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Minute Maid Park

Minute Maid 2.0

The Astros are staying in their home stadium for the long term.

Now that the Astros are in Minute Maid Park for the long haul, “Minute Maid Park 2.0” is in the works.

The Harris County Houston Sports Authority on Monday unanimously approved an extension through 2050 on the club’s lease at the downtown, 18-year-old stadium.

“It’s difficult to build stadiums now,” said Astros owner Jim Crane. “We felt the options were not very many around downtown where there would be a good piece of land if we even thought about building a new stadium. We thought with the proper maintenance program and the improvements we continue to make for the ballpark, that was a better option for the city and it certainly was a better option for us.”

[…]

[Astros president of business operations Reid] Ryan said the club has hired MSA — a Cincinnati-based architecture group that developed the plan for recent renovations in center field — to begin planning what he termed “Minute Maid Park 2.0.”

“We’ve got a big white board and we’re looking at all kinds of things,” Ryan said. “Our goal, and with Jim’s direction and this lease, is to make sure our stadium stays the best in class for the next 20-30 years.”

Exceptions like Fenway and Wrigley aside, the life span of sports venues is in the 40-50 year range. Fifty is how old Minute Maid will be at the end of this lease extension. For all the reasons given above, it makes a lot of sense to plan for upgrades rather than think in terms of the next location, especially if they like the current location. It’s also likely to be cheaper to renovate, and you can amortize that expense over multiple years. This is a good plan all around.

The Sports Authority at 20

A few stadia, a little mission creep. Where has the time gone?

As the Harris County Houston Sports Authority celebrated its 20th anniversary Monday night with a reception for current and former directors and board members, it moves into its third decade as a considerably different agency than the one that came into being in 1997.

While the city-county agency continues collecting and distributing the hotel-motel and rental car taxes that funded the billion-dollar construction cost of Minute Maid Park, NRG Stadium and Toyota Center, its more visible function these days is as a sports marketing arm that hopes to bring another NCAA Final Four, an MLB All-Star Game, the Pan American Games and other events to the city.

J. Kent Friedman, the board’s current chairman for more than a decade, jokes while that his predecessors – former Texas Secretary of State Jack Rains and Houston developer Billy Burge – presided over an eventful construction boom from the late 1990s into the early 2000s, his role is considerably less glamorous.

“We’re like the folks with the broom walking behind the elephant,” Friedman said.

It’s a pithy quip for a time frame that involves less flying dirt but still confronts Friedman and executive director Janis Burke with significant decisions and negotiations as the authority hopes to squeeze more years out of three buildings that are, in terms of their initial lease agreements, middle-aged.

Basically, at this point the mission of this committee that was originally formed to get NRG Stadium (née Reliant Sstadium), Toyota Center, and Minute Maid (née Enron) Park built encompasses three things: Handling the bond finances for said stadia, negotiating lease extensions for the occupants of same, and trying to bring big sporting events to Houston. They’ve done a pretty good job with the latter, and I suppose if they didn’t exist some other organization would have to be formed to do that work. I hope they do at least as good a job with item #2, because I don’t want to think about what might happen in the event one of those venues is deemed uninhabitable by its tenant. So good luck with that.

(The story mentions in passing the litigation with HCHSA’s bond insurer, saying they are “three years removed” from it. The last story I saw was that an appeals court had reinstated the lawsuit, which had been previously dismissed. Doesn’t sound like a resolution to me, but I’m too lazy to google around and see if there are further updates.)

Take transit to the game

If you can, you should.

HoustonMetro

The transformation of downtown from a work place that empties after dark to a true community is finally underway in earnest, with residents, retail shops, and restaurants that remain open long after the lunch rush. The building boom is everywhere, and that includes the area around Minute Maid, which had been the domain of abandoned warehouses and repeating squares of blacktop.

As new development gradually alters the timeworn tableau of skyscrapers, hotels and parking lots, the matter of where to put all the cars that flood into the area – be it for work in the day, governmental dealings, or nighttime entertainment – becomes a bit less obvious. Nowhere is that more true than in downtown’s eastern precinct, home to the Astros, Rockets, Dynamo, George R. Brown Convention Center and Discovery Green.

For the sold-out baseball games, competition for the close-in surface lots will become increasingly fierce. The Astros control about 3,000 parking spaces in their own lots east of the stadium, but high-demand games see most of those spaces sold when tickets are purchased. Parking in their lots is reserved for ticket buyers, though a small number last-minute cash sales typically are offered for lower-demand games.

Another 4,000 to 5,000 parking spaces can still be found in surface lots mostly north of the stadium. The pricing for many of them is dynamic, fluctuating game to game, or sometimes hour to hour, depending on attendance. Some parking management companies offer advance online purchase, some don’t. An Astros spokesman said that a range of $10-20 is likely for lots within a two to three-block radius.

When those lots are filled, drivers will have to look toward the garages to be found to the west and south. Costs will vary according to distance from the stadium. Fans willing to walk a half-mile can get a good deal, well below $10, though the sweaty summer months make for a challenging trade-off.

One option, which may become more common in future years, is for drivers to park on the west side of downtown in or near the theater district and take the Metro rail purple line across town. It has a stop just two blocks north of Minute Maid. A drop-off lane also is available in front of the stadium on Texas Street.

The Downtown Houston Management District says that 26 construction projects with an estimated cost of $2.2 billion currently are underway. Another $2 billion worth of projects are on the drawing board, it says. There will be a day, perhaps sooner than once thought, when a majority of the remaining surface lots will give way to new development.

[…]

Because Houston’s central business district is large, plenty of parking remains available and will continue to be. It’s just not so close anymore. Or as cheap. For high-demand games, the available lots near the stadium will go early, with the choicest locations fetching $50 or more for the most desirable games.

The eventual thinning out of the visually unappealing and space-hogging surface lots will please urban designers and downtown advocates, but no doubt will annoy some baseball fans. As [Marcel Braithwaite, the Astros’ senior vice president of business operations] points out, Houstonians love the freedom that comes with their cars and the easier ingress and egress that these lots offer. Some may fondly recall the old days at the Astrodome, which was surrounded by acres of parking and nothing else.

But in a broader sense, the replacement of blacktop by new homes and businesses means that the decades-old dream of a lively city center is taking form. When it comes to taking in a ball game, a new way of thinking will be required.

“It’s neat to see this resurgence,” Braithwaite said of the residential development as well as new clubs and restaurants. “The city is getting life back into it. I’m excited about the urban redevelopment, but that means change. There is no getting around that.”

As was the case for lots of people with the Final Four and the rodeo, taking transit to the game is going to be cheaper and in many cases more convenient than driving. Just the prospect of paying $20 to park, never mind $40 or $50, should make most people at least consider this. It’s also in the Astros’ best interests to get people to not drive to the game if it’s feasible for them. It’s like I’ve said about bike parking in places like Montrose and on White Oak where parking is scarce: It’s in everyone’s interests for the people for whom it is reasonably convenient to take transit to be encouraged and enabled to do so. Note that you don’t have to actually live near a bus or train stop to do this. Drive to a station that has adjacent parking, like the Quitman stop (which has a small Metro-owned free parking lot) or the Ensemble/HCC stop (where there’s a parking garage), and go from there. Again, those of you that have no choice but to drive and park really ought to want everyone for whom this is a decent option to choose it, for they each represent one fewer car competing with you for a parking space and clogging up the roads after the game. Are there any park and ride buses that run to and from the games like they do for the Rodeo? If not, maybe the Astros should inquire with Metro about that. Everyone wins with this.

RIP, Tal’s Hill

One of the more distinctive features of Minute Maid Park is going away.

In the relatively short, rapidly changing history of Major League Baseball in Houston, nothing in recent years has represented the Astros’ brand of baseball more distinctively than Tal’s Hill, the idiosyncratic incline in Minute Maid Park’s center field that has confounded outfielders and entertained fans since the park opened in 2000.

With the 2016 season, that landmark will be no more.

Tal’s Hill, named for former Astros executive Tal Smith and designed to replicate the quirks of 20th-century ballparks for the enjoyment of 21st-century fans, will give way to a $15 million redesign that includes a center-field observation tower, a field-level club section, and gathering spots for groups, season-ticket holders and fans who want to enjoy baseball from multiple angles rather than a single seat.

The Astros, who will pay for the alterations to the publicly funded ballpark, announced plans for the redesign Thursday afternoon. The ballclub will solicit bids next week for the project, which required approval from MLB and the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority.

Tal’s Hill lasted 16 years as a defining characteristic of Minute Maid Park, drawing praise from some for its throwback elements but criticism from others as a nuisance, an eyesore and even a danger zone, even though no one was ever injured flagging down a well-hit ball.

[…]

Eliminating Tal’s Hill will allow the Astros to move the center-field fence in from 436 feet, the deepest in Major League Baseball, to 409 feet, at roughly the outer edge of the current warning track.

Seating capacity will be reduced by about a hundred seats, but eliminating Tal’s Hill, with its 30-degree incline, will create more space for the Astros to entertain fans at, potentially, premium prices.

[…]

Elements of the redesign include:

A field-level club in center field with about 50 seats, located behind a 10-foot-high outfield fence.

A new section of seats atop the field-level boxes, on the right-field side of the batter’s eye backdrop in center field.

Moving the Budweiser-sponsored patio section from behind Tal’s Hill to atop the batter’s eye along the Home Run Alley concourse section.

A 92-foot tower with a winding staircase, enclosing an elevator between the main concourse and mezzanine equipped with LED lights and, at the top, the Astros’ name and logo.

A smaller, self-contained section of mezzanine seats in center field, replacing three sections of current seats that will be removed as part of the redesign, and about 35 feet of ribbon boards that will display team statistics, plus an icehouse-style bar and concessions area.

Additional retail stores, bar areas and concession stands on the main concourse and space that could house, among other things, a public set for Root Sports Southwest pre- and postgame broadcasts.

This related Chron story mentions the Hill’s homage to Crosley Field, the old home of the Cincinnati Reds, which had a notorious incline in its outfield. I once read a story about Babe Herman, a colorful outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1920s and 30s who was much better with a bat than with a glove. His manager, Wilbert Robinson, a/k/a “Uncle Robbie”, once had a friend and former Reds outfielder give Herman some tips on how to navigate the hill at Crosley Field. At the game that night, a batter hit a fly ball to deep right with runners on first and second. Herman expertly ran back to catch the ball, then fell flat on his face as he tried to throw it back into the infield. The runners rounded the bases as the ball rolled away from him during his pratfall. After the inning, Robbie accosted Herman in the dugout. “What happened? I thought he showed you how to go up that hill!” he yelled. “Yeah, but he didn’t show me how to come back down,” Herman replied.

I have no idea if that’s a true story, but really, does it matter? I kind of liked Tal’s Hill, but it was far enough out there that it was easy to ignore most of the time. I hadn’t given it much thought since the stadium formerly known as Enron Field first debuted, with Tal’s Hill the subject of much fanfare and derision. The main effect of this change will likely be to make Minute Maid even more homerun-friendly than it is now, though probably not by much. What do you think? Hair Balls, Sean Pendergast – both of whom are happy to see Tal’s Hill go – and Swamplot have more.

The Houston Not-Stros

Oh, hell no.

Even more drastic changes could come next year, when the [Astros move] to the American League.

Possible transformations include new uniforms and logos, changes to the playing field and “Tal’s Hill” in center field, and even a re-evaluation of the name “Astros,” which the team has used for the last 47 years of a 50-year history.

“We’re taking a look at everything,” [new owner Jim] Crane said when asked about the potential name change. “We’re going to do a study on it. We’re going to study the information, both from our fans and from all sorts of marketing people. I’m not saying we’re going to change. We haven’t made a decision. If the change is going to come, it’s going to come next year.”

I assure you, this will not go over well. Many people are already upset at the forthcoming change to the American League. Save yourself the money on the study.

Yes, I know, the team changed its name once, from the Colt .45s to the Astros, back in 1965. That was a long time ago, and it was a three-year-old franchise updating its name to fit a brand new, first of its kind stadium. That team had no history to leave behind, and the move into the Astrodome made the name change make sense. There’s no parallel here. Besides, the other time a team changed leagues, the Milwaukee Brewers kept their name.

Geek that I am, I got to wondering how often teams changed names. Often, the name change was accompanied by a relocation – the Expos became the Nationals, the Senators became the Rangers (and an earlier version of the Senators became the Twins before that), the Pilots became the Mariners, and the Browns became the Orioles. For teams that remained in the same place, the name changes I could think of were:

The Tamps Bay Rays dropped the “Devil” from their name in 2008.

The Oakland Athletics became the Oakland A’s in 1970, but then reclaimed the “Athletics” name in 1981.

The Cincinnati Reds were briefly known as the “Redlegs” during the 1950s. Yes, this was a craven response to McCarthyism and the hysteria over Communism.

The Boston Braves, which had numerous other nicknames early on, were known as the Bees from 1935-39, before becoming the Braves again. They remained the Braves through relocations to Milwaukee and then Atlanta, as the Athletics kept their name after moving from Philadelphia to Kansas City and finally to Oakland.

In 1933, the Brooklyn franchise officially became the Dodgers after previously being known as the Grays, the Grooms, the Bridegrooms, the Superbas, and the Robins. Let me just say now that I will drop my own opposition to an Astros’ name change if Jim Crane agrees to call the team the Houston Superbas, if only because I would love to know what a Superbas team mascot might look like.

Go back further and there are more and more examples of name changes. Even the New York Yankees were once known as the Highlanders, a name that was supposedly hated by New York’s many newspapers because it was impossible to fit into a headline. There’s plenty of examples of name changes, but none that I can see for a longstanding franchise that isn’t going anywhere. I personally would prefer the Astros make history in other ways than that. Hair Balls, which focuses on the positive things that were said like lower ticket prices, cheaper beer, and the ability to bring your own food and beverage into the stadium, and Greg, who’s with me, have more.

MLB approves Astros sale

It’s official.

Jim Crane’s $610 million purchase of the Astros from Drayton McLane was unanimously approved by Major League Baseball’s owners this morning.

All that remains is a formal closing of the transaction, which likely will take place early next week. At that point, McLane’s 19-year ownership of the club will end.

As we know, this not only means that the Astros will be changing leagues, but that the MLB playoff format will change as well.

Two wild card teams will be added to Major League Baseball’s playoffs no later than 2013, the same year the Houston Astros will begin play in the American League.

Commissioner Bud Selig announced Thursday that baseball’s owners unanimously approved Jim Crane as the Houston Astros’ owner. As part of his agreement to buy the club, Crane will shift the Astros to the AL after 2012, creating two 15-team leagues.

“It’s a historical day,” said Selig, whose new format ensures that an interleague game will be contested “from opening day on.”

Selig did not offer specifics on the schedule or playoff format, but said his committee for on-field matters favors the one-game playoff among wild-card teams in each league, saying it would be “dramatic.” The additional wild cards could be added for the 2012 season, but will be in place by 2013 for sure.

I’m not a hidebound traditionalist by any means, but count me among those who thought the current system, which as noted before produced two of the most compelling playoff races we’ve seen in a long time, was working just fine and didn’t need any further tweaking. But never let it be said that MLB and Beelzebub Selig are letting moss grow on them.

A potentially troublesome, or at least potentially hilarious, side item here has to do with the Astros’ lease at Minute Maid Park.

An Astros move to the American League could violate the team’s lease agreement with the Harris County Houston Sports Authority, according to a local attorney.

Kevin W. Yankowsky, a partner at Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., outlined his findings from a review of the lease in a Tuesday letter to J. Kent Friedman, the Sports Authority’s chairman of the board.

Yankowsky, an Astros fan since the 1970s, will make a presentation at the Dec. 1 Sports Authority Board of Directors meeting urging a strict enforcement of the Astros’ lease to play their home games at Minute Maid Park. The wording of the lease agreement, Yankowsky said, spells out that the Astros cannot play at Minute Maid as anything but a National League team without receiving prior consent from the Sports Authority.

[…]

“My position would be: (The Sports Authority) simply ought to refuse to renegotiate their lease,” Yankowsky said. “All they have to do is stand on their rights and let Major League Baseball know that come 2013 they intend to stand on their right. Then it’s up to baseball.

“Baseball can either sue the Sports Authority or give in. The Sports Authority doesn’t have to sue anybody. They can sit back and say, ‘We’ve got a valid lease, and this is what it says, and we’re going to enforce it.’ ”

Citing provisions from a 2000 agreement that expires at the end of 2029, Yankowsky said the terms spell out that the home team — the Astros — be a National League franchise.

[…]

“In the simplest form, what this means, in my judgment, is come opening day of 2013, the Sports Authority can refuse to let them play because it’s not a permitted use of the stadium,” Yankowsky said. “They can quite simply lock the doors and say, ‘No, it’s not a permitted use.’ The play of Major League Baseball games, by definition, are limited to games in which a National League team is the home team.”

Friedman called it “an interesting analysis” and said he has asked the Sports Authority attorneys to review the matter.

“We’ll take a hard look at it,” Friedman said. “If there is a legitimate legal position to be taken by the Sports Authority that benefits the community, we ought to take it. If it’s a stretch or if it’s something that ultimately doesn’t benefit the community, then that’s not what we should be doing. But that’s easy to say. How to sort through all that remains to be seen.”

While I applaud the outside-the-box thinking here, I have a hard time seeing this as anything more than a minor annoyance for MLB and the ‘Stros. Let’s be honest, this is the sort of problem (if it really is one) that is solved by whacking it with a checkbook until it dies. There’s a negotiated settlement in someone’s future, if it comes to that. I hope I’m misunderestimating Attorney Yankowsky’s interpretive skills, because I love me some misdirected chaos, but I’m not holding out much hope. Greg has more.

Bike to the ballpark

From the CTC email list, this is very cool:

Bike to the Ballpark – May 1

Play Green Week at Minute Maid Park runs today through Sunday, May 1st. Throughout the week, the ballclub will be raising awareness of green initiatives. Join the Astros on Sunday, May 1st for the first-ever Bike to the Ballpark!

Register online for just $10 and receive

:

  • Ticket to Astros vs. Brewers
  • Free Bike Valet secure bike parking in lot D
  • Complimentary bike inspection by Bike Barn mechanics
  • Event packet & Play Green goodie bag
  • Chance to win a free bike, courtesy of Bike Barn!

Once registered, each fan will receive a confirmation email. Please bring this email as your proof of purchase to pick up your event packet and game ticket.

What: Packet pick-up

When: Friday, April 29, 2011 from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, and
Saturday, April 30, 2011 from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Where: Union Station Lobby at Minute Maid Park, 501 Crawford St., Houston, 77002 (map)

What: Late registration and group ride

When: Sunday, May 1, 2011; 9:30 am late registration, 11:00 am ride departs
Where: TC Jester Park, 4201 TC Jester Blvd, Houston, TX 77018 (map)

The group ride from TC Jester Park will follow a predetermined route leading to Minute Maid Park. The Houston Police Department and volunteers from Bike Houston and CTC will be on hand to lead the event, and provide traffic control throughout the route. Once at parking lot D, riders will receive goodie bags and tickets to the game.

What: Astros vs Brewers ballgame
When
: Sunday, May 1, 2011; 11:30 am gates open, 12:45 pm bike raffle, 1:05 pm game time, 7th inning first chance to be escorted back to TC Jester Park
Where: Minute Maid Park, 501 Crawford St., Houston, 77002 (map)

Bike Houston and CTC volunteers, along with HPD, will be available beginning at the top of the 7th inning to escort riders back to the starting locations. Groups will be escorted from Lot D every 30 minutes beginning at the top of the 7th.

More information is here, and you can see a map of the five-mile route from TC Jester Park to Minute Maid here. It follows existing bike paths all the way downtown, so you’re separate from traffic almost the entire time. If I weren’t already booked up for Sunday, I’d do it myself. Maybe next year. Let me know if you decide to go on this, I’d love to hear about your experience with it.

Is there an app for doing a golf clap?

This just about blew my mind.

Staying connected at the Shell Houston Open will be easier than ever this year, and golf fans won’t have to sneak their cellphones past the entrance gates to do so.

Starting with this year’s Honda Classic a couple of weeks ago, golf fans have been allowed to take their cellphones to the course during tournament play. It comes, of course, with several stipulations, chief among them, turning off the ringer, making calls in designated areas only and not taking pictures during the actual tournament.

Steve Timms, SHO tournament director and the chairman of the tournament action committee, presented the proposal for the new policy to the PGA Tour more than a year ago. The PGA Tour tested it at five events over the past six months and found that there was little, if any, interruptions of play.

The reason for the change in policy is twofold, said Timms, who also is president and CEO of the Houston Golf Association. First, the PGA Tour merely is acknowledging that cellphones and smartphones are an integral part of people’s lives. And secondly, the PGA Tour can use smartphones to its advantage, offering spectators downloadable applications that will allow them to follow the scoring and receive announcements regarding the tournament.

Timms said surveys among golf fans showed that having to check the cellphone at the gate was a deterrent to attending. Many people aren’t willing to be out of touch with the world for four or five hours.

“I know I don’t like to be without mine, and I know with the younger demographic, a lot of them don’t wear watches because that’s the way they tell time,” Timms said. “They want to be constantly in touch. It’s just part of our society.”

I don’t think I qualify as the “younger demographic” any more – maybe at a golf tournament I would – but yeah. I very seldom go anywhere without my cellphone and my BlackBerry, and if I had been told at the entrance for a sporting event that I’d need to check them with security for the duration (as had been the case with the PGA Tour), I’d ask for a refund and go home. I realize that golf is a little different than team sports – you’re up close to the action and are expected to keep quiet – but it still amazes me that professional golf is just cluing into this. I mean, you can get WiFi at Minute Maid, and the demand for wireless coverage at Reliant is bedeviling its engineers. How is it that golf managed to hold out for this long?

No, I can’t hear you now

I haven’t attended that many events at Reliant Stadium – a couple of Rice football games, including the 2008 Texas Bowl, and a U2 concert – but that’s enough for me to confirm the lack of wireless coverage in the stadium from my experience. The main thing that I’m curious about regarding this is not answered in the story, however:

Reliant Park officials, however, say the stadium is configured along the lines of virtually every other stadium or arena, with a distributed antenna system that provides access to customers of all mobile providers.

Mark Miller, general manager of Reliant Park, said the DAS system at the stadium and at Reliant Center is designed to handle traffic for the more than 100,000 people who visit the area during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and for technology-heavy events such as the Offshore Technology Conference.

“Everybody works off one set of antennas, and I know that they are looking at a 4G upgrade to the system,” Miller said. “I don’t have a recollection of a lot of issues coming to our customer service people involving cell phone service. We work with the carriers to provide the best possible service.”

Cellular providers, given the competitive nature of the business, are reluctant to talk about the specific configuration of their networks or the demands required to service buildings such as Reliant Stadium.

There is, however, one constant to network designs, said Matt Melester, a senior vice president of Commscope, which installed the DAS system at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington and has provided similar systems for the last two World Cups.

“There is no bottom to capacity,” Melester said. “As soon as you get better capacity, it gets used. It’s been an impressive program to have to constantly add more capacity.”

The question is, how does the experience at Reliant compare to stadia in other cities? Heck, how does it compare to Minute Maid or the Toyota Center? Yes, I know Reliant has greater fan capacity than either of those two, but how much worse is it there? I get that there is going to be a problem any time you have a lot of bandwidth-demanding people in a small space, I just want to know if it’s any better or worse at this particular place. Anyone want to offer an opinion about that?

The hole the Sports Authority is in

Sure is a great time for stuff like this to happen, isn’t it?

Harris County taxpayers may have to inject up to $7 million a year into the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority for the next two years due to a financial crisis sparked by the souring of bonds used to build Minute Maid Park, Reliant Stadium and the Toyota Center.

Facing balloon payments on $117 million in variable-rate bonds, the authority now is obliged to pay off the debt in five years instead of 23 years. That would require $24 million a year — a figure that, together with more than $30 million in additional obligations, would push the authority to the brink of insolvency.

The alternative: Convince major banks to provide lines of credit that would give the authority a two-year window to refinance. That would cost $7 million a year.

But those deals would create a new set of problems: The authority would have to take $7 million a year now used for stadium maintenance and the expenses of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation and spend it on repaying the loans. To make up the difference, Harris County may have to pick up some of those expenses with property tax revenue, a step that some say indirectly violates stadium boosters’ promise that taxpayer dollars would not be used to pay for the new venues.

Bloomberg had a story about this a few days back as well. I’ll admit it, I voted for the stadium deals when they were on the ballot. I believed at the time that they provided an economic boost for the cities that built them – the research is clear now that that is not the case – and I believed the assertions about how they would not be paid for with tax revenues. Live and learn. I still don’t regret my votes, as I believe the city has gotten value out of all that construction, and I suspect that in the end the refinancing will go through, which will make this not be a crisis any more. But it isn’t what we were promised, and there ought to be some consequences for that – if it means the dissolution of the Sports Authority, or at least a huge curtailment in its mission, that’s a good start. I’m curious as to why the name Gene Locke did not come up in this story, since he has longstanding ties to the Sports Authority and has touted his involvement in the stadium deals as part of his qualifications to be Mayor. Seems like it would be a good idea to get his reaction to this on the record, don’t you think?

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack

I think the key bit in this story about the Astros’ policy forbidding fans from bringing their own food into the stadium is this:

Most MLB teams list their policies on outside food and drink on their Web sites. Details generally can be found by clicking on the “A to Z Guide” under the stadium tab.

As for the Astros, Pam Gardner, the team’s president for business operations, said the team has opted to provide less expensive tickets rather than following suit with other teams regarding food and beverage rules.

“Our financial model, dating back to the Astrodome, was dependent on a number of revenue areas, including food and beverage,” Gardner said in an e-mail. “We elected to make our appeal to fans in the form of a $7 (for adults) and $1 ticket (for children) every day. I don’t think you will find many teams offering a $1 ticket.”

Indeed, only the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers advertise seats for a buck each. (The Brewers call them “Uecker Seats” in honor of broadcaster Bob Uecker, who made several bucks bragging for assorted commercials about his seat locations.)

The Colorado Rockies advertise their cheapest tickets at $4 each, and the bottom price for Nationals, Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals games is $5.

That’s a perfectly sound business model, and if you care more about the game than the grub you can do quite well. You’re not really saving any money by supplying your own snacks if those seats cost you an arm and a leg. I’ve always considered the concession stand to be a key part of the stadium experience, and so it seems to be for the fans quoted in the story. Ken Hoffman, a man who knows his stadium food, agrees. What do you think?

Who are you calling a knucklehead?

This article about a panel of experts coming together in Houston to assess the city’s readiness to deal with disasters is moderately interesting – I look forward to reading their conclusions, that’s for sure – but what really caught my eye was this:

“We are in an era when it is easier to attack than defend,” said David McIntyre, director of the Integrative Center for Homeland Security at Texas A&M University.

“In the past, it was very hard for a single individual to launch an attack against a city,” McIntyre said. “Technology is allowing disaffected people to have an inordinate impact on our lives — terrorists for sure, but also homegrown knuckleheads like Timothy McVeigh or screwballs like the Unabomber.”

Huh. I certainly agree that there’s a dividing line between terrorists and knuckleheads, and that the latter can cause a fair amount of mayhem for which it would be best to be prepared. I just don’t know how you can draw that line in such a way as to put Timothy McVeigh in the non-terrorist group. Maybe Mr. McIntyre has a different definition of the term than I do, I don’t know. I just know how I’d have classified that particular example.