Pretty much every Olympic sports venue in Rio is falling apart now

And finally today, in The Olympics Are Bad For People And Other Living Things news, Deadspin has a rundown of all the Olympic venues in Rio de Janeiro that are falling apart just months after the games were concluded, which is basically “all of them”: The Maracanã soccer stadium that was upgraded for the 2014 World Cup is plagued by patchy grass and power outages to save operating costs (and vandals stealing seats during the power outages), a complex of nine Olympic venues that was supposed to be auctioned off after the games drew zero qualified bidders, an Olympic site that was turned into a public park was closed when its private manager shut down, and its $19 million Olympic golf course is falling into disrepair. All this for a cost of only $10-12 billion in public money!

Some of this, no doubt, has to do with Brazil’s political turmoil and resulting economic crisis, which is what leads a government to do things like skimp on paying the light bill at its most iconic soccer stadium. But when the best you can say about hosting the Olympics is “Hey, we might have been left with lots of nice but unneeded sports venues for our $10 billion if only our entire nation hadn’t collapsed,” that’s not really the best selling point for hosting the Olympics.

St. Pete mayor says “no bidding war” for Rays, as counties launch big ol’ bidding war

The minute that St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman handed the Tampa Bay Rays the right to buy out their lease clause in St. Peterburg and seek a new stadium elsewhere in the local area, it was clear that team owner Stuart Sternberg would be seeking to set up a bidding war between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties over who’d get to throw public money at the team. And how’s that going? Really well, reports Shadow of the Stadium, if you’re Sternberg, with Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan most recently setting up meetings with his county’s bankers to discuss stadium financing, in addition to helping the team narrow down a site.

Kriseman, for his part, seems shocked, shocked that a local sports baron would try to play off two governmental bodies against each other just because you told him he could:

“When we start getting into detailed conversations about financing,” Kriseman said, “what we set ourselves up for is a bidding war, and then the taxpayers are the losers when that happens.”

Yep, that’s the way it works! Kriseman seems to want Sternberg to settle on a site first, then talk about funding plans once all his leverage is gone, which is not how savvy negotiators operate. One way of getting around this would be for the two counties to team up and tell the Rays owner, “We’re not going to bid against each other, pick a site and then we’ll talk” — or even “Hey, go try to hit up the other county for money if you want, all the better if we get to watch games and somebody else gets stuck with the cost.” But that’s not how unsavvy negotiators operate.

Revolution stadium plans being ruined by greedy teachers union, says pro-stadium columnist

Speaking of death notices for MLS stadium plans, New England Revolution owner Robert Kraft’s proposed Dorchester soccer facility is also being declared “all but dead,” at least by Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung. This, though, may be a slightly different story than in St. Louis:

The finger-pointing has begun, and if Kraft goes away, blame the Boston Teachers Union. At issue are the 2.7 acres the union owns on the site where Kraft would like to put his sports venue.

The union, I am told, is asking for a deal that Kraft, a billionaire who also owns the New England Patriots, thinks is too rich.

That’s the start of a long column that comes down to: Kraft wants the teachers union’s land, the union is driving a hard bargain, and Kraft may walk away from the site in response. The entire thing is completely unsourced, except for one reference to “according to people briefed on the matter,” and given that Leung writes that if the deal dies it would be “a shame,” that she goes out of her way to praise Kraft as “credited with saving football when he helped broker a deal with players that ended the NFL’s 136-day lockout in 2011,” and that she’s previously admitted in print that “some may say I have never met a stadium I didn’t like,” there’s a fairly high likelihood that this column was prompted by Kraft’s side griping to her about those damn union leaders refusing to come down on their land asking price. Leung writes that Kraft has “a reputation for being a tough negotiator” — if he can save a few million by getting a friendly journalist to paint his opponents as obstructionists, that’s a phone call well worth making.

St. Louis soccer stadium plan sponsor kills funding plan, ball’s in MLS’s court, uh, pitch

Looks like we can downgrade the St. Louis MLS stadium plan’s condition from critical to dead, after the sponsor of a city bill to fund $80 million of the cost said she’s withdrawing the legislation:

“That bill will not be moving forward,” Alderman Christine Ingrassia, 6th Ward, said at Tuesday’s meeting of the aldermanic Ways and Means Committee…

Ingrassia said she wanted SC STL to show a proposal that was at least “revenue neutral” on the city’s budget over time.

“It looked like to me, and in the conversations I had with people who have more expertise in the field of public financing, that they were basically just repackaging the same subsidies in different ways,” Ingrassia said. “So they were asking for way more than I feel like we could support here in the city.”

“Repackaging the same subsidies in different ways”? I’m sure I’ve never heard of anything like that before.

It’s not entirely clear what changed Ingrassia’s mind — you go and sponsor a bill to spend $80 million on a soccer stadium, then turn around and say that this is “way more” than you can support? — but it’s worth noting that after newly elected governor Eric Greitens ruled out state funding as “corporate welfare,” Ingrassia started backing away as well. Elected officials are just so susceptible to peer pressure, you know?

If the soccer stadium plan really is dead, at least in this iteration — Mayor Francis Slay held out hope of still getting a proposal on an April ballot, but time’s running out and there’s now no funding plan at all — it’s worth noting that this would be one of the largest MLS stadium subsidies in history, all for a team that doesn’t actually exist yet. Top-level pro soccer in St. Louis isn’t a bad idea — it’s not a bad idea most places, which is why the league is handing out franchises to just about anyone who asks — but providing a near-record subsidy just so that MLS can get away with charging $150 million expansion fees was a terrible one. This alone won’t change the league’s business model, but maybe if Greitens has started something and a few more prospective expansion cities push back against subsidy demands … friends, they’ll call it a movement?

Rangers release first unintentionally hilarious renderings of new $1B stadium design

The Texas Rangers have selected HKS, designers of the Dallas Cowboys‘ stadium, to design their new stadium set to open in 2020, which means we now have initial images of what a replacement ballpark for a 23-year-old stadium marked for death because it doesn’t have air-conditioning looks like. Take it away, HKS renderings department:

newrangers1-hks newrangers3-hks newrangers2-hks

Initial gripes from Rangers fans are that it looks a hell of a lot like the Houston Astros‘ stadium that opened just six years after the one that the Rangers are tearing down. Which it does, but hey, there are only so many ways you can design a stadium with a sliding retractable roof (the right-field seats are reminiscent of the Miami Marlins‘ new stadium, too), and they didn’t have much time to work up these preliminary drawings. More fun is to play “What’s wrong with this picture?” with them, because there sure is a lot:

  • Those three levels of seats suspended in the left-field archways are remarkable not just for seemingly having no structural support at all, but no way for fans to actually get to their seats. Maybe state-of-the-art stadiums will now include transporter technology?
  • There appear to be enormous bullpen areas in both left and right fields, which would seem to be overkill unless the Rangers want the ability to have four teams warming up at the same time.
  • That’s an awfully weird defensive shift that the road team is playing, what with the center fielder playing super-shallow and the left fielder extremely deep. Though maybe they’re just making up for the fact that the first baseman has apparently left to use the restroom.
  • The woman with the sleeveless shirt and purse in the outdoor promenade is awfully blasé for having just walked right through the guy checking his phone.
  • Judging from the number 10 and the five-letter name, that kid on the promenade (who photobombed two separate renderings, what the heck?) appears to be wearing a Michael Young jersey. If that’s the case in 2020, the Rangers are going to be in big trouble, such that they’re not going to be selling out the stands with people mysteriously raising their fists skyward when everyone around them is sitting still.
  • The couple in the final image are wearing their “Texas” and “Rangers” shirts backwards, no doubt in protest of the team not having any players worth celebrating since Michael Young.
  • All of these people are shown enjoying a baseball game outside in the open air in the daytime, when it’s been firmly established that nobody will go to baseball games in Texas without air-conditioning, how could you even think of such a thing?

I am 100% sure that the final stadium design will end up looking very little like this, so there’s time for HKS to fix their errors. In the meantime, though, if their renderings department wants to hire a fact-checker, I can recommend some people.

Atlanta mayor defends cost overruns for Falcons pedestrian bridge as “saving lives”

Just what exactly is it with the Atlanta area and forgetting to plan for ways for fans to get to new sports stadiums? In the wake of the Cobb County Braves pedestrian bridge fiasco, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed last month that a pedestrian bridge to the Falcons‘ new stadium could cost $23.2 million, almost double what Mayor Kasim Reed promised in July. And now Reed has fired back that okay, maybe, but it’s worth every penny, dammit:

In 21st Century America, a city’s connectivity and walkability are major factors in attracting and retaining young, skilled workers and the companies looking to hire them. The steady influx of businesses and new residents to the City of Atlanta in 2016 is directly related to this strategy. Moreover, this growth is strengthening our economy across all sectors, leading to lower unemployment and greater opportunities for our residents.

The new bridge over Northside Drive linking Westside neighborhoods to Downtown Atlanta is a major example of an essential infrastructure piece that will improve – and possibly save – residents’ lives. The bridge will offer a safe crossing of Northside Drive, which for years has been a dangerous barrier preventing easy passage from the Westside to Downtown’s economic and cultural opportunities.

Okay, yeah, I think everyone can agree that people like to be able to cross highways without having to run through traffic. The bigger point here is that the city is suddenly facing a previously unannounced $23.2 million cost for a project to support a pro football stadium. While Reed insisted that the bridge was part of a community benefits plan, the AJC found that “none of those claims are backed up by the public record,” and quoted one of the community plan’s architects as saying they’re a load of crap:

Rev. Anthony A.W. Motley, a major participant in helping craft the Community Benefits Plan, scoffed at the assertion.

“To try and justify the bridge on the basis of a connection to poor people in the community is an insult to everything that we have proposed, particularly as it relates to the Community Benefits Plan,” Motley said. “The bridge has nothing to do with the community, and to say that it does shows contempt for the community and a flagrant disregard for the truth.”

Back on the Braves bridge front, meanwhile, the latest report is that six months after construction started in June, and with four months to go to opening day, the bridge was 40% complete. That doesn’t seem like a very promising pace, but Cobb’s transportation director Jim Wilgus said he hopes it will be “operational” by opening day April 14, even if not “totally complete” until the summer. Everybody hold on!

NFL set to discuss Chargers-to-L.A. next Wednesday, as Spanos grubs for more stadium cash

We finally have a D-Day of sorts for the San Diego Chargerslong-rumored-by-Jason-La-Canfora move to Los Angeles, as the NFL’s finance and stadium committees will meet next Wednesday to discuss the relocation. On the surface, there wouldn’t seem to be much to discuss since the league already approved the terms of a Chargers move last January, but given that it’s the NFL, there’s always something to haggle about:

It’s believed that [Chargers owner Dean] Spanos could be seeking more money from the NFL to help him stay in San Diego. It appears that money is needed to bridge the gap between money already available from the league and the team, and public contribution from the city, county and San Diego State.

That’s completely unsourced, you’ll note — nice weasel wording with that “it’s believed,” Associated Press! — but if true, is kind of interesting: Apparently Spanos is holding out hope that the other NFL owners want him to stay put in San Diego badly enough that they’ll increase the $100 million offer they made to help him build a stadium there. That doesn’t seem all too likely, but you don’t get if you don’t ask, right?

The “gap” between money already available and what a stadium would cost, as a reminder, is pretty much “all of it,” given that in November San Diego voters overwhelmingly rejected funding $1.15 billion of a $1.8 billion stadium. Spanos needs to hope he’s better at last-second comeback attempts in the board room than his team is on the field.

Blues owner demands $138m for arena one day after governor declares end to sports subsidies

As if to prove that when one governmental subsidy door closes, a governmental subsidy window opens, the St. Louis city council followed up new Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ declaration that he won’t approve any state sports subsidies by announcing it would vote on spending $67.5 million in city tax money on upgrades to the Blues‘ arena. A funding bill, which would involve $4 million a year in kicked-back arena sales taxes and a new 1% arena sales tax surcharge over 28 years (yes, that’s $112 million total, but since much of it would be collected far in the future it’s only worth $67.5 million in present value), could be introduced as soon as this week in the city council, and council president Lewis Reed has said it won’t require a public vote, notwithstanding that disputed St. Louis law saying that all sports spending requires a voter referendum.

And why, exactly, does Blues owner Tom Stillman think the city should pay to upgrade his team’s 23-year-old arena with such items as new seating, a new scoreboard, sound and lighting upgrades, and renovated locker rooms and concessions stands? Glad you asked!

“The Scottrade Center is no longer competitive,” said Blues Chairman Tom Stillman, adding that NCAA and concert promoters have warned that they will stop coming to St. Louis without upgrades to compete with facilities in Indianapolis, Kansas City, Nashville, Tenn., and elsewhere.

Yeah, that is a concern — to whoever is in the business of operating the Scottrade Center, which would be Stillman. The only potential cost to the city would be the loss of some sales tax revenues if the NCAA or concert promoters actually cut back on events, and since even according to Stillman the city only earns $6 million a year in sales taxes from the arena currently, it’s pretty inconceivable that any loss would be worth $4 million a year, since the Blues would still be playing there 41 nights a year. But as we’ve seen before, the first refuge of a stadium-subsidy grubber is to declare the old place obsolete, so it’s not surprising to see Stillman making that claim, even if the numbers don’t quite add up.

And speaking of numbers, Stillman’s total subsidy demand could more than double, as he’s preparing to ask for a second round of money from the state, Greitens’ Monday announcement be damned:

City and Blues officials also are planning to ask state legislators for $70.5 million for further renovations in a second phase, the timeline for which is still being finalized.

That would come to $138 million in public money for upgrades to a 23-year-old arena, with the only public benefit in return being “maybe we’ll get more concerts and NCAA tournament games this way.” A sane city negotiator would say, “Okay, great, how about you give us a cut of the actual revenues from those events to help pay off the public’s costs, like you’ll be using them to pay off your own share of the renovation?” Instead, we get this:

Reed stressed that the facility has already paid for police officers and transportation needs but hasn’t had a major upgrade since it was opened. “We must stay competitive,” he said.

Greitens hasn’t publicly commented on the Blues subsidy proposal yet, but one newspaper columnist has already decried local officials’ “disunity” on sports funding as the reason why St. Louis is having trouble keeping up with the likes of Louisville. Yes, he said Louisville. Apparently they don’t teach irony in journalism school.

D-Backs owners sue to break lease, so they can escape being shackled to 19-year-old stadium

The owners of the Arizona Diamondbacks have started off 2017 with a bang as well, moving forward with until-now-idle threats by filing suit to break their lease with Maricopa County on Chase Field, on the grounds that the county owes them $187 million in repairs and upgrades:

Diamondbacks Managing General Partner Ken Kendrick said the team attempted to resolve the conflict out of court.

“We have made a promise to our fans, who have been partners with us on the building of this stadium and our franchise, to provide the best experience in all of baseball in a safe and welcoming environment,” he said in a written statement. “The inability of the Maricopa County Stadium District to fulfill its commitments has left us with no other option.”

Kendrick and his corporate overlords indeed no doubt saw this as their only option after county officials told them where to stick their stadium upgrade demands — whether than makes it a good option is another thing entirely. But given that the county report that identified the $187 million in needed (maybe “desired” is a better way of putting it) improvements in the first place also noted that $145 million of that was specifically on the team’s shoulders, it seems like the D-Backs owners are going to have an uphill battle in court, if they indeed plan to proceed to court and not just make this a negotiating gambit.

Anyway, expect the upcoming months, if not years, to now focus on questions of how to “solve the Diamondbacks stadium standoff” and where the team might try to relocate to if it successfully breaks its lease (which otherwise prohibits any move until 2028, or even talking about a move until 2024), much as we’ve seen in recent years with the Tampa Bay Rays. Which, come to think of it, is probably all the team owners want at this stage: to get people talking about replacing a 19-year-old stadium like it’s an urgent priority. There’s crazy, and then there’s crazy like a fox.

New Missouri gov says no state stadium funding, no way, no how

Sorry for the radio silence of the last few days: I was traveling, and while intending to get back to the stadium grind yesterday, a red-eye flight proved to be incompatible with a regular morning posting schedule. (Though I did find time to finish up some music writing I’d been working on, if that interests you.)

Thankfully, Missouri governor-elect Eric Greitens didn’t take the holidays off, greeting us to 2017 by upping the ante on his comments that MLS stadium funding would be “welfare to millionaires” with a great big raised middle finger to plans for state tax breaks for a St. Louis soccer stadium, telling journalists on Monday: “To be very clear, I have completely ruled out state funding for stadiums.”

Greitens reiterated his description of state aid for stadiums as ”welfare for millionaires” but said he “looks forward to meeting with the leaders of the MLS project to see if there’s a way for them to bring private-sector funding to bring a soccer team to the state of Missouri.”

“We are not going to use money from the people of the state of Missouri for what I believe is corporate welfare,” Greitens said. “We’ve got far too many core priorities of government that have to be invested in.”

That’s about as clear as clear can be. Without the $40 million in state tax credits, the MLS proposal has a (wait for it) $40 million hole in its budget, one that neither the city of St. Louis (which would already be putting up $89 million of its own public cash) nor the team’s prospective owners (who would already be, uh, paying the league’s $150 million expansion fee, what do you want from them, blood?) seems eager to fill. Stadium bill sponsor Ald. Christine Ingrassia remarked following Greitens’ remarks, “I was hoping to get to the point where this proposal made sense for St. Louis, but I’m feeling that less and less,” while Mayor Francis Slay’s chief of staff said, “It will be tough to get this done without the state’s support.”

Not that this kills the St. Louis MLS plan dead: $40 million isn’t an insurmountable gap, and the team owners aren’t likely to just walk away from that $89 million in city subsidies without trying to make it work. But with only three weeks before the deadline to get a vote on the April ballot, there isn’t much time to go back to the drawing board if they’re hoping to get something approved this year. Time for everybody to watch Lewis Reed really, really closely.