Vegas area residents don’t want to give any tax money to Raiders stadium, let alone $950m

KTNV in Las Vegas polled Clark County voters last weekend on whether they’d approve using public tax money on a new NFL stadium to bring the Oakland Raiders to town, and the results were an overwhelming nuh-uh:

Fifty-five percent of voters polled in Nevada’s largest county said they’d oppose pledging up to $500 million in public funds to help finance a stadium that could potentially bring an NFL team to Las Vegas, with 35 percent in favor and 10 percent undecided.

This is in no way surprising, since public opinion usually is against using tax money for sports venues, at least before any major public ad campaigns have been run, though that 20% margin is pretty large. Also not surprising: One of the execs at the company that would get the public boodle says it’s all a problem of how the question was phrased.

Las Vegas Sands executive Andy Abboud responded to the survey results, saying that voters respond more favorably to the proposed stadium when they learn more about how the tax would be structured.

“The survey question leaves out critical information,” he said in an emailed statement. “Specifically, the public funding would come from an increase in the hotel tax, which is predominantly paid by those visiting Clark County, not its residents.”

First of all, no, hotel taxes belong to Clark County residents, just like any other kind of taxes — once they’re paid to the county treasury, you can use them for anything you want. (And it’s not like even taxes on out-of-towners are free money: If you raise them too high, visitors start staying away from town.) Second of all, no, that’s not where all the public funding would come from, since the deal also includes about $250 million in tax increment kickbacks of sales and business taxes paid in and around the stadium.

Would a more precisely worded poll be better? Yes! Would the results be any different? Probably not! Is any of this going to matter to the elected officials who are going to decide this without a public vote? Who knows, though Deadspin does hope that the specter of Tim Lee’s dead political career will haunt them, or at least give them pause before they approve an outlay of $950 million that their constituents aren’t in favor of.

Cobb County chair who masterminded Braves deal gets booted in landslide

Voters in Cobb County, Georgia went to the polls last night for a runoff election between Cobb County Commission chair Tim Lee and his challenger Mike Boyce, and it wasn’t close: Boyce trounced Lee, 64-36%. And the main issue in the campaign was Lee’s engineering of $350-million-plus in public subsidies for a stadium to lure the Atlanta Braves to the suburbs, a deal concocted in secret, pushed through in just two weeks with little public debate, and approved before finalizing a transportation plan, leading to possible traffic and transit nightmares; Boyce remarked following the vote, “

Lee’s name is now added to the list of elected officials who were bounced from office for giving public money to pro sports teams against the wishes of their constituents, joining Wisconsin state senator George Petak (recalled by voters in 1996 for casting the deciding vote for public money for a new Milwaukee Brewers stadium) and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez (recalled by voters in 2011 after advocating public money for a new Miami Marlins stadium). That’s a short list, but it’s still longer than the list of local officials who were booted because they didn’t approve sports subsidies — Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels is the only arguable member of that club, and he was more reviled by voters for not putting down salt on roads before a snowstorm and leaving the entire city paralyzed, then giving himself a “B” grade for his snow removal efforts.

So once we’re all finished dancing on Lee’s grave, what happens now with the train wreck that is the Braves stadium? Probably not a whole lot: According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Boyce indicated that “

As for Lee himself, he’ll probably have job options despite “couldn’t even find 15,000 people to vote for him” on his resume. The record in past ousters is mixed: Petak immediately landed a job with Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, the man who’d talked him into switching his Brewers stadium vote; Alvarez won an over-60 bodybuilding contest and then was arrested for assaulting his ex-girlfriend in a fight over his cat. If I’m Lee, I’d try to go the former route — Georgia does have a Republican governor who has backed the Braves project, so that’s always an option. Or, hey, the Braves could use a shortstop, and Lee probably wouldn’t hit much worse than the incumbent.

If nothing else, at least, we can rest assured that after two pricey stadium deals for the Braves and Falcons, Atlanta area residents have learned their lesson about signing on to large public subsidies to replace buildings that are barely 20 years old. Why, I bet no one could even propose something like that now without getting laughed out of

Compared to many other NBA teams, Phillips Arena is an old barn. I haven’t been to any of them, but I don’t have to. All that’s necessary is to crank up a recent edition of NBA 2K to see how far behind Phillips Arena is from like The Barclays Center in Brooklyn, or even The Amway Center in Orlando. … The Hawks provide their fans with a great product. How badly would some other cities like to have eight consecutive playoff seasons and counting in a row? … The only reason for the poor attendance has to be the almost-twenty year arena they have to perform in.

Sigh. Okay, settle in, we may yet be here a while.

Yard Goats could skip town if stadium not ready for 2017, Hartford’s shame now complete

The Hartford Yard Goats stadium fiasco has so far included construction delays that have the Double-A baseball team playing its entire season on the road, the city paying massive fire department overtime to be sure the stadium didn’t burn down, and giant budget holes as a result of the city paying this whole mess. Couldn’t possibly get any worse, right?

According to an email from the city’s top lawyer, [Yard Goats owner Josh] Solomon informed him Monday that Hartford’s inability to complete the more than $60 million Dunkin’ Donuts Park is a breach of their development agreement and that sets the clock ticking.

That development agreement says that the city has six months to fix the problem. If it can’t, Solomon has the right to terminate his contract with the city, pack up his team, and go.

This is a nastygram, certainly: Solomon doesn’t want to move the Yard Goats elsewhere, but he does want to light a fire under the city to ensure that the stadium is complete in time for next season, and “Finish it now or else we walk out that door” is one way to get attention. Hartford (or its insurer) will now need to find a new developer to finish the job in a hurry, which won’t be made easier by the fact that it’s in the middle of a mess of lawsuits with the one it just fired.

The best-case scenario for all involved right now is Hartford hires somebody else to finish the job, they do so by April while being paid by the city’s insurance coverage, and at least the bleeding is stopped where it is now. The worst-case scenarios include the city either having to throw millions of dollars in new rush charges at getting the stadium done by next Opening Day, or the city not doing so and ending up with a 90% completed stadium and no team to play there after spending $61.5 million on building it.

Either way, it’s a complete mess, and a good reason not to throw $60 million at a stadium without making sure that the developer and the city’s lawyer have fallback plans worked out in case things don’t go as expected. Other prospective minor-league host cities, at least read up on this a little before jumping into bed with the next owner who makes eyes at you, okay? You won’t be sorry.

Islanders move threat looks like big game of chicken, doesn’t mean no one’s going over cliff

If you wanted to hear more from me on the subject of whether the new New York Islanders owners will go through with threats to move to Queens if their Brooklyn arena isn’t made more hockey-friendly, you can check out my article at Vice Sports. Short answer: probably not, but it’s at least conceivable; long answer: read the article already!

Writing about the Islanders move threat for Vice also afforded me the opportunity to research teams that spent the shortest time in a new home before skedaddling to greener pastures again:

If the Islanders actually leave Brooklyn after four years, this will be, to be sure, one of the shortest honeymoons in sports history. Not counting expansion teams like the Seattle Pilots or New Orleans Jazz that barely got the shrinkwrap off before they’d been repurposed for a new city, the shortest pit stops I can find are the Milwaukee Hawks (moved to St. Louis in 1955 four years after relocating from Tri-Cities) and San Diego Clippers (six-year stopover between Buffalo and Los Angeles). In the NHL, the record shortest stay between two other homes is the Colorado Rockies, who lasted six seasons after departing Kansas City before ending up in New Jersey with a nickname honoring a mythical winged goat.

I probably should have given honorable mention to the Phoenix Coyotes, who lasted a little over seven seasons in Phoenix before decamping for Glendale — similarly in a beef over an arena that wasn’t built to comfortably house hockey. The lesson hear seems to be that if you’re a hockey team you probably want to play in a hockey arena, and if you’re building an arena and want to be able to host hockey you should probably make it big enough to do so, but I guess owners figure why worry about that now when there’s always time for more gamesmanship later? Or they just don’t think beyond “But I’m mad now!

Sacramento to flood downtown with lights and cops so Kings fans aren’t afraid of new arena

With the Sacramento Kings‘ new arena set to open in October, where’s that transformation it’s supposed to create for its downtown neighborhood, according to the standard pro-arena-development line? Part of it is coming, but it’s taxpayers who will be paying for it:

Likely beginning this week, the city will install 104 pedestrian-level streetlamps on dimly lit blocks leading to the arena as well as several parts of midtown. The $1.7 million lighting program will supplement added police patrols, new police cameras and volunteer guides who will work the streets around the arena during events.

The hope is to make newcomers to downtown feel safer, and to encourage more people to stick around at bars and restaurants before and after games when the arena opens this fall.

None of this is bad, per se. But the notion that sports venues automatically make people flock to an area takes a bit of a hit when the story becomes “build it, and then build new streetlights and flood the area with police patrols and cameras, and they will come.” The Sacramento Bee report adds that “the arena building itself has been designed to serve as a beacon, with glass walls allowing interior light to spill onto adjoining walkways and streets,” though that’s not going to do much for pedestrians on the 200+ nights a year where nothing’s going on at the arena.

If there’s another concern, it’s that the Bee reports that most of the arrests downtown currently are for drug possession, so this at least raises the specter of Sacramento police doing sweeps of downtown for unapproved citizens who might freak out the basketball-goers. “Revitalization” is a complex, murky concept, one that’s not always easily captured in a “does it look different than before?” snapshot, as much as boosters and journalists alike sometimes like to pretend it can be.

Economics of pulling NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte overblown, but still power in shame

The NBA finally made it official last night that it was moving next year’s All-Star game out of Charlotte in protest against North Carolina’s law banning both LGBT antidiscrimination laws and people using bathrooms that don’t match their “birth gender,” and this is how the New York Times chose to lead its story:

The National Basketball Association on Thursday dealt a blow to the economy and prestige of North Carolina by pulling next February’s All-Star Game from Charlotte to protest a state law that eliminated anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Prestige? Definitely. If anyone in the nation didn’t already think of North Carolina as “that state where they check your birth certificate before letting you pee,” they sure will now. Economy? Meh.

I’ve covered the myth that big sports events create a massive benefit for local economies at length both here and elsewhere — short version is, yes, having lots of people come to town for a few days generates some more economic activity, but not that much, since 1) a lot of the money goes straight to league pockets without landing in the local economy (leakage) and 2) everyone else steers clear of town those days who would otherwise be there, which cancels out the new visitors (substitution). How much is an All-Star Game actually worth? For the 2014 All-Star Game in Minneapolis, the estimate of new economic activity in the state was $21 million to $55 million; for the 2010 All-Star Game in Dallas, the estimate is zero. (And note that this is total economic activity; for actual tax revenue received, move the decimal point over at least one place.) The numbers might be a bit higher if you just looked at city economic activity rather than state, but “Now that Charlotte won’t have the NBA All-Star Game it won’t be able to cannibalize spending from Raleigh!” isn’t exactly the best rallying cry.

But that’s actually fine — the point of maneuvers like this is less to hit local politicians in the pocketbook than to not allow them to play in any reindeer games. I used to know a lot of people in the international anti-apartheid movement, and they always said that one often overlooked piece of the decades-long struggle to force South Africa to allow blacks basic human rights was the international sports boycott: White South Africans, it turned out, could put up with constant protests and world economic sanctions and even guerrilla attacks better than they could with having their soccer and rugby and cricket teams locked out of those sports’ World Cups. It wasn’t the only factor by a long shot, but it did play a key role in getting F.W. de Klerk and his generation to the negotiating table.

North Carolina isn’t being shut out of competing nationally, of course, it’s just losing an All-Star Game that, frankly, nobody really cares about. It’s still shame, though, and makes me wonder what would happen if, say, the NBA refused to let any of its teams play regular-season games in Charlotte on the same moral grounds. That would be fascinating to see, and while I don’t really believe it’s going to happen, it would certainly be putting the league’s money where its mouth is.

Islanders owners discussing new arena in Queens or LI, all hell about to break loose

So when new New York Islanders owner Jon Ledecky answered questions last week about the team’s future — previously planned to include staying in Brooklyn but playing six games a year in a renovated Nassau Coliseum — by saying “Barclays Center is our home,” I called it “noncommittal,” on the grounds that 1) Ledecky was still pretty gripey about the flaws of the Brooklyn arena and 2) “Barclays Center is our home” could mean either “we would never leave a place with so many important memories made over the last nine months” or “it’s where we live, we have to deal with it until we figure out something better. It sounded like typical owner weasel words, a way to keep your options open without actually saying you wanted to keep your options open.

But even I didn’t expect this, just a week later:

The New York Islanders are in talks with the owners of baseball’s New York Mets about building a hockey arena adjacent to Citi Field in Queens, people with knowledge of the discussions said.

Willets Point is emerging as a persuasive alternative to the team’s current home at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center if the Islanders’s owners and arena officials can’t agree on a series of hockey-specific improvements, said the people, who asked for anonymity because the negotiations are private.

That was from Bloomberg News, but the anonymous sources were soon talking as well to Newsday (which cited “two people familiar with the situation”) and the New York Post (just “sources” — the Post doesn’t get too hung up on attribution). The Post’s article also included this tidbit:

But if that doesn’t work out, Islanders owners Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin could move the team to Elmont, LI, sources said…

A state source confirmed the Islanders have made preliminary inquiries about moving the club to vacant state-owned land near Belmont Park. That is near another parcel being eyed by the Cosmos for a soccer stadium.

With all this, a clearer picture is starting to come into focus. When Ledecky and partner Scott Malkin bought the team from Charles Wang earlier this year, they inherited Wang’s lease on the Barclays Center, which he had agreed to despite the building’s problems for hockey — it was deliberately “value engineered” to be too small for the sport, in order to save on construction costs — because he was sick and tired of fighting with Nassau County officials over a new arena there. They also, however, inherited the opt-out clause that Wang had negotiated to allow the Islanders to break their lease in 2019 — and that’s the kind of leverage that you’d have to be crazy as an owner not to try to use.

So is an arena next to the Mets stadium feasible, and what would it take to build one? The parking lot to the west of Citi Field is already designated for the giant “Willets West” mall, but that’s currently held up in court because the lots are technically still city parkland. Could the Mets try to build an arena instead if the mall is nixed? Would the courts allow that more readily? Who knows?

Then there’s Willets Point proper, to the east of the Mets stadium, a melange of auto repair businesses that the city has been working to seize and evict for years to make way for a mixed housing and commercial development. Could the city agree to incorporate an arena as well? And on either site, would it provide the land for free, and leave it exempt from property taxes, which might be enough to entice the Mets and Isles owners to actually build this thing? And if they did, could it possibly be successful in a metropolitan area already glutted with arenas (Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center, the New Jersey Devils‘ Prudential Center in Newark, plus soon the redone Nassau Coliseum) and only so many concerts to go around?

Of course, Ledecky and Malkin may never have to determine if a Queens (or Elmont) arena project is feasible, if they can use the mere possibility as a hammer to get Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov to redo Barclays for hockey. The Isles owners haven’t come out and said what “improvements” they want, but to make a genuinely NHL-scaled space you’d need to knock down the entire west end of the structure and build it out another 50 feet or so, which wouldn’t be cheap, and would also entail shutting the arena for an offseason or two and losing out on revenue from those dates. So to get it done would require quite a formidable threat, and “we’re going to take our puck and go to Queens” might be the kind of thing that gets the attention of their current landlords.

Either way, though, it looks like we have a war on, one that’s likely to drag out for months or years as the various combatants (Ledecky and Malkin, Prokhorov, the Wilpons, the city, maybe Elmont) jockey for position and remake alliances. That should at least help tide everyone over until the final season of Game of Thrones.

Cubs giving high-priced Wrigley fans own private bar, bathrooms

Speaking of stuff sports teams owners build because they think it’ll help them make more money, the Chicago Cubs ownership has revealed the next renovations to Wrigley Field coming down the pike:

As part of the 1060 Project, an overhaul to the stadium and the area surrounding the venerable ballpark, the Cubs revealed plans for the first of four “premier experiences” Tuesday and launched a priority list for those interested in plopping down a $500 deposit to secure their spot for the right to some exclusive amenities.

The American Airlines 1914 Club is scheduled to open for the 2018 season underneath the club box seating bowl between the home and visiting dugouts.

After the last out of the ’16 season, crews will begin tearing apart the lower bowl behind home plate to build the shell for the club, which will not provide a view of the field but will give fans with tickets in the area a place to go before and during games for upgraded food and beverage options, shelter from the elements and private restrooms. The re-done seating area will be ready for the ’17 season and construction will continue underneath.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is paying for this out of his own pocket, so at least there are no worries about public subsidies going to create what will effectively be an upscale private bar in a baseball stadium. And as far as the Wrigley Field experience goes, the effect should be minimal: The dugouts will be moved a little bit farther down the lines, but probably hardly anyone will notice otherwise.

Mostly, it’s a reminder of what “state-of-the-art” is all about in stadium construction: ways to sell well-off people stuff that can justify sky-high ticket prices. Cubs VP for sales and marketing Colin Faulkner told the Chicago Tribune, “They’re paying up to $350 a ticket in that area and the value that we’re providing them right now is not in line with what they expect.” Apparently what makes people who can afford $350 a ticket feel like the expense is worth it is some marble tabletops to sip their top-shelf liquor at, and not having to go the bathroom next to the hoi polloi. Strange world we live in.

Panthers owner gets giant statue of self, endless Pepsi machines, at least one from public

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson got an $88 million gift from Charlotte city taxpayers in 2013 — after being invited to sit in on closed-door council meetings on the subsidy — to perform upgrades to the stadium that he himself owns. The Panthers just revealed the latest batch of goodies they’re building with the money, and they include:

  • “Four new security posts around the stadium to account for people coming onto the property and to account for people once they are inside the property,” according to Panthers exec Lance Emory.
  • Ninety-five new walkthrough metal detectors.
  • More WiFi access points.
  • Improvements to the top 500 level deck, including digital menu boards and all-you-can-drink Pepsi stations.

None of that is terrible stuff to add, though why it’s the responsibility of the city of Charlotte to add it remains baffling. (In return for the money, Richardson only promised to keep the team in town until 2019, which by one accounting is the third-richest per-year subsidy in NFL history.) If you want terrible stuff to add, you have to turn to this:

According to the Charlotte Observer, the two panthers “represent both offense and defense and North Carolina and South Carolina.” But you’d surely figured that out already.

I can’t find any reporting on how much the statue cost, let alone what money was used to pay for it, but given that it’s described as a birthday present from Richardson’s corporate partners, at best it’s something that they could afford to give him because of the $88 million in city cash that he brought in by hanging out with the city council back in 2013. Maybe those two cats in the statue represent something else as well, which suggests an even better nickname for the thing.

Warriors arena in SF clears legal challenge, may actually get built someday

The seemingly never-ending battle over the Golden State Warriors‘ proposed new arena in San Francisco got at least one resolution yesterday, as San Francisco Superior Court Judge Garrett Wong ruled that the environmental impact statement that the San Francisco city council approved last winter was in fact conducted properly:

In a statement, team President Rick Welts said the ruling “brings us a huge step closer to building a new state-of-the-art sports and entertainment venue, which will add needed vitality to the Mission Bay neighborhood and serve the entire Bay Area extremely well.”

“We look forward to breaking ground soon,” he said…

Osha Meserve, a land-use attorney representing the [Mission Bay Alliance], said she is “disappointed on behalf of our co-plaintiffs and the people of San Francisco.” She said that the judge was under “extreme time pressure to make a ruling.”

This whole business of challenging environmental impact statements in court has become pretty de rigueur these days, especially in California, since it’s just about the only legal hook that opponents have for challenging land use decisions: You can’t overrule the city council on the grounds that a project is dumb or against the will of the people, but you can if you can find that the traffic analysis didn’t take something into account. It doesn’t often work, and in this case it didn’t, but it’s worth a shot.

This still doesn’t completely clear the path for the construction of the new Warriors’ arena — which, as a reminder, will be built entirely with private money and even pay property taxes, because that’s just how much moolah is available from San Francisco big spenders — as opponents could still choose to appeal yesterday’s ruling, and there’s still a separate lawsuit charging that the UC-San Francisco chancellor didn’t have the authority to agree to set up a $10 million traffic mitigation fund to ease problems during Warriors games. At this point, it’s extremely likely that the arena will get built eventually and the Warriors will move across the bay, but I wouldn’t be totally shocked if it didn’t happen by the September 2019 target date, because lawyers.