The city of Anaheim had in its sights what old-time baseball folks would call a “can of corn” — an easy-to-catch fly ball.
But the city dropped the game clincher.
Anaheim owns a quarter-square-mile or so of prime, transit-close real estate. The current tenant — a high-profile enterprise owned by a billionaire — is paying, relatively speaking, not much to use the property.
This tenant actually opted out of its sweet lease, giving the city an easy “out” — a “walk-off,” to boot, letting the often-cantankerous renter walk away so Anaheim could reap the rewards as a landowner in a county where developable dirt sells at a steep premium.
But what does the city’s leadership do? It commits a possibly game-changing error, giving the tenant a one-year lease extension … for absolutely nothing.
That’s the gift the city just gave the Anaheim Angels — a business that’s been relatively rude to the city, even dropping “Anaheim” from the franchise’s identity.
Let me employ way too many baseball analogies to help you understand this governmental “wild pitch.”
Let’s just say, economically speaking, the ballclub was down to its last strike and far behind on the scoreboard, too. The Angels had absolutely no options for home games after the 2019 season ended. None. Zippo.
All the city had to do was play a little hardball — you know, toss some head-high pitches, in financial terms — and the negotiating ballgame was easily won.
The city could have forced the Angels to make massive economic concessions to stay … or at least pay something to get this near-deadline bargaining into “extra innings.”
If not, the city could declare “victory” and regain control of the valuable asset.
Instead, the city chose to toss a soft pitch to the financially sound ball team. An oddly timed “intentional walk” — in baseball terms, a strategic gift or free pass — came in the form of giving the team more time it didn’t have to negotiate a new stadium lease.
The city played this bargaining session like a team needing some come-from-behind Rally Monkey magic when it was clearly winning the game. The newly reconstituted city council — now leaning pro-business after recent elections — once again proved that business-friendly politics often lacks economic logic.
How else can you explain the free surrender of huge bargaining leverage to owner Arte Moreno and his baseball franchise, last valued by Forbes magazine at $1.8 billion?
I’ve covered supposedly “win-win” public-private partnerships for way too long to know that for taxpayers these deals are commonly seen as “heads, the business wins; tails, the city loses.”
And a key reason is that far too often municipalities just can’t say “No” and walk away when the opportunity arises. Politicians take too much comfort in status quo, no matter the cost — or the squandered opportunity.
One could argue that having the Angels leave Anaheim isn’t an economic “grooved pitch” — an easy one to hit — because the real estate business often throws a curve or two. Yes, there are no guarantees in trying to replace the people magnetism of the team and the stadium, which draw millions to the city.
And please tell me what’s the taxpayer’s true cost of the city being in the baseball business, albeit playing at the most-risky/little-upside part of the field?
It’s said that after paying for various slices of upkeep and current operations, Angel Stadium is proportionally not much more than a break-even proposition for taxpayers. And supposedly the stadium needs $150 million or so in upgrades to stay “competitive” with other ballparks.
If it was up to me, I’d tell the Angels thanks for the memories and list the stadium property for sale as a “tear down” investment.Yeah, it’s not as sexy as “swinging for the fences” by dreaming of another real estate “grand slam” — the city-overseen creation of some super urban entertainment center surrounding the ballpark. (How’d nearby GardenWalk pan out?)
But I’d rather play “small ball” and accept a mere “single” — cashing in on a strong real estate market, especially with a land-starved institution (ahem, Walt Disney Co.) operating two theme parks just down Katella Avenue.
Why not set an example for the entire state — trade the lure of chasing retail tax dollars for the societal opportunity of getting more housing built?
And just because the city opted for extra innings, Anaheim isn’t a lost cause. Perhaps city leaders can use its home-field advantage to negotiate somewhere near a true winning deal with Moreno and his Los Angeles-themed Angels.
But I’m still rooting for a “walk-off” result!
I’ll bet sale proceeds of the stadium property could easily halve the city’s significant pension-liability burdens, for example. A 2016 appraisal valued the stadium land as high as $325 million. And Orange County real estate hasn’t gotten any cheaper since!
That’s a bounty that could allow Anaheim do what cities do best — you know, the municipal and civic basics like constituency services, public safety, transportation along with its extensive convention and tourism promotional roles.
Leave the pitching and catching of economic development to the private sector.