F.C. Cincinnati gets its stadium land after school board lowers its price

F.C. Cincinnati‘s once-dead West End stadium plan continued its resurrection tour yesterday, as the Cincinnati Public School board approved a land swap that will provide the team with the site of Willard R. Stargel Stadium in exchange for a vacant lot where a new high school football venue will be built to replace it. And the crowd went wild:

A crowd of nearly 50 people, some of them holding signs opposing the deal, chanted “Shame!” following the vote.

The school board said it got what it wanted in exchange for the land, but it really didn’t: It’s getting roughly $1 million a year in property tax payments instead of the $2 million a year it initially said it was due. And while F.C. Cincinnati’s owners agreed to add a community benefits agreement with local community members, they’ve already decided unilaterally how much they’re going to put into any community fund, and anyway the stadium deal will be approved before the CBA is negotiated, so the West End will pretty much end up liking it or lumping it, or at best haggling over how to divide the boodle — which is pretty much par for the course with CBAs.

CPS Board President Carolyn Jones said the board made the decision after weighing the benefits of getting new revenue for schools and the opposition of many vocal West End residents, concluding, “Like I always said, it’s a no win-win situation.” I’ve never actually heard that particular idiom before, but it’s oddly apropos for stadium subsidy deals.


F.C. Cincinnati cuts deal with councilmembers for $63m in West End stadium subsidies

Oho, so this is why F.C. Cincinnati kept moving the goalposts on its stadium deadline, and then released a statement pivoting back to the West End site it had previously rejected: The team had been secretly — or at least behind-the-scenesedly — working on a deal with the city council to revive subsidies for a West End stadium:

The deal, presented by Councilmen P.G. Sittenfeld and David Mann, calls for FC Cincinnati to build a $200 million soccer stadium, pay $25 million in property taxes to Cincinnati Public Schools and infuse $100,000 a year for 10 years into the neighborhood.

City and county taxpayers would contribute $48.8 million, vs. $51 million for the Oakley site.

Okay, let’s back this up a sec. When the West End site was last in play, F.C. Cincinnati was looking to have its property taxes capped at between $100,000 and $500,000 a year, while the school district thought the team should be paying more like $2 million a year. The deal proposed by Sittenfeld and Mann would set property taxes at closer to $1 million a year, which would still be a tax break worth around $14 million in present value, if the school district’s valuation is correct.

Meanwhile, taxpayers would spend an additional $48.8 million in straight-up cash: $17 million from local hotel taxes, $6.3 million from the sale of the former Blue Ash airport site, $8 million in tax-increment financing kickbacks, $2.5 million in city capital funds, and $15 million in county money to build a parking garage for fans. Add in the tax breaks, and that’s $62.8 million that Cincinnati residents would be contributing toward the $200 million stadium project. (F.C. Cincinnati would also build a new high-school football stadium as part of the deal, but as the West End already has a perfectly good one that it would lose to make way for a soccer stadium, that’s really a net gain.)

So what now? The support of Sittenfeld and Mann should give F.C. Cincinnati five votes on the nine-member city council, though the other three nominally pro-stadium members haven’t actually chimed in on this latest plan. The school board has to approve selling the stadium land in a vote tomorrow; presumably the councilmembers wouldn’t have announced this deal if the school board hadn’t signed off on it, but who really knows. And then MLS has to actually award Cincinnati an expansion team, but given that the league has been twiddling its thumbs since December waiting for Cincinnati to put together a stadium deal that makes the team and league happy (read: pays for a large chunk of the costs with somebody else’s money), that’s probably a slam dunk.

If it all pans out, there is some happiness here, in that Cincinnati boasts by far the strongest fan support in the second-tier USL, and so arguably deserves a shot at an MLS club. (We will ignore the fact that in most of the world, Cincinnati could earn this promotion without anyone paying a dime just by winning games.) But man, $63 million is a lot of dough, nearly as much as Nashville is coughing up toward its MLS stadium. Soccer is still a relatively cheap date in terms of subsidies compared to the Big Four U.S. sports, but MLS is doing its best to change that, and this whole multi-city bidding war thing is working out about as well as the league could have hoped, even if it’s taking a while to get there.

Prospective Expos co-owner vows only to pay for stadium with tax breaks and free land, not suitcases full of public cash

Whoa, this is big news! One of the prospective co-owners of a prospective revived Montreal Expos MLB team just promised to build a new stadium entirely with private dollars! On Twitter and everything!

That is a huge promise by the Cirque de Soleil owner, and should come as a great relief to Montreal baseball fans who are also taxpayers (or vice versa), assuming, of course, that Garber didn’t mean—

Oh. I would say “at least they’re only asking for land costs and tax breaks and not construction costs,” but the New York Yankees did the same thing and ended up with almost $1.2 billion in subsidies, so that’s not really much reassurance. It’ll help that Canada isn’t nearly as stupid about these things as the U.S. — they don’t have tax-exempt bond subsidies that I know of, for one — but basically this comes down to being a promise only to take public money under the table, not over it.


New book on Tiger Stadium includes chapter by meeeeeee

This has literally been years in the making, and the website still (mistakenly) says “not yet published,” but I am here to tell you that it is in fact available for purchase: “Tiger Stadium, Essays and Memories of Detroit’s Historic Ballpark, 1912–2009,” edited by Frank Rashid, John Pastier, Bill Dow, Michael Betzold, and John Davids of the Tiger Stadium Fan Club. And included among the remembrances and historical essays on the home of the Detroit Tigers for 97 years is a chapter by me, titled “The Mallparking of America: Tiger Stadium and the Subsidy Game,” which you can pretty much guess what it’s about.

I haven’t actually received my copy yet, so that’s literally all I can tell you about the book, except that with the talent assembled I’m super-excited to read it. I’ll post a fuller review once I have it in hand, but don’t let that stop you from ordering it right now.

Friday roundup: Warriors rail stop turns pricey, West End stadium undead again, Montreal mayor meets with would-be Expos owners

Superbrief mode today:

  • Expanding light-rail service to the Golden State Warriors‘ new arena is now expected to cost at least $62 million, which is a lot for Muni Metro, though not for some other transit systems. The Warriors owners are kicking in $19 million, but the rest will be funded by tax money from the arena district, which may or may not be enough to cover the entire nut. Tim Redmond saw this coming.
  • F.C. Cincinnati owners are officially pivoting back to the West End stadium site that it had declared dead last month after not getting offered enough property-tax breaks on the land. How come? Team CEO Jeff Berding said of the other two options, Oakley is “not as close to the urban core as desired,” and the team couldn’t secure land in Newport, Kentucky. Sounds like the West End has the club over somewhat of a barrel, which it should be able to use to ensure the team pays full property taxes, at least, though some residents may be more concerned about keeping out a stadium entirely over fears it will further gentrify their neighborhood.
  • The mayor of Montreal is meeting today with an ownership group that wants to bring a new Expos MLB team back to town. “We don’t need a cent from the city of Montreal, but we need a little help,” prospective co-owner Stephen Bronfman said earlier this week; your guess is as good as mine what that actually means.
  • Minnesota taxpayers have spent $1.4 billion on new or renovated sports venues over the past 20 years, if anyone is counting.
  • The Pawtucket Red Sox‘ stadium demands continue to be stalled, if anyone is keeping track.
  • “A deputy in one of Russia’s 2018 FIFA World Cup host cities has claimed that a latest inspection by the world’s footballing body has neglected a missing column at a newly built stadium.” You’ve just got to read the whole Moscow Times article now, don’t you?


Louisiana is about to subsidize the Saints for the fifth time in 17 years, because Louisiana

The state of Louisiana approved a $400,000 diagnostic architectural survey of the Superdome last week, and if that sounds trivial, it’s not: Apparently it’s the first step toward yet another renovation of the New Orleans Saints‘ home stadium on the state’s dime. Or rather, five billion dimes:

The $422,000 study, which was approved last May, proposed several options to modernize the Superdome and increase revenue streams for its anchor tenant, the New Orleans Saints. Among them: removal of the interior pedestrian ramps; installation of glazed windows to some parts of the Dome’s existing sides; installation of field-level bunker suites; and improving parts of the terrace seating.

Depending on the scope, the price tag for the potential renovation ranges from $150 million to $500 million.

If you’ve lost track of how many renovations of the Superdome this makes, I put together a handy scorecard last year:

$134 million to build it in the first place in 1975, then $54 million for emergency repairs after Hurricane Katrina, then $376 million in non-emergency repairs after that, including replacing the exterior and redoing the entire lower bowl of the stadium with new seating and club space. Along the way, the state paid Saints owner Tom Benson $186 million to keep the team in town through 2011, then another $392 million to keep the team in town through 2025.

So if Louisiana approves the full $500 million upgrade, that’ll be $1.508 billion it’s given to the Saints owners (in either renovation costs or straight-up cash) over the past 18 years, or $1.642 billion if you count building the dome in the first place. (That’s all nominal dollars; if you want to figure out the total value in 2018 dollars, go for it, there are plenty of calculators for that sort of thing online.) All in order to “increase revenue streams” for the Saints, without which they would presumably move to some other city that’s willing to give them a billion and a half dollars? Leave it to Tom Benson (and now his heirs): In a city of grifters, he may have come up with the most lucrative grift of all time.

F.C. Cincinnati is just going to keep setting stadium deadlines until one of them works

Readers of the book Field of Schemes — you are all readers of the book, right? if not, would you mind clicking here or here? — will be familiar with the sections of the chapters on the standard stadium playbook titled the “Two-Minute Warning”: the tactic whereby team owners declare an arbitrary deadline to get a subsidy deal done, then if it doesn’t happen by then, declare another arbitrary deadline a bit further down the road.

Well, F.C. Cincinnati‘s owners did just that for their stadium plans, announcing that they would select a stadium site by the end of March, and then when they couldn’t get approval for any sites by then — at least, not on terms where they wouldn’t have to pay full property taxesblew right past that date without making a decision. But that didn’t mean the clock wasn’t still ticking, nosirreebob:

FC Cincinnati CEO Jeff Berding described the next 24 hours as “critical” in determining where a proposed new soccer stadium would go.

According to Berding, the March 31 deadline was a real deadline, and he is engaging in conversations with Major League Soccer officials to keep the process moving forward.

He would not share details about the specifics of those discussions, but indicated that by noon Tuesday, after the conversations have taken place, he would have a better sense of how the rest of the week would unfold.

That statement by Berding was on Monday, so the 24 hours were up yesterday, and … nope, not a word from him since. So either he’s talked to MLS officials about how to proceed but isn’t telling anyone yet, or he’s talked to them but nothing was decided (beyond “yeah, gotta figure that out at some point soon”), or he keeps calling and getting a busy signal.

Either way, there’s no shame in waiting to make a decision until you actually know what you want to do. But it is yet another reminder that all stadium “deadlines” are garbage, always.

Tesla, USL team owner make their own problematic bids for Oakland Coliseum land

Looks like there are other people interested in bidding on the Oakland Coliseum site after all:

One is Elon Musk’s Tesla, which has sent a letter of interest to the city about the 130-acre Coliseum parcel. Exactly what the company would build there is a closely guarded secret.

The other is a proposal that arrived at City Hall just hours after Schaaf suggested talking with the A’s alone. It came from Mark Hall, a real estate investor from Walnut Creek who has won the rights for a United Soccer League expansion franchise.

He’s pitching a plan for a 44-acre mega-sports and recreation center on the Coliseum site that would include a stadium for his team and sports fields. He would use Oracle Arena, which the Warriors are about to vacate, for concerts, pro lacrosse games and foosball competitions. (Yes, foosball*, the arcade game when little players on hand-manipulated metal rods kick a ball up and down the table.)

The rest of the property would go to the A’s for their new ballpark.

Musk isn’t saying publicly what he’d offer for the land, and anyway he may be broke before long so maybe not best to count on him. Hall is offering to pay $85 million, which is less than the A’s owners offer of $135 million, but would only be for part of the parcel, with room left for an A’s stadium.

This isn’t actually all that exciting either, because as we’ve covered many times in the past, baseball stadiums aren’t especially lucrative use of land — Hall is in essence saying, “Give me all the good bits where I can build whatever I want, and the A’s can have just enough room to spend half a billion dollars or so on a baseball stadium but nothing else.” With offers like these, exclusive negotiations with the A’s might not be so bad, though if Oakland can keep soliciting bids in the time before any exclusivity window kicks in, if only to get a sense of the market value of the Coliseum land, this could work out well after all.

*Disappointingly, probably not foosball, but rather futsal. See comments below.

Rays owner says if he gets enough naming-rights cash, maybe he’ll only demand $400m in public subsidies

Tampa Bay Rays owner said on opening day Thursday that he might increase his contribution to a new stadium from $150 million to $400 million — sort of. What Sternberg actually said:

Sternberg reiterated that a new stadium likely would cost around $800 million, but added that the price could go up with each passing year. Last November, Sternberg told the Times that the Rays would be willing to chip in $150 million, but said again Thursday that the number was just an “estimation” and a “signpost.” …

“If somebody wants to walk in with $25 million naming rights tomorrow my number of $150 (million) goes up dramatically,” Sternberg said. “So, yeah, I’ll get you to $400 (million). You get me $25 million a year in stadium naming rights and get me to $400, I’ll go halfsies.”

So what Sternberg really said, to the extent he said anything that should be taken as a commitment, is that the $150 million figure didn’t include naming rights money. This is actually a big deal — the difference between $150 million and $150 million plus naming rights proceeds is, duh, the value of the naming rights money — but is not so much a promise to pay $400 million, given that only six stadiums ever (football stadiums in New Jersey, Dallas, Atlanta, and Houston and baseball stadiums in New York and Atlanta), all in bigger markets than Tampa Bay, have cleared the $250 million mark for naming rights. And even then, that’s $250 million in nominal payments over time, not necessarily enough money to pay off $250 million in stadium expenses right now. And while we’re at it, the New York Mets only got $20 million a year, not the $25 million that Sternberg said they did, though it’s a deal for 20 years so is probably worth $250 million total.

Anyway, all this is no doubt meant to help create momentum for a new stadium, what with local business leaders (and Sternberg) launching a nonprofit this weekend to solicit promises of corporate ticket sales and generally drum up public support for a stadium, preferably without mentioning the at least $400 million in public money that would be required. Presumably Sternberg announced all this on Opening Day to capitalize on excitement about the Rays’ season driving his campaign, which, uh, maybe wasn’t the best plan thus far.

Friday roundup: Rangers to keep empty ballpark, football Hall of Fame seeks bailout, Goodell dreams of a new Bills stadium

Happy baseball season! Unless you’re a Miami Marlins fan, in which case it’s already ruined. But anyway: