.