Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson signed into law $12 million in spending on repairs to the Cleveland Browns‘ stadium yesterday, after the city council approved it last week. Since sports team owners are notorious for calling all sort of things “maintenance” — perhaps most memorably, that time former Detroit Tigers owner Tom Monaghan said that Tiger Stadium needed $100 million in repairs when that was actually the price tag for enclosing it with a roof — let’s see how legit these expenses are:
[The work includes] repairs to the stadium’s electrical and plumbing infrastructure, as well as replacing pedestrian ramps. … The proposed repairs also include the replacement of hot water tanks; the installation of chiller lines to the south end of the stadium; the replacement of compressors in walk-in coolers and freezers; the replacement of the stadium’s lighting control system; the replacement of corroded fire sprinkler lines as well as the patching and replacing of structural and non-structural concrete.
That indeed mostly seems like actual maintenance, not upgrades. (“Replacement of the stadium’s lighting control system” would depend on whether the old lighting control system is actually broken, or the Browns just want one that can run holographic replays.) So, no major shenanigans sighted here!
What this does point out, however, is a hidden cost of many stadium deals where the building is owned by the public, which is to say almost all stadium deals. If a normal company builds a headquarters, they’re responsible for patching the concrete when it crumbles. If they go and rent a headquarters, it’s their landlord’s responsibility, but they make regular rent payments that help underwrite the landlord’s costs. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam pays only $250,000 a year in rent, which isn’t nearly enough to pay off the city’s costs of repairing the stadium, let alone the city’s $296.3 million construction tab and the $120 million it gave the team in 2013 for additional upgrades like a new scoreboard.
But the public will own the stadium! is often put forward as a benefit of a stadium deal, when it’s actually a cost — most significantly, because the team owner then usually (though not always) gets out of paying any property taxes. (For Haslam, this amounts to more than $600,000 a year in savings, or well more than he pays in rent.) But there are additional benefits as well, most significantly the ability to send the city a checklist of items that need fixing and make them pay for it.
And according to an audit of the stadium’s condition conducted earlier this year, there are likely to be more invoices on the way to taxpayers: News 5 Cleveland reports that future repairs “could exceed $50 million over the next 10 years,” including the replacement of seats that are “in fair or poor condition” and “updates” to “broadcast and lighting facilities as well as its technology.” This is sounding like it’s starting to edge into upgrades and not repairs, but that’ll be for future mayors to haggle over — unless, of course, they’re haggling over a whole new stadium by then.