Missouri actually identifies $280m in Rams funding, now only has $100m as “dunno yet”

The Missouri Development Finance Board has approved the first $15 million installment of those $50 million in tax credits Gov. Jay Nixon wants to give to the St. Louis Rams to help fund a new stadium. (The next two installments would come in 2016 and 2017.) That’s as to be expected, but the interesting part comes down in the fine print of the tax credit offering, which finally spells out how Nixon plans to cobble together $400 million or so in public stadium subsidies:

They have proposed to pay for construction with $450 million from the National Football League and the team that plays here, $201 million in bond proceeds from the state and the city of St. Louis, $160 million from the sale of seat licenses and $187 million in tax credits, according to the state application.

Let’s take those one at a time:

  • $201 million in bond proceeds is about what the state could get by refinancing the existing Jones Dome bonds: They have $18 million a year in hotel-motel tax money (approved for the last Rams stadium 20 years ago, which is now unconscionably old), and about $100 million in remaining debt on the dome, so if they can get an interest rate of around 4% they should be good to go there. It’s still doesn’t explain how the city will now pay off the convention center debt that it’s currently using some of the tax money to cover, but at least it exists.
  • While including $160 million from the sale of seat licenses as part of the public portion is a bold move, no doubt Rams owner Stan Kroenke is going to want PSL money to cover his share of the cost. So calling it public funding is going to be contentious, to say the least.
  • $187 million in tax credits: Whaaaa? The $50 million from the Missouri Development Finance Board is discussed above, and there’s been discussion of maybe $30 million in federal Brownfield credits. Other than that, if Nixon and friends have specified what other tax credits they’re thinking of, I’ve missed it (and so has Google).

In other words, we’re still looking at a funding gap of at least $100 million here, though presumably somebody has at least an idea of where to ask for it, even if it’s not completely public yet. And even then, we’re talking about only (“only”) $388 million in public cash, which, while more than the entire last stadium cost, is still less than Nixon had promised. Whether that’d be enough to make Stan Kroenke and the NFL happy enough not to move the team to L.A., assuming it all eventually gets approved, is the $388 million question — if nothing else, it should make for some interesting conversations in NFL board rooms along the lines of “Jeez, Stan, take the free money,” though you know no one’s going to say it out loud for fear of blowing the chance to shake Missouri down for even more.

(Or maybe Kroenke really will just require the people of St. Louis to build the stadium with their bare hands. Some things, after all, money can’t buy.)

Carson stadium design scraps lightning-bolt tower, what’s the point anymore?

The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders presented their Carson stadium plan to the NFL last week, and on Monday shared their trailer with the public. If you like swooping CG renderings and Kiefer Sutherland, it’s, well, got those:

It’s also missing something from earlier static renderings. Try to figure out what it is? (Er, without peeking at my headline.)

Previous plans called for a tower that extends 115 to 120 feet through and above the main concourse of the sleek, futuristic stadium. The tower’s cauldron would change depending on the team: simulated lightning bolts shooting out of a glass ball for the Chargers and a massive flame in honor of legendary owner Al Davis when the Raiders play…

Stadium backers confirmed that the design elements have been scrubbed from the plans. No reason was given, other than the previous renderings, released in April, were preliminary in nature.

Translation: Sure, we threw it in with the initial drawings, but it was too hard to do with our video software, let alone actually build. That would be crazy!

So farewell, giant Van De Graaff generator. We are sad to see you go, but not all that surprised, because that’s why they (okay, I) call i “vaportecture.”


Latest Minnesota United plan would take money from libraries, do end run around mayor on property tax breaks

More details are in on two Hennepin County commissioners’ plans to help Minnesota United build a new stadium in Minneapolis, and it looks like they’re offering more than just some future sales tax money, as was reported yesterday. Rather, Mike Opat and Peter McLaughlin are looking to siphon off sales tax money currently going to such things as libraries and youth sports, while doing an end run around Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges on exempting the stadium from property taxes.

The sales tax money first. As the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports:

Opat and McLaughlin’s plan would add United’s stadium to the 0.15 percent countywide sales tax that helped build Target Field. Under that legislation, sales tax proceeds were limited to five projects: retiring the bond debt, additional library hours, youth sports activities, operating the Ballpark Authority and capital expenditures around the park.

The soccer stadium would be added to this list, as well as youth sports spending in Hennepin County suburbs.

That’s nice that they want to increase youth sports spending for the suburbs, but it’s important to note that adding items to the list of things funded by the sales tax surcharge doesn’t actually create any more sales tax revenue. Yes, sales tax revenue is currently coming in faster than expected, but adding more items to be paid for out of that fund inevitably means either 1) the tax will have to be continued for longer than it would be otherwise, taking more money out of taxpayers’ pockets, or 2) spending on other items on the list will have to be reduced. The Target Field bond debt has to be paid off one way or another, so that leaves only library hours, youth sports, and Ballpark Authority operations on the chopping block — your guess which one will end up drawing the short straw.

As for the property-tax break, that’s even more devious:

The deal would solve one major problem for United, which wants to be free of property taxes. Under Opat’s plan, the team would buy the site — for $30 million, according to the team — and give it to the Ballpark Authority.

“They would operate it, we would own it,” Opat said.

Mayor Hodges has refused to have the city take ownership of the stadium land, since that would exempt it from the property tax rolls — but the county is likewise tax-exempt, so it could get United its tax break just by agreeing to take on the land itself, thus cutting Hodges out of the loop.

What all this would cost the public is up in the air, since Opat and McLaughlin haven’t said how much sales tax money would go to United. And it’s all still in the spitballing stages — the sales tax change would need approval of the state legislature, and this hasn’t even gotten a hearing from the full county commission yet. Still, it looks even more clear that United is trying to repeat the magic that its co-owners scored with Hennepin County nine years ago, when that body agreed to throw public cash at a new Twins stadium when neither the state nor city would. As I always like to point out, in the stadium-demand game, you only have to put up one win, and you’re good forever — or at least, for the couple of decades before it’s time to demand a new stadium.

New radio series explores WTF is up with all those new Atlanta stadiums

WABE radio in Atlanta kicked off a week-long series yesterday on the metro area’s multiple new stadium and arena deals for the Falcons, Braves, and possibly Hawks, and I had the honor of being one of the first guests, pointing out that while there are certainly cities that got worse deals (hello, Indianapolis!), that’s not really something to brag about. You can listen to the whole interview here.

More interesting to me (since I know what I was going to say already) is Thursday’s upcoming appearance by Cobb County Commission chair Tim Lee, who will try to explain why it made sense to throw $300 million at the Braves to get them to move to a new stadium in the suburbs, plus maybe what’s up with that pedestrian bridge that won’t be ready in time to get fans from their cars to games, plus maybe the soaring ticket prices planned for the new place, plus even maybe why he secretly hired a lawyer with county funds to negotiate the Braves deal without even telling his fellow commission members, then lied about having done so. Come to think of it, I would have rather skipped my appearance yesterday and instead gotten to interview Lee. Now that would be some must-see radio.

Washington NFL team won’t change name for new stadium, still likely to have plenty of stadium offers

Bruce Allen, president of Washington’s NFL team, was asked yesterday whether the team would consider changing its ethnic-slur name if that proved a roadblock to getting a new stadium. Allen’s answer:

“No,” he said.

This is consistent with what Allen’s boss, owner Daniel Snyder, has said all along, so no huge surprise here. It’s likely to be a roadblock to getting a new stadium on the RFK Stadium site in D.C., however, notes ESPN, since the federal government owns that site, and would need to approve a lease extension in order for a new stadium to be built there, and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is an avowed opponent of the team name.

This would hardly leave the team high and dry, since, as ESPN notes, “Governors in both Maryland and Virginia have said Washington’s nickname would not be an issue in trying to get a stadium built.” (The team can also always wait out Jewell and see if the next Interior Secretary in 2017 is more amenable.) Also, you know, the team already has a stadium in Maryland that’s just 18 years old. Apparently ESPN doesn’t think that’s remarkable enough to be worth mentioning, though, and given the way things are going in the NFL, maybe it isn’t.

LA Olympics plan facing backlash over same overrun guarantee that sank Boston’s bid

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said last week that he’ll sign the International Olympic Committee’s pledge to cover any cost overruns if the 2024 Olympics are held in his city, saying any bid would be “dead on arrival” without it. The L.A. Times editorial board, for one, is displeased:

[U.S. Olympic officials] know they need L.A. more than L.A. needs the Olympics.

But does Garcetti know this? We’re not sure. Last week, Garcetti said he’s pushing hard to be the American bidder for the Games, and that’s good. But he wouldn’t even consider playing hardball when it comes to the requirement that the city guarantee to pay any cost overruns. That’s not so good.

The mayor and his Olympic advisors say Angelenos shouldn’t worry, as Bostonians did, about paying for cost overruns because there won’t be any. Period. The city just can’t lose, he said.

Where have we heard that before? Oh yes, Montreal’s mayor said something similar just before his city incurred $1.5 billion in debt for staging the 1976 Summer Games.

Now, there are indeed some reasons to hope than an L.A. games could avoid some of the worst of the red ink that has befallen other Olympics: The city does have a lot of existing venues, for starters. Still, the number of Olympics that haven’t lost money is so vanishingly small — the only one in recent memory is the 1984 Olympics in L.A., which notably got an exemption from the overrun guarantee — that it’s worth being cautious. And with fewer and fewer cities willing to take on the risks of being a host city, this might well have been a good time to call the IOC’s bluff on this.

That’s apparently not going to happen, at least not this time around in L.A. (Unless the L.A. city council does an end run around the mayor and gets a public vote banning any public spending on cost overruns, as it did before he 1984 games.) Still, it’s interesting to see pushback growing to the IOC guarantee requirement — first in Chicago over its bid for the 2016 games, then with Boston, and now in L.A. It’s likely to be a while before the world runs out of mayors more eager to be the politician who landed the Olympics than the politician who stood up to them, but as I said in my own L.A. Times op-ed last month, the Olympics are supposed to be about chasing big dreams, right?

Hennepin County officials on United’s St. Paul footsie: How about some sales tax money? You like that, right?

Remember how when the Minnesota Twins owners wanted public money for a new stadium and the city of Minneapolis wouldn’t give it to them, and the state of Minnesota wouldn’t give it to them, they finally found a willing partner in Hennepin County, which agreed to raise its own sales taxes to fund the project? Looks like Minnesota United, which is co-owned by the Twins owners, may be headed down a similar path:

[Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat] said Hennepin County’s soccer plan would seek to snare some of the 0.15 percent countywide sales tax collected to pay for Target Field. Bonds for the baseball park, which opened in 2010, are on track to be paid off about a decade early.

Opat envisions the money being used for enhancements like streetscapes or plazas surrounding a new soccer stadium on a site near the Minneapolis Farmers Market.

So instead of retiring the sales tax surcharge early, or directing it to something that would actually benefit Minnesota taxpayers instead of a private sports team, Opat is hoping to use it as a sweetener to get United principal owner Bill McGuire to place its stadium in Minneapolis instead of across the river in St. Paul. It’s not clear how much money this would amount to, and it would require not just a vote of the full county commission but approval by the state legislature as well, and it still doesn’t resolve the standoff between the team owners and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges over around $45 million in tax breaks for a soccer stadium. But it’s still a pretty sweet payoff for a couple of league press statements hinting that St. Paul might be an option. You have to hope that MLS commissioner Don Garber will get something extra nice in his Christmas card from McGuire this year.

Everybody in Miami has given up hope of economic boom from stadiums, except guy paid to say so

With Miami officials talking about helping David Beckham build a new soccer venue, thoughts naturally turn to the possible economic impact on the surrounding neighborhood. Unfortunately, there’s a perfect case study right next door in the Marlins‘ stadium, and it is a uniformly dismal one, as the Miami Herald’s David Smiley points out:

The 26,000 fans leaving in streams large enough to snarl traffic are mostly walking into the surrounding neighborhood toward their cars — not the businesses that Miami’s politicians and the team said would thrive in the Marlins’ shadow.

“The Marlins …” says [Ysbel] Medina, whose bar is mostly empty, save a few stragglers drinking draft beers and eating cheeseburgers. “Man, the Marlins. I don’t know what to say about them.”

Well into a fourth disappointing season in the new stadium, little has changed in the surrounding neighborhood. Predictions that restaurants, cafeterias and hotels would open around the publicly funded park have proved false. The area surrounding the stadium is still pocked with small strip malls, empty lots, vacant buildings and affordable housing. Even the city-owned retail stores in the parking garages surrounding the stadium remain mostly empty.

It doesn’t help, obviously, that the Marlins are the Marlins, still among the bottom five teams in attendance despite a new stadium that offers protection from the elements. (Pro tip: Baseball fans are more interested in protection from having to watch teams that lose 60% of their games.) But even the 1.7 million fans that the Marlins drew last year would have been more than double that of any team in MLS (thanks to the longer baseball season), making it dubious whether any “restaurants, cafeterias, and hotels” will be any more excited about siting nearby just because a couple dozen soccer dates are on the menu.

Hope springs eternal, though, if you’re the economic consulting firm chief who was hired by the city of Miami to project a huge windfall for the local economy from the new Marlins’ stadium:

Tony Villamil, the economist who said the Marlins would pump $300 million in annual business into the local economy once the team began playing ball, says there are local businesses that do make good money providing services to the stadium, and it’s too early to claim failure on sports’ promised impact to Little Havana. He said the idea that an entertainment district would pop up around the stadium was always a long-term vision, and one that required zoning changes in the area around the stadium, which never happened.

“If you do soccer, now you’ve got almost year-round entertainment,” he said.

Actually, 81 baseball home games plus 17 soccer home games is way, way short of year-round. But given that Villamil’s actual study came up with that $300 million in annual impact figure just by adding up all the money projected to be spent at Marlins games and then applying a multiplier — without attempting to account for, say, money that now wouldn’t be spent at Marlins games at the old stadium, let alone how much would substitute for money that would otherwise have been spent on other entertainment options — maybe we shouldn’t expect much here in the way of math.

Japan issues guidelines for cheaper Olympic stadium, doesn’t include actually making it cheaper

The Japanese government has issued guidelines for designing a new Olympic stadium that isn’t as insanely expensive as the one they scrapped last month:

Japan on Friday approved guidelines for its new Olympic stadium, vowing to build an “athlete’s first” stadium as cheaply as possible and complete it by March 2020, a year later than planned, but without including any cost estimates or limits.

Great start, guys!

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also announced that “We should make a structure that will emotionally move people all over the world,” which the original design certainly managed to do. Hilarity is an emotion, right?


Flames owner announces soft launch of arena plan, hopes no one asks about price tag

Calgary Flames owner Ken King has arena plans in the works! How do we know? He sent a cryptic email to season ticketholders:

CMOi7xlUcAEVN46Also, he started a new Twitter account!

Presumably this is going to be something along the lines of the arena plus CFL stadium plus amateur sports fieldhouse that King hinted at back in the spring. Also presumably, he’s doing it this way (sneak preview for ticketholders, no formal details) to try to build enthusiasm for the project without giving Mayor Naheed Nenshi anything formal to respond to with a “No, you can’t have any public money.” It’s a difficult gambit — at some point King has to come clean about what kind of subsidies he’s asking for, and from all indications Nenshi is too sharp to just hand over cash once he sees something shiny — but “show off the merchandise first, talk price tag later” is a time-honored sales tradition, so it’s not all that surprising.