The Streets of Philadelphia

You just have to love Philadelphia.

In a lot of places, when politicians and bureaucrats are trying to mug you in order to get their hands on your wallet, they couch the proposal in polite, dignified terms, using phrases like "community reinvestment" and "urban redevelopment".

Then there's Philly.

It seems that while most of the new stadium in Chester is located in a tax exempt officially designated blighted area called the "Keystone Opportunity Zone", a portion of the building itself will fall just outside the specific boundaries of said district.

So the developers, headed by old MLS hand Nick Sakiewicz (or, as the gone but not forgotten Preston MacMurray would have it, "Nick the Sack") asked to have the KOZ expanded by a teeny bit so the entire stadium would be within the tax exempt area.

And since property taxes are normally the province of local school boards, the Philadelphia MLS'ers sat down with the good burghers of the Chester Upland School District to work out some kind of arrangement.

Well, OK, maybe "met them in a alley and got smacked around with a tire iron" might be a more apt description of the engagement.

The school district, it seems, is reluctant to abrogate their fiduciary responsibilities to the future of educational opportunity in the CHSD. Put another way, they want to know what's in it for them.

However, it was board member Juan Baughn, my new favorite candidate for higher office based on his decidedly unvarnished rhetorical style, who stated the proposition in true Philadelphia fashion:

“All I want is our piece of the action”.

Another board member suggested that they enact a special "amusement tax" so that a portion of every ticket sale will go directly to them. There'll be snow on the hills of hell before that one happens.

And sometime during the discussion, Our Man Nick tossed out a hand grenade that sent shivers down a whole bunch of spines:

"If the markets tank (in January)" he opined, "then we won’t build this thing, we’ll be out $15 million and everyone goes home.”

Southeast Pennsylvania's soccer fans were, needless to say, shocked.

What The Sack Man was referring to, of course, is the $30 million bond issue which is scheduled to be floated in mid-January. If "the markets" (ie. the bond markets) don't come up with a good enough price, then the project becomes kind of iffy. What's more, the developers have obtained a $25 million loan from Sovreign Bank which is dependent on a successful bond issuse. No bond, not loan. No loan...well, you get the idea.

Now obviously Nick tossed this out to make the point that the school board's "piece of the action" demands could conceivably upset the whole deal.

What Nick didn't intend was to send a wave of doubt and panic into the soccer community.

So last Friday he issued a statement reassuring everyone that there's really no problem here because "the market's fine", an assertion that, based on current economic conditions, could be considered whistling past the graveyard. Anyone who claims to know exactly where the financial markets are going to be this afternoon, let alone a couple weeks from now, should be institutionalized.

So does all this mean that the Philadelphia stadium project is in trouble? Probably not. If nothing else, the developers - who have now withdrawn their request for a tax emeption - can simply go ahead with the thing and spend the next ten years in court arguing about the tax valuation of a small portion of a building.

Could this be the first public rumblings of the "Delay Philadelphia a year and rbing in Miami now" crowd currently running rampant in various corners of the BigSoccer community?

Almost certainly not. First of all, there are surely other venues the team can rent out in the short term. In any case, MLS has their money in the bank. If Philadelphia never gets around to fielding a team, they really don't care.

The real problem is that Sakiewicz doesn't do himself any favors when he publically questions the viability of the project. It's way past time when shooting from the hip like this was anything other than a serious mistake. He's always had a hard time keeping his foot out of his mouth, and he needs to get a grip.

As for the stadium itself, the question then boils down to just how you put a valuation on, say, the northeast corner of a building. Is it worth more if there's a Men's Room included in that section? How about a concession stand? Nobody can say, since there's not much precedent in this area.

Stay tuned. After all, this is Philadelphia, where public policy is maybe the best spectator sport of all.