Travis Waldron of ThinkProgress thoughtfully ran down five elections yesterday with stadium implications, from a vote on rehabbing the Astrodome to decisions on new mayors for cities facing sports venue battles. And the results are:
- Defeated: Stuart Sternberg’s nemesis Bill Foster is out of a job, as the St. Petersburg mayor was defeated 56-44% by Rick Kriseman, a former city councilmember and state representative. Foster was famously opposed to even discussing letting Sternberg’s Tampa Bay Rays out of their lease on Tropicana Field (though he’d backed down on that a bit of late); Kriseman has promised to “initiate conversations about the future of the team in St. Pete and in this area,” which could mean, um, anything? And he’s also said he’d want to the Rays to pay something for being let out of their lease, though not how much, which is going to be the key element as far as Sternberg is concerned. Suffice to say that the Rays battleground has shifted, anyway.
- Rejected: A $217 million proposal to renovate the now-vacant Astrodome as a convention and event center was narrowly defeated, 53-47%. The Eighth Wonder of the World and sort-of birthplace of fake grass will now likely be demolished, which is kind of sad as it’s certainly a historic structure; on the other hand, $217 million to remake it as the world’s most ill-advisedly retrofitted convention center would have given new meaning to throwing good money after bad.
- Elected: Bill Peduto as mayor of Pittsburgh, in a landslide. Peduto had previously come out against the Steelers owners’ demand for $20 million in public money to add more seats, so presumably this makes that less likely to happen now.
- Elected: Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City, in an even bigger landslide. De Blasio will need to decide on plans for a new stadium for New York City F.C., as yet still in the formative stages; he’s previously said he’s against tax giveaways, but open to listening on stadium ideas, blah blah blah. It’ll certainly be a change from Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who never met a development project he didn’t like, but de Blasio hasn’t made ending tax subsidies a core part of his campaign or anything.
- Elected: Betsy Hodges as mayor of Minneapolis, where the Vikings stadium deal still isn’t 100% set in stone, what with the cost overruns and the seat license controversy and all that. Hodges has pledged not to give the Vikings any more money, but given that the 0.5% city sales tax surcharge for the stadium has already been approved and the state now controls the project, it’s frankly doubtful whether her position will end up mattering much.
The big one to watch immediately is clearly the St. Pete mayoral situation, given that Sternberg is undoubtedly going to be one of the first to call on Kriseman wishing to start those promised “conversations.” There are still a heck of a lot of obstacles to the Rays getting a new building — how on earth to pay for it, mostly — but Foster, at least, is no longer one of them.
To the list of “state-of-the-art” accoutrements that sports teams can demand public money for as part of their leases — a list that previously included such items as giant scoreboards and holographic replay systems — we can now add a new item: chairs. The Pittsburgh Steelers are asking a judge to issue a summary judgment on their lawsuit to get the public stadium authority to pay for two-thirds of the costof a 10,000-seat stadium expansion, on the grounds that their leaser equires that taxpayers must supply any addition or modification that, in the words of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has “been installed in at least half of all NFL stadiums with at least 25 percent of the cost covered by federal, state or local governments.”
The cost of the public’s share of the expansion is expected to be about $20 million, which is roughly $16 million more than the stadium authority has in its capital reserve fund. As Deadspin reports, the Steelers and the stadium authority were looking into paying for the expansion — which will cost $40 million total, including the addition of a new (presumably non-holographic) scoreboard — with ticket and parking surcharges, but that didn’t work out:
The Steelers and the SEA had an agreement in place to fund the expansion by passing the cost on to those who attend games. The plan called for raising an existing surcharge on ticket prices in addition to implementing a parking surcharge. When the deal fell through, the Steelers took the SEA to court. There was a hearing today in front of a county judge—who happens to be a Steelers season-ticket holder, natch—and a ruling is expected within a week.
According to Judith Grant Long’s book, Pittsburgh, Alleghany County, and the state of Pennsylvania already spent $338 million (adjusted to 2010 dollars) on building Heinz Field, so this would raise the total cost to more like $358 million. At least, until more than half of all NFL stadiums get retractable roofs, which may not be that far off.
The Pittsburgh Steelers want to add 3,000 seats in the end zone of Heinz Field, and the City-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority has agreed to look into doing so. The problem? The sports authority wants the Steelers to pay for about half the approximate $39 million cost, while county-backed bonds would be repaid by new ticket and parking surcharges. The Steelers, pointing to a lease clause that requires the public to pay two-thirds of the cost of a “designated expansion,” now say they’ll go to court to demand that the public pay more. Notwithstanding that two years ago, the team said it would foot the whole bill.
It’s the latest example of a stadium lease that keeps on giving, though some of the sting would be taken out of it if the authority can use ticket and parking fees to repay itself, since economists agree that most of that ends up coming out of team owners’ pockets. (Basically, if there are ticket surcharges, it means teams can’t raise ticket face values as high as they’d otherwise like.) But it’s still another example, along with the notorious state-of-the-art clauses, that it’s really important for legislators to read the damn lease before voting to approve it. Agreeing to build a stadium is one thing; agreeing to build a stadium and then expand it by up to 10,000 more seats (as the Steelers say their lease requires) is a potentially expensive something else. We’ll see if other cities have learned this lesson yet … yes, I’m looking at you, Atlanta.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, unhappy with the 65,000-seat capacity at nine-year-old Heinz Field, are looking into adding several thousand seats. The good news is that the Steelers are willing to pay for it:
The Steelers lease of the stadium, owned by the joint city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority, contemplates additions. This one would be privately funded, though some revenue from a surcharge on tickets could conceivably be used.
The bad news: Team owner Art Rooney notes, “If we’re going to have that many more seats, there’s obviously got to be somewhere for them to park,” and there currently aren’t enough parking spaces to go around near the stadium. It’s unclear at the moment whether the city is going to be asked to chip in for more parking to go along with the privately funded stadium expansion, but it’s definitely worth watching.