Public’s Braves stadium tab nears $350m on road and transit costs

The invaluable Dan Klepal of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has done a new tally of all the additional infrastructure costs for the new Atlanta Braves stadium, and it includes:

  • $41 million in road projects, to be paid off using a combination of local, state and federal money
  • $3.4 million for new buses, plus $1.2 million a year (figure $15 million in present value) for a new tram running around the stadium area
  • At least $9 million for a new pedestrian bridge over I-285 to get people from the parking lot to the stadium, assuming it doesn’t cost much more than that, and also assuming it doesn’t get scrapped entirely.
  • A bunch of other projects that were already on the drawing board but may now get funded because of the stadium, including a $4.3 million firehouse in Cumberland and a possible $500 million bus rapid transit project.

Not all of that would be solely to benefit the Braves, of course, but we’re certainly looking at an additional $60-70 million in public costs just for stadium-related improvements, on top of $276 million in direct subsidies. (Klepal has the direct subsidy cost at closer to $400 million, but he then subtracts out the rent the Braves will be paying to Cobb County, whereas I’ve deducted it from the initial figure — same math, different way of writing the equation.) I know everyone likes to have one solid cost figure to throw out there, so let’s go with “almost $350 million” — but if you want to count everything that the county will be spending money on at least in part because of the Braves, the figure could end up way higher. Sure hope they’ll at least get to watch Freddie Freeman for that price.

Clock running down on Miami stadium deal, Beckham tells school board (but it’s his clock)

Whoa, David Beckham’s Miami MLS stadium project has a deadline, according to the Miami New Times!

According to a timeline given to school board members today, the sports icon and his business partners have until just December 5 to have a plan ironed out and presented to Major League Soccer. That doesn’t mean a plan has to be totally approved by then, it just means that a there has to be a plan to approve in the first place.

That’s … okay, hang on a minute. This is what Beckham himself is telling the Miami-Dade school board, which he would presumably only do in order to increase the pressure on them to approve his deal by which the school board would take over ownership of his new stadium in order to get him off the hook for property taxes. There’s no particular reason for MLS to set a December 5 deadline, other than to help Beckham get his stadium deal pushed through — so I’m going to say it’s safe to assume this is a two-minute warning, and not anything real.

The board seems likely to approve its part of the deal anyway, with the bigger holdups being getting private landowners to sell their property, and a public referendum to approve the deal that would be held on March 15. I can’t wait to see the selfies that Beckham poses for with residents to try to win that one.

Blue Jackets bailout leaves Columbus schools, state arena board squabbling over tax money

The Columbus Blue Jackets arena saga is one of the weirder ones, with the team building an arena mostly with private money, then complaining it was losing money and getting the county to bail them out by taking the arena off their hands, then a local group trying to force the county to let residents vote on whether to default on the arena bonds (and failing). Now there’s a new twist: As part of the bailout deal, the Blue Jackets owners agreed to make an annual $1 million a year payment to the Columbus school system in lieu of property taxes. Starting in 2017, that deal expires — meaning the arena will be looking at a $4 million tax bill, and the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority will have to pay it itself.

This sounds bad, and it sort of is if you’re the arena authority, which is why the people who run that body is asking the state legislature to extend the tax exemption. But when you think about it, this is just a squabble between two public agencies over who’ll pay whom: Either the arena board gets more money to run its building, or the school system gets more money to run its schools. Or, you know, the state could just throw some more money everybody’s way and everyone could go home happy, except the recipients of whichever services got cut to make sure that the arena and the Columbus schools were both made whole.

The main lesson here, really, is this one:

“I don’t know what they knew or didn’t know” about the looming tax bill, said Don Brown, the facilities authority’s executive director since February and previously Franklin County’s administrator. “I’m not aware that there was a public discussion.”

That? Don’t do that. If you’re going to bail out your local hockey team, at least have a public discussion about what all the costs are going to be, including those a few years out. That is all.

Hartford arena operator proposes $250m renovation, because $250m is a nice round number

Connecticut’s Capital Region Development Authority is proposing $250 million in state-funded upgrades to the Building Formerly Known As The Hartford Civic Center, which would include redoing concourses, converting skyboxes to restaurants and clubs, and rebuilding the outer wall so that passersby can see in:

“The objective is to make this building a new building,” [authority executive director Michael] Freimuth said. “It has to look, feel and smell new.”

There’s no money-grubbing sports team owner behind this move — the Hartford Whalers moved out a while back, in case you didn’t notice — but rather just a public arena manager asking the state for a pile of cash to spruce up the building it runs. So is this a bad idea or not?

The question, as it should always be with stadium development deals (or development deals of any kind), is not “Is the public paying for it?” but “What is the public getting for it?” The arena authority claims that spending $250 million on renovations will help produce more revenues from the building, which currently runs about a $3 million a year loss for the state. Freimuth didn’t provide any details on how much more revenue, though, beyond saying that he hopes the arena “would be better than break-even” — and I’d hope even the most math-challenged readers (or legislators) can see that spending $250 million to bring in an extra $3 million a year would be a horrible, horrible investment. (Freimuth also hinted that the renovations could help land an NHL team, though 1) nobody thinks the NHL is ready to go back to Hartford, and 2) if any new revenues are set to pay off the renovation costs and not go into the team’s pocket, why would an NHL owner be attracted by them?)

So should Connecticut just sit and live with an oldish arena, if there’s no way to economically justify the improvements? Maybe. Or maybe somebody needs to look at that $250 million price tag and figure out which items on it are really likely to boost revenues, and which ones are just there because they look neat. Not that there isn’t some intangible benefit to having a nicer-looking arena in the middle of your downtown, but there’s benefit to most other things the state could be doing with $250 million too — just because somebody came up with a design that costs that much doesn’t mean state officials should fall victim to the edifice complex.

Indy Eleven owner backtracks on renovations, still wants $82m stadium no one wants to build him

When last we visited with Indy Eleven owner president Peter Wilt back in May, he was cursing the Indiana state legislature for foiling his plan to build a new stadium with other people’s money, and vowing that he’ll be back, this isn’t over! Now, six months later … he’ll still be back, and this still isn’t over!

Wilt said the team remains hamstrung by its makeshift home at IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium on the far-west side of downtown, which was built in 1982 for track and field events.

“It doesn’t give you long-term hope or opportunities for large success,” Wilt said. “We’re open to all thoughts, but renovation of Carroll Stadium doesn’t seem to be a workable solution for the team.”…

“It doesn’t even have concourses where people can take shelter in case of rain,” Wilt said. “We had to completely evacuate the stadium twice this year when we had storms roll through.”

Yeah, that doesn’t sound optimal. You know what you might want to do, then? Build a roof. Or, hell, take out a loan and build a new stadium yourself, instead of a ticket tax scheme that wouldn’t have come close to paying off the public’s costs.

Anyway, this mostly seems to be a preemptive attempt to walk back Wilt’s earlier comments that he’d consider renovating the existing stadium, because now that everything is back on the table, he wants a new stadium, dammit. But he’s open to all thoughts — except for those involving renovation or paying for a new stadium himself, because you don’t get “large success” that way.

St. Louis holds stadium panel outdoors, finds sunshine doesn’t make locals any happier about lack of vote

The St. Louis board of aldermen (truth in advertising note: not actually all men) held a public hearing on the proposed new Rams stadium on Saturday, and held it outdoors near the proposed stadium site, because it was a nice day and a good excuse for a gimmick. Also, alderman Steve Conway felt, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, that “the best way for everyone to grasp the scope of the project is by having the meeting where the stadium would be built.”

Anyway, what’d the public have to say?

The majority of city residents who spoke called for a public vote.  Many, like Andrew Arkill, also questioned whether a stadium was the best use of tax dollars.

“This is about the financial impact of the residents of the city of St. Louis, who all of you  are elected to represent,” said Arkill. “I don’t hate sports. I don’t hate football. I don’t hate the Rams. I don’t even hate the idea of building new stadiums. What I am concerned about is the public financing of these stadiums, especially when the financing package doesn’t offer an attractive return on investment.”


“You’ve got a stadium area where people clearly said if they are going to put more money into stadiums, we need to vote on it,” said Michael Bird who lives in Dogtown. “We need democracy. And here you go. You’ve got the stadium (coming) across the highway to this area right here. (It’s) against the will of the people. It’s disdainful.”

There were also locals with “Keep the Rams in St. Louis” signs, but from the sound of things the pro-“hold a public vote on this already” sentiment was strong — which shouldn’t be surprising, as that’s also been the sentiment when voters have actually been asked to vote on whether to hold a vote. The St. Louis board of aldermen is going to vote on whether to hold a public vote, but the mayor says they shouldn’t, because people might not vote the right way.

Okay, I think everyone has grasped the scope of the project now.

NFL ramps up security following terror attacks, achieves 1529th consecutive terror-free week

In response to Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris (but not in response to Thursday’s terrorist attacks in Beirut, because those weren’t outside a stadium and besides, those people’s lives don’t matter as much), the NFL ramped up security for yesterday’s games. How did they respond to the news that suicide vests, which have been around since the 1940s, are a thing? With bomb-sniffing dogs, increased bag checks, and:

In St. Louis, event staff at the Edward Jones Dome wore red shirts and jackets with the word “SECURITY” in large yellow letters. Previously, their shirts had been a less visible shade of yellow with black lettering.

I don’t want to belittle the desire to show fans that they’re doing something, anything, to enhance stadium safety, really I don’t. But given that the suicide bomber who tried to enter the Stade de France was caught not by dogs or walkthrough detectors but by a simple low-tech patdown — from what I can tell from online research, most explosive vests won’t be caught by metal detectors — that terror groups have shown the ability to learn from the past and choose new targets and techniques to pick the easiest target, and perhaps most important, the bomber still managed to kill people outside the stadium, it definitely feels like this is somewhere between security theater for show and fighting the last war. If the NFL succeeds in ensuring that any future terror attacks take place not inside stadiums but in stadium parking lots or public parks or rock clubs, is that a victory?

Anyway, no one was killed at any NFL stadium yesterday, so hooray for giraffe repellent!

Everyone knows what the NFL-to-LA negotiations are, commences haggling over the price

I got busy yesterday preparing for my talk this morning reading from the Coney Island chapter-in-progress of The Brooklyn Wars (if you want to see some highlights, Amy Nicholson of Zipper fame did some livetweeting), which means I didn’t get a chance to recap the flood of news around Wednesday’s presentations to the NFL by cities whose teams are threatening to move to L.A. Not that there was much real news in the sense of anyone coming up with new plans or decisions on how L.A. relocation will decided or discoveries of a money tree for funding the actual stadiums or anything, but, you know what, let’s just get to it, shall we:

  • Officials from each city — San Diego, Oakland, and St. Louis — spent two hours apiece meeting with NFL owners, after which St. Louis stadium point person Dave Peacock said, “I doubt our presentation could have gone much better.” Which is … good, right? This is like the “You can’t put too much water in a nuclear reactor” SNL sketch.
  • San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York came out of the meeting and said, “Let’s look at the markets where teams are already, and if they prove to not be viable, then we will look at the next step, which is relocation,” and Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson added that a St. Louis stadium proposal which meets “the protocol for the NFL on relocation” would force the league to keep the Rams there. (Which, given that the NFL gets to write that protocol, doesn’t mean a ton, but it got everyone in St. Louis excited that “If we throw enough money at the Rams, they’ll have to stay, even if we don’t know how much money is enough!”
  • The Chargers and Raiders then blew up the news cycle entirely by announcing that their new point person for their proposed Carson stadium would be Bob Iger, the freaking CEO of freaking Disney. Which means nothing, really, except that they’re “serious” and all that, since “the chair of Disney is going to run our stadium” sounds better than “we want to build a stadium and we have some drawings and, uh, yeah.”
  • Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf revealed that she’s considering issuing city lease revenue bonds for a Raiders stadium, for the first time opening the door to the city spending money on actual stadium construction costs. (ABC News calls them “tax-exempt bonds,” but lease revenue bonds for stadiums are required to be taxable, so forget that.) Lease revenue bonds would be repaid by rent payments by the Raiders, so really would just be a way of letting Mark Davis use the city’s low-interest credit card if he agrees to pay it off — though Schaaf also opened up the possibility of using tax increment financing (i.e., kicking back taxes paid by the Raiders and surrounding development), which obviously would be a whole nother kettle of fish.

In short … okay, there is no in short, since this is just a continuation of all the sides in this multidimensional game of chicken angling for an advantage. Will St. Louis convince NFL owner that their $500 million-ish stadium subsidy offer to the Rams is too rich to turn down? Will Schaaf’s offer of cheap money and maybe a smidge of tax kickbacks lure Davis into giving up on wedging his foot into the L.A. door and sticking with Oakland? Does Bob Iger provide Carson with the buzz it’s been missing since it discarded its idea for a giant eternal Al Davis flame? And most important, can anyone really make gobs of money on a move to L.A., or is it some combination of calculated risk and blackmail threat?

Answers to thee questions and more coming soon, I hope. Though I also wouldn’t recommend holding your breath, because the NFL’s deadlines, like its relocation protocols, are decided by the NFL, so if it’s in their interest to wait, they’re damn well gonna wait.

Do the financial numbers justify an NFL move to L.A.? Sorta

I’ve been threatening for a while to do a deep dive into the numbers behind moving an NFL team to Los Angeles — in short, does market size still not matter much in the NFL because everyone shares the same national TV money, or have the economics changed to where L.A. is now a potential goldmine? Thanks to Vice Sports, I finally had time to do so, and the answer is: a little of both. The short version:

  • NFL revenues may still be fairly flat across franchises compared to other leagues, but they’re up overall — and even if owning a big-market franchise is only worth 30% more than a small-market one, if the actual value of that 30% has risen, it means building an L.A. stadium is a better investment for owners than it was just five years ago.
  • Personal seat licenses have potentially changed the game, since now that the 49ers paid for a stadium essentially by crowdfunding, everyone else thinks they can, too, if the market is good enough.
  • It’s still not enough to explain why St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke would want to spend $1.8 billion on an L.A. stadium. Says Roger Noll, dean of sports economists: “Yes, it’s worth something. It’s not billions of dollars.” But Kroenke may have other reasons for wanting in to L.A. — and even if he doesn’t, the gamesmanship behind the fight to move to L.A. may be making his decision to take on the risk, as well as that of the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders owners, unstoppable.

Anyway, go read it for yourself and then we can always debate the numbers in comments below. It’s not quite a definitive answer to whether all the L.A. move talk is serious, a bluff, or somewhere in between, but it’s at least an attempt to establish some basis for discussing it.


Day care center wants $30m from Beckham for stadium land, things get even crazier from there

We now know exactly how much the owner of a day care center on the proposed site of David Beckham’s new soccer stadium wants for his land:

According to Miami-Dade County property appraiser records, the property was assessed in 2015 for $368,000. But the owner is demanding a whopping $30 million.

That’s, um, yeah, a lot.

There are two possibilities here: Either the owner of Candy House Day Care (because nothing says “your children’s health is our concern” like “candy house”) doesn’t want to sell and is just putting out a ridiculous price to see what happened, or is hoping to extract a huge payday from Beckham knowing that the stadium can’t be built around him. Or can it?

“They could build around some of those properties,” Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said Friday following a meeting with Tim Leiweke, an equity partner of Miami Beckham United. “That would be Plan B.”

That would also be crazy, given that the site already seems awfully small for a soccer stadium. Though, hey, kids love to play soccer, right? Maybe there’s a solution here that could save Beckham on player salaries too, if you catch my drift.