Impoverished Chester to Philly Union: Pay up!

Posted: July 20, 2012

Under the deal that brought Major League Soccer to Chester, the Philadelphia Union agreed to pay the impoverished city $500,000 a year in lieu of property taxes.

Except that hasn't exactly been happening.

The team now owes the Delaware County city $1 million after missing last month's deadline for its 2012 installment, according to the mayor. It has yet to cough up the 2010 cash, though it paid 2011's bill.

"We have not received the payments to date, but we are talking with them about everything — about the payments and the potential tax situation and how we can work out something that will be mutually beneficial for the Union and the city," Chester Mayor John Linder said.

Linder, a Democrat who unseated Republican Wendell Butler Jr. last year, has been seeking to collect the past-due payments and raise additional revenue from the team and, most likely, its fans. He has proposed a 20 percent parking tax and 10 percent amusement tax aimed at the Union, which continues to sell out home games at the 18,500-seat PPL Park on the Chester riverfront. The stadium will host the MLS All-Star Game Wednesday.

The team's chief executive officer, Nick Sakiewicz, has previously said the proposed taxes would be "catastrophic" for the team, costing it $2 million a year, or 10 percent of its gross revenue.

Late Thursday night, Sakiewicz disputed Linder's description of the missed payments, which were reported last month in Daily News SportsWeek. He said the amount owed in 2010 was being renegotiated due to "costs we incurred on the city's behalf" that year.

Construction setbacks that delayed the opening of the $122-million stadium in 2010 also had a role in the team not making its payment that year, according to a source close to the team. But the two sides are engaged in "intensive negotiations" that could lead to an agreement on the new taxes and back payments, the source said.

Some of the recent tensions are rooted in Chester's transformed political scene. The investor group behind the Union, which was assisted by $87 million in public funding, had worked closely with Republicans at the city, county and state level. Democrats now control Chester City Hall for only the second time in more than a century.

Linder declined to elaborate on the status of negotiations, but he said the team and city are "fast approaching some kind of agreement." n

Contact William Bender at 215-854-5255 or benderw@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @wbender99 and read his blog, philly.com/dailydelco.

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