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November 17, 2011

Indians to seek subsidies for stadium upgrades?

It's tough to beat an article with a headline like "To protect taxpayers, it's time to pay attention to board meetings, even the boring ones." But Mark Naymik's column in today's Cleveland Plain Dealer actually raises a potentially serious issue: The Indians are getting ready to demand major upgrades to 16-year-old Progressive (formerly Jacobs) Field:

The Cleveland Indians are working on a major improvement plan for Progressive Field, which, along with the rest of complex, is nearly 20 years old. It's unclear when the team will present its wish list to Gateway and the board. Gateway has asked the Cavaliers — which is not as far along in assessing its capital needs for Quicken Loans Arena — to present a plan.
When the teams do ask for major improvements, the board will become more interesting. The requests will set off a new debate over who should pay for serious upgrades.
Board meeting minutes show the issue of expanding the current sin tax, which expires relatively soon, to pay for the improvements was discussed at the last board meeting.

As I've noted before, this is going to be an issue not just for Cleveland: The whole initial 1990s wave of new stadiums is getting to the point where team owners feel justified in demanding upgrades, so this could set a significant precedent in terms of who pays for them, and whether the teams need to kick in from the increased revenues that would (presumably) result. It's very early yet, but fans and taxpayers in Toronto, Chicago, Baltimore, Arlington, Denver, and so on should definitely be keeping an eye on this.


Neil, haven't the taxpayers of Chicago already been stuck with upgrades to what was new Comiskey about a decade ago? Seems to me that that facility was not much more than 10 years old when preeminent carpetbagger Reinsdorf demanded (and got) some publicly funded upgrades.

Since many of the 1990s new facilities were funded under "location" agreements, what leverage would the clubs have in demanding upgrades?

Not everyone agreed to a 30 year relocation ban as part of the deal, of course, but many did. Aren't these owners going to be just as powerless as Sternberg in Tampa given that they willingly agreed to a long term (IE: not expired) location agreements?

Of course, none of that stops them whining about their awful plight... only 12k gold urinals etc... oh what is a boy-king to do?

Posted by John Bladen on November 17, 2011 12:47 PM

Sorta: The state handed over the naming rights to Reinsdorf for nothing, and he turned around and sold it and used the proceeds for renovations. Nothing stopping him from asking again, though, especially if the Cubs get public money.

As for who's bound by no-relocation agreements, that would require looking at each individual lease and whether there's a buyout clause, an upkeep/state-of-the-art clause, etc. Maybe a future article idea...

Posted by Neil deMause on November 17, 2011 12:59 PM

Guessing that teams will try to make like the Lightning and pay the initial cost of upgrades with a promise to be repaid by the gov't later.

As a side note, Cleveland and Toronto do have outdated stadiums. Not saying that taxpayers should pony up, but those places are dumps.

Posted by Ben Miller on November 17, 2011 05:01 PM

/\/\/\ What is wrong with Cleveland's?

Posted by Brian on November 17, 2011 07:50 PM

I echo the above, what's wrong with Cleveland's park? I was there in September, I thought it was spectacular.

Toronto's is just a compromise that does nobody any real good, if they built a different stadium for the Argos, Rogers (who own it lock stock and barrel) could continue renovating.

Posted by Tyler on November 17, 2011 08:02 PM

WOW. So now Toronto and Cleveland have outdated stadiums? Really? This is out of control! As far as I can remember, those stadiums were "state of the art" when they came out! Now they're no good anymore? People, quit giving in to these scammers. Make them pay for their own renovations and new stadiums!

Posted by Roger C. on November 17, 2011 08:22 PM

WOW. So now Toronto and Cleveland have outdated stadiums? Really? This is out of control! As far as I can remember, those stadiums were "state of the art" when they came out! Now they're no good anymore? People, quit giving in to these scammers. Make them pay for their own renovations and new stadiums!

Posted by Roger C. on November 17, 2011 08:24 PM

My house is outdated. It was built in 1905. It is not designed for modern energy efficiency tolerances, is made of some hazardous materials, doesn't take advantage of modern design techniques to increase its livability. Having such an out-dated house is areal obstacle to our* community having as many parties as I would like.

If the county would establish a "Josh's House-Party Authority" to manage the renovations to my house that would make a lot of sense for everyone*.

Imagine the economic benefits! With only $50,000 in renovations we* could save around a hundred a month on energy costs. We* would also want to have more guests over. Think of all the spending. If we* have an extra party/month for 40 guests, and we* spend $100 preparing the party, and each guest spends $10 dollars getting ready for the party, transporting themselves to the party, and buying gifts for us* that would be an additional $6,000/year.

Such a great investment $7,200/year in benefits for us* at a cost of only $50,000! Plus we* get all those nice party gifts!

So why don't we* create a special countywide tax district so we* can all pitch in to achieve these benefits for everyone*!

*Full disclosure: in this case we, us, and everyone refer to me, me, and me respectively.

Posted by Joshua Northey on November 18, 2011 10:01 AM


Cleveland is outdated????? You have to be kidding. That place is great - still a top 5 ballpark.

I mean, what the hell?

Posted by Chuck on November 18, 2011 11:42 AM


Don't forget the spin off economic benefits as people from "all over the country" rent cars and hotel rooms as part of a trip to see your newly bejewelled home.

Seems to me your local gov't would be irresponsible if it didn't fund your dream (including holographic displays... ya gotta have holographic displays, man!)

Posted by John Bladen on November 18, 2011 03:20 PM

For Cleveland's it's a lack of seats behind home plate (the major problem) and concourses that have an ugly, industrial look. We went to a lightly attended game, so I can't say whether there is a bad bathroom or concession situation, but it seemed that there were a lot fewer options than the new or renovated stadiums. Dump may have been too strong a word (though not too strong a word for Toronto), but Cleveland's is probably 26th or 27th of 30 right now.

Posted by Ben Miller on November 19, 2011 01:10 PM

Concourses can be spiffed up pretty cheaply. By "lack of seats behind home plate" do you mean the wall of suites that wraps around the infield? That's indeed a problem, but it's something a lot of '90s-era parks share - before Clinton trimmed the business-entertainment deduction on luxury boxes, everybody thought they could sell out 100-200 suites easy. Now that club seats are more popular (and a better tax deduction), teams are deciding they'd rather have those.

This is what you get for pouring concrete based on transient economic conditions, though I guess the Jacobs brothers got out with their cash before the chickens came home to roost.

Posted by Neil deMause on November 19, 2011 01:30 PM

"This is what you get for pouring concrete based on transient economic conditions"

Well said. This is one of the biggest reasons why city governments shouldn't be so heavily involved in these deals.

When its someone else's money you can ask for anything and everything and when those bells and whistles stop being novel and you need new ones it becomes some one else's responsibility to replace them.

In an ideal world these teams would all pay for their own buildings. Being heavily leveraged would expose them to other risks so these teams would instead build buildings that were more affordable working well enough in the short term with room to improve or remove amenities as time passed.

These buildings would be much like yours and my homes - a continual work in progress.

Posted by Andrew T on November 19, 2011 02:42 PM


By definition, someone's stadium is going to be ranked 26th-30th out of 30. Are you really suggesting that four stadiums should be built every year to ensure that nobody has the "worst" for long?

It isn't about whether somebody has the "worst", it is about whether or not the facilities are sufficient for purpose. Notice that nobody builds sports palaces with their own money.

When stadia are built with private money, they tend to be dramatically more modest (and cost effective) than when "someone else" is paying. That's a good thing.

If you asked fans if they'd be willing to pay 3x as much to go to a new stadium, most would say no.

Posted by John Bladen on November 19, 2011 07:37 PM


That's exactly it.

What perplexes me is that just about everyone else has at least some seats there. I guess maybe Anaheim is as bad but at least they have parking a good space for food and restrooms.

Posted by Ben Miller on November 21, 2011 11:01 AM

John Bladen,

I told myself I wouldn't respond to you after that racist comment you made about NBA players recently, but I'm going to break my own rule (primarily so that I can bring up that you made a racist comment about NBA players recently).

Being 26th out of 30 is a problem. I get that in theory that's not a big deal, but in reality it means that you have failed to keep up your stadium. It's just a fact of life and if a government promised to build and maintain a stadium so that a pro sports team would play there, the government should keep up their end of the bargain.

Posted by Ben Miller on November 21, 2011 11:09 AM


The government should do what it is contractually obligated to do. Nothing more, nothing less. Just like the teams do (when they aren't begging and pleading to be let out of contracts).

Going forward governments should definitely not be involved in building or maintaining sports facilities. It makes no sense. They are poor economic development projects, and this isn't ancient Rome where they are a large part of the overall entertainment landscape.

I would bet a city might see more benefits from buying every citizen an Xbox than building a stadium. It would provide more entertainment, be cheaper, and lead to more secondary spending at local retailers. Think of the all the college kids who would move to town! Free Xbox after your third straight year of paying property taxes!

Posted by Joshua Northey on November 21, 2011 11:34 AM


You sound (and I mean this as an insult), like a professor of economics.

Posted by Ben Miller on November 21, 2011 02:21 PM

"You a professor of economics.

Heaven forbid, on a web site devoted to the discussion of, umm, economics.

Posted by Keith on November 21, 2011 04:43 PM

And you sound like a paid lobbyist for a billionaire? I know which one I would rather be...

Posted by Joshua Northey on November 21, 2011 05:15 PM

This is shading into personal attacks, guys. Please return to your corners and come back ready to focus on the arguments, not the people making them.

Posted by Neil deMause on November 21, 2011 07:03 PM

Yes, it is Neil.

Mr. Miller:

Please provide evidence of your claim that I have made a 'racist' comment about NBA players. You should be aware that false claim of racism is in itself an actionable offense.

I did make a derogatory remark about the off court actions and hobbies of NBA players (which is supportable by facts up to and including court transcripts). However, this comment was in no way based on race, and could not be misconstrued as such (barring intentional misrepresentation/misquotation, which you appear to have effected).

I await your apology.

Posted by John Bladen on November 21, 2011 07:52 PM

Sorry Neil,

I meant that in a more jokey tone than the internet is able to convey unfortunately.

Anyway I am not the one who opened that can of worms.

Posted by Joshua Northey on November 22, 2011 10:33 AM


I took no offense, and I'm guessing that Mr. Northey would be OK with people equating his views with PhDs.

John B, get real. Though I will apologize for being wrong when I guessed that your next claim would be that you have a black friend.

I do have a proposal for you, though. Why don't you post your racist/non-racist comment again and we'll take a survey of black people and see if they find it racist. Deal?

Posted by Ben Miller on November 22, 2011 12:35 PM

Okay, I'm calling a halt to this. John and Ben, if you really need to continue your fight, please take it to

Next person who posts something on this thread unrelated to baseball stadium renovations gets put in the penalty box for the holiday weekend. (Or as they call it in Canada, "the rest of the week.")

Posted by Neil deMause on November 22, 2011 12:51 PM

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