The Latest Ballpark Hostage Negotiations

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Every city wants professional sports, and every city is terrified of losing the sports teams they currently have. Nowhere do owners know this, and use it to their advantage more, than in Major League Baseball.

The Oakland A’s are moving to Las Vegas to play in a brand new stadium being built with $380 million in public funding. In Kansas City the Royals are asking for the government (and taxpayers) to pay for half of their new $2 billion planned ballpark downtown. And there are current stadium saber-rattlings going on in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Baltimore.

Orioles Lease Expires in December

The Baltimore Orioles play in one of the gems of baseball, Camden Yards. But it did open in 1992, and it’s been more than 10 years since any renovations happened to the stadium.

Orioles managing partner John Angelos and the Maryland Stadium Authority are locked in negotiations over signing a new lease – the current lease expires in December – and paying for new stadium renovations. Angelos wants those renovations to include full mixed-use development in the area that includes residential, hotels, restaurants and shopping, and even a school. Public officials say sure, but only if you commit long-term.

“I think it’s premature to talk about investments around the facility when we don’t have a partner that is committing to be there for the next 20-to-30 years,” said Maryland state president Bill Ferguson (D-46).

A long-term lease deal would open up $600 million in public funds for ballpark renovations.

Angelos says all he wants to do is “change the brand of Baltimore,” but the timing of the rift doesn’t sit well with some fans. Finally the Orioles are good again and the owners of the best record in the American League. But just this week Angelos was caught complaining about his lack of money.

“The hardest thing to do in sports is be a small-market team in baseball and be competitive, because everything is stacked against you. We’re going to have to raise prices here – dramatically.”

Baltimore doesn’t want to lose the Orioles, and fans will likely accept the “dramatic” price hikes threatened by Angelos. All in the name of staying a Major League city.

White Sox Eyeing Nashville

Chicago’s status as a Major League city isn’t in jeopardy, but it might not be home to the White Sox for that much longer. The White Sox lease at Guaranteed Rate Field doesn’t expire for another six years, but this is around the timeline that both sides should start thinking about an extension. The White Sox are thinking about a new stadium altogether, either somewhere else in Chicago, or 500 miles south in Nashville.

Guaranteed Rate Field opened in 1991, and there have only been small additions to the ballpark since renovations in 2009. It is the ninth oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball.

The report says that owner Jerry Reinsdorf is considering selling the team, and a new stadium would increase the sale price. 

The reason Guaranteed Rate Field was built was because the White Sox were close to finalizing a deal to move to St. Petersburg in 1988. At the time Illinois Governor James R. Thompson led the fight to build a new taxpayer-subsidized ballpark to keep the White Sox in town, which was successful. So this is not a new negotiating tactic for the White Sox.

Brewers Looking for Publicly-Funded Renovations

As with almost everyone else in baseball that wants a new stadium or a renovated stadium, the Brewers have also looked at Nashville as a possibility in the future. Their lease at American Family Field ends in 2030, and unless they get significant upgrades, the team won’t renew.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has called for Wisconsin to fund the renovations, and Governor Tony Evers is answering that call, proposing $290 million in publicly financed upgrades.

Tim Sheehy, chairman of the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District, says the city and county of Milwaukee also need to be a part of the financing deal to keep the Brewers in town. He is calling for new sales taxes to go to stadium renovations. County Executive of Milwaukee County David Crowley wants any additional sales tax revenue to go toward paying unfunded pension liabilities.

Expect this fight to continue for quite some time.

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