Buccaneers now seeking $100m stadium upgrade, “only” asking public for $26m

Remember when Tampa Bay Buccaneers owners the Glazer family said they wanted a bigger new scoreboard than the measly $18.7 million one the county was going to build for them, but they’d pay the difference? Well, almost two years later, the Bucs’ stadium upgrade plans are now in, and they’re a whole lot more ambitious, not to mention involve more complicated financing:

  • In addition to expanding the scoreboard from 2,250 square feet to 9,600 square feet and making them high-definition, the Glazers are seeking upgrades to luxury suites and to the sound system.
  • The public stadium authority would fund $26 million of the cost — as currently required under the team-friendly lease — while the team owners would kick in between $52 million and $75 million.
  • The Glazers are seeking permission to have the Bucs play a second home game outside of Tampa each year, possibly in line with the NFL now doing two games a year in London. In exchange, the county would get out of a commitment to put $11.6 million into a practice facility (also courtesy of that crappy lease) and get to keep more money from non-football events at the stadium. (Which the public owns, mind you, but the Glazers get cash from non-football events because — do I really need to say “crappy lease” a third time?)
  • In addition, Noah Pransky of WTSP-TV emails that the Glazers want the county to purchase construction materials for them so they can get out of paying sales taxes on them.

The immediate response from local public officials was not exactly positive:

“We thought we had a deal on the table last week. And then they kind of put out this whole new deal, which is quite different than what we were talking about,” said Mike Merrill, Hillsborough County administrator, whose staff is part of the negotiations because TSA is partly county-funded.

There are too many moving parts yet to say exactly how good or bad a deal this would be for Tampa. Mostly, it’s a reminder that leases that require the public to keep putting money into capital improvements even after giving a team a new stadium are a terrible, terrible idea. Also that people like watching football on giant video screens, because football is a terrible sport to watch live. I still say the future of the NFL is to build a stadium with only one really luxurious seat, and then charge a lucky billionaire tons of money to sit in it — though he’ll probably spend most of the game eating in the in-stadium steak house anyway.

Tampa pastor cleared of labor law violations in unpaid stadium job case

Tom Atchison, who you’ll remember as the “faith-based recovery program” director accused of illegally sending his substance-abuse clients to run stadium concessions for no pay as part of a job training program, writes to point out that a federal Department of Labor investigation cleared him of the “illegal” part last month. And he includes a (partly redacted) DoL report on the matter, if you want to read it yourself.

This is good news for Atchison, obviously, since it means his model of funding his programs by having people in recovery work stadium jobs and have the payments go to fund his overhead — something he says he copied from the Salvation Army — is officially sanctioned as legit. It’s less certainly good news for the people in his New Beginnings programs, depending on whether you see having them work jobs and have their residence director cash the resulting checks is a valuable way to ease them back into the work world, or a way to exploit their free labor to pay the program’s bills. Either way, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rays ended their relationship with New Beginnings after the controversy arose — presumably less because they were concerned it was illegal than because they were concerned it looked skeevy — so we can leave any future coverage of the matter to other worthy sites.

Tampa homeless charity CEO on unpaid sports concessions labor: Who you gonna believe, “former addicts” or him?

The Tampa Bay unpaid homeless labor scandal fallout continues to fall out this week, with Hillsborough County officials calling for a federal investigation, the Rays and concessionaire Centerplate launching their own probe, and the Lightning saying hey, don’t blame them, they stopped using these guys in 2013 due to “reliability and consistency concerns.” (Though not “violating labor law” concerns, I guess.)

The charity at the center of the charges, meanwhile, New Beginnings, has responded with its own press release, and it is hi-larious. For starters:

“We don’t use homeless or the clients than are in our Emergency Shelter for sporting events”.

Assuming that “than” is a typo for “that,” this at first sounds like the dozens of homeless New Beginnings clients who the Tampa Bay Times witnessed lining up to work concessions at a Buccaneers game must have been imaginary. The key here, though, is that phrase “in our Emergency Shelter” — New Beginnings does use its clients to run sports concessions, it just does so with those in its “work therapy” program, where homeless people learn how to re-enter the work world by working and not getting paid for it! (Which, come to think of it, probably is a good acclimation to the work world these days.)

New Beginnings also posted a link to a softball radio interview with New Beginnings CEO Tom Atchison on a Christian radio station, in which he denied all the charges, mostly by saying, “Are you kidding me? Stop this nonsense!” Then he said this:

“Can you imagine using somebody that’s homeless off the street to cash out a register and serve hot dogs? They’d be eating the hot dogs, stealing the beer, taking the money out of the register, and running down the street!”

Your homelessness charity director, people!

Atchison went on to blame disgruntled ex-employees and “a few former addicts that are telling him how horrible we are” for the negative press coverage, without actually contesting the central point of the Times article, which is that New Beginnings is pimping out its homeless clients to Tampa Bay sports teams, not paying them anything beyond their food and shelter, and pocketing any proceeds. Instead, he appears to be falling back on the defense that he’s a good Christian, so why are you picking on him, already?

On first blush it will appear that New Beginnings is a horrible agency, but after the dust has settled the truth about the great work we do will prevail. We at New Beginnings feel like we are under attack by the powers of darkness, but God is at our side to walk us through this.

God better have one heck of a labor lawyer.

Concessionaire using unpaid homeless workers at Tampa sports venues, possibly illegally

And finally, this one really needed to run sometime other than Thanksgiving weekend:

Before every Tampa Bay Buccaneers home game, dozens of men gather in the yard at New Beginnings of Tampa, one of the city’s largest homeless programs.

The men — many of them recovering alcoholics and drug addicts — are about to work a concessions stand behind Raymond James Stadium’s iconic pirate ship, serving beer and food to football fans. First, a supervisor for New Beginnings tries to pump them up.

“Thank God we have these events,” he tells them. “They bring in the prime finances.”

But not for the workers. They leave the game sweat-soaked and as penniless as they arrived. The money for their labor goes to New Beginnings. The men receive only shelter and food.

That’s right: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (as well as the Rays and Lightning) have been using indentured servants to run their concessions. (Okay, not quite indentured servants, since these workers can — and do — quit their unpaid jobs and give up their shelter, but still pretty close.) That’s probably a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act — New Beginnings CEO Tom Atchison says the program is modeled on one used by the Salvation Army, but the Salvation Army doesn’t pimp its unpaid workers out to for-profit sports teams to make money — and undeniably skeevy. And it only gets skeevier:

[Victoria] Denton, the other New Beginnings employee who went to the FDLE, said she witnessed Atchison open homeless residents’ mail, take Social Security checks and deposit them in New Beginnings accounts, and use food stamp cards to buy food for himself…

“He would say, ‘They’re drug addicts, they’re alcoholics, they’re just going to spend it on cigarettes and booze,’ ” said Lee Hoffman, the formerly homeless minister who worked for Atchison off and on from 2007 to 2010. “The only way they get any of it is if they complain hard enough.”

Sports stadiums: your job-creation engines, everybody!

Florida house speaker: No new sales tax “checks” for stadiums this year

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, who said earlier this week that he’d be introducing a bill to require sports teams to show they actually have a reason to ask for sales-tax kickbacks, upped the ante slightly yesterday by declaring that he doesn’t intend on approving any sports subsidies this year at all:

“Our focus right now is on a process that treats everyone equitably and not writing any checks,” Weatherford said during an interview with The News Service of Florida in his Capitol office.

Currently, the state of Florida pays $2 million a year to the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Heat, and Orlando Magic in exchange for the teams doing the state the favor of existing. (The Miami Marlins got left off this list after getting the $2 million a year break for their previous stadium, but did get everything else they wanted, so no complaining.) Right now the Orlando City Soccer Club, David Beckham’s as-yet-unnamed Miami MLS expansion team, and the Daytona International Speedway are all lining up to ask for sales-tax rebates as well, but it sounds like they’re going to have to wait — until next year, anyway, when Weatherford will, at the ripe old age of 35, be term-limited out of office. If Weatherford has his way, by then there will be new laws requiring team owners to “go through the process with the Department of Economic Opportunity just like everybody else does that wants to create jobs in Florida” to prove that their projects will provide a return on the state’s investment, though it remains to be seen whether he has a chance in hell of getting it through the state senate, which has historically been much more lenient about this kind of thing.

Bucs want a bigger new scoreboard, Tampa claims public won’t pay

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are planning to build an even more expensive scoreboard than the one included in a previously approved $18.7 million upgrade package, but according to the Tampa Tribune, Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer and his family say they’ll pay for the additional costs out of their own pockets:

“Rather than just do the improvements that were initially budgeted, they wanted to do something more grandiose on their dime,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, a member of the sports authority board.

Of course, Hagan is the guy who previously said that hosting a single college football championship game would create nearly 2,000 new permanent jobs (after “skimming” some studies on the subject), so we might want to double-check his claims. Unfortunately, the Glazers aren’t talking, so it’s too soon to say whether the “on their dime” claim is true, especially given the complicated funding scheme for Raymond James Stadium maintenance and improvements. Stay tuned.