Flames owner readying arena demand, Calgary mayor readying “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?”

The owners of the Calgary Flames haven’t been too aggressive with their hopes for a new arena, beyond occasionally griping about their old one. That all changed yesterday, though, thanks to a major package of articles in the Calgary Herald describing how:

  • Flames CEO Ken King “could be within weeks of announcing their vision” for a new arena
  • The arena will almost certainly require, in King’s words, “some sort of public-private” funding scheme.
  • Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and the city council are vehemently opposed to giving King any cash, though some on the council may be open to providing free land.

According to the Herald, the arena talks have been going on for three years, if by “talks” you mean “the Flames owner asking for money, and city officials telling him to get lost.” (At one point Nenshi’s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim emailed colleagues in frustration, “I think we can be fairly certain that [Flames execs] haven’t listened to anything they have been told.”) Public opinion in Calgary is massively against giving any taxpayer cash to King, and elected officials reflect that position, mostly:

“Land is also public funding, so we need to have a really good answer for why it makes sense,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi told reporters…

Coun. Peter Demong is also skeptical about free land for a hockey and concert venue. “I’m not going to give away anything. That’s not in my nature,” he said during a council break. “That said, come talk to us.”…

“Under no circumstances would I put tax dollars to a new arena, but if we can assist as far as of land and things that’s there and they may be able to use, I think we should,” Coun. Shane Keating said.

Asked if that includes West Village, the city’s largest land holding in the downtown area, Keating said: “Wherever, I’m saying across the board.” Other members like Richard Pootmans, Diane Colley-Urquhart, Ward Sutherland and West Village councillor Evan Woolley said land could be available as part of arena talks.

This sounds like a recipe for a California-style “give them some huge tracts of land to develop, and pretend it’s not really a subsidy” deal, except of course for the fact that the mayor just said that it’s a subsidy. Things are still very early in the arena battle process, notwithstanding that it’s already dragged on for years, but it looks like this could be an actual battle, of the kind that isn’t very common south of the border. I mean, check this out:

“I don’t think anyone disagrees that we need a new facility,” King said in an interview. (Nenshi has publicly questioned the need on Twitter.)

I’m not going to make my usual Canada joke, but mayors challenging whether teams “need” new buildings and newspapers actually making sure to report this? Yeah, they really are like a different country.

D.C. council presses ahead with eminent domain for United stadium, questions sales-tax breaks

Two D.C. council committees advanced a revised D.C. United stadium bill yesterday as expected, swapping in taking the stadium land by eminent domain in place of trading a city government building for it, also as expected. And no, the council, including councilmember and mayor-elect Muriel Bowser, still has no idea where it will get the money to buy the land:

The bill does not include a source of funding to replace the $37 million and land the city would have received through the Reeves swap. But Bowser said she was committed to finding money for the project through a combination of existing funds and new borrowing.

That’s not the only change to the plan being pursued, though, as it turns out: Council chair Phil Mendelson and government operations committee chair Kenyan McDuffie, according to the Washington Post, “have begun questioning whether the city ought to be providing $8.4 million in sales tax abatements to the team as part of a package of nearly $50 million in tax breaks.” Now there’s a question worth asking! Actually, it’s worth asking about the whole $50 million, but $8.4 million is a start, kinda?

Red Wings owners decide they’re not ready for council zoning vote after all, get it called off

The Detroit city council was all set to vote last night on the rezoning plan for a Red Wings arena development that could lead to the demolition of two historic downtown hotel buildings, but backed off after Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch’s development company asked them to delay the vote:

Olympia Development of Michigan’s request to delay the vote followed a council committee meeting this morning where a handful of amendments to the zoning request were suggested. One amendment aimed to preserve the historic Hotel Park Avenue. Another suggested changes to the parking deck attached to the arena.

Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez said the council’s willingness to honor the developer’s request rather than vote on the changes “shows council’s commitment to wanting to see the project be successful and accommodating.”

Olympia didn’t comment themselves on the reason for the delay request, or even make the request themselves, instead sending a Detroit city planner, Marcell Todd, to pass the word along. Todd says that the proposed amendments presented “a number of obstacles” that the developer isn’t ready to address, so they wanted further council action to wait until they had a plan.

This is actually all pretty healthy — negotiations out in public! taking time to consider the implications of new proposals! — especially compared to how things work in some other cities. It’s still just a mite unnerving, though, to have the city council setting its agenda based on what developers tell them to do via the intermediary of a city staffer. Not surprising, mind you, just unnerving.

An NBA commissioner walks into a Milwaukee bar, says “Why the long face?”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver went to Milwaukee yesterday, and ate custard! Okay, no, he didn’t. (Or maybe he did, but that wasn’t the headline.) What he did do was meet with the owners of the Bucks, city and county officials, and local business leaders about a new arena, and emerge with this statement:

“Feel very confident that these guys are gonna get it done. I think it’s absolutely doable. We’ve seen an enormous amount of positive energy in this community,” Silver said.

That may be the most noncommittal non-statement in the history of sports commissionerships, but really, it doesn’t matter what Silver said, because all commissioners have to do to heat up arena talk is to get on a plane.

My favorite bit about this Fox6 report on the head of a sports league endorsing the notion of getting new sports venues built with public money is that with Silver, Mayor Tom Barrett, and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele all speaking mostly in platitudes, they had to turn to someone else to go into more detail about the arena plan:

Rich Kirchen with the Milwaukee Business Journal tells FOX6 News that preferred site is the location spanning the UW-Milwaukee Panthers Arena and the Journal Communications building.

“The Bucks like that site. It’s pretty centrally located,” Kirchen said…

One potential idea is a so-called “jock tax” — setting aside the taxes NBA players already pay the state  and using them specifically for building the new arena. That could cover a $150 million loan from the state.

“It’s the one thing that has not been ruled out by Gov. Walker or the Republicans in the State Legislature. And they’re the ones who would ultimately give sort of, the high-level approval on something like that,” Kirchen said.

That’s right, not only is Rich Kirchen warning Milwaukee Business Journal readers about the “culture of caution” that prevents cities from throwing money at sports deals, but he’s actually being interviewed by other Milwaukee journalists as an expert on the Bucks arena plan. I hope that he next returns the favor and next writes a column interviewing the Fox6 reporters about what they learned about the Bucks arena plan from their interviews with stadium experts, until eventually all of the Milwaukee media crashes from a stack overflow.

(And yes, I’m aware of the irony of criticizing a journalist for being interviewed as a stadium expert when I get interviewed on this basis all the time. In my defense, I’d point out two things: 1) I wrote a book, at least; 2) I’d hope that no reporters are lazy enough to ask me to explain the state of arena talks instead of, you know, actually doing the reporting themselves.)

BREAKING RAIDERS NEWS OMG OMG: Marcus Allen says team should play in Oakland, or L.A., one or the other

Hey, a guy who used to play for the Los Angeles Raiders has said that the Raiders should stay in Oakland, but “if that doesn’t work out, Los Angeles is the logical place, because of their history there.” This is news, apparently.

With sports media eager to take every word from players’ (or long-former players’) mouths and turn it into headlines, you can kind of see why some athletes would start answering questions like this.

D.C. proposes eminent domain for United stadium, money to come from cough, cough, hey look over there!

That didn’t take long: The D.C. council has a new plan for acquiring land for a D.C. United stadium, as promised by councilmember/mayor-elect Muriel Bowser just last week, and it’s a doozy: Instead of trading the city-owned Reeves Center office building for stadium land, the District will just up and take it by eminent domain:

The bill keeps much of a complex proposal to build a $300 million stadium on Buzzard Point in Southwest by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), but it removes a land swap with D.C. developer Akridge in which the District would have received cash and Buzzard Point land in exchange for the Reeves site.

With the changes, the use of eminent domain, which until now has been considered a Plan B option in stadium negotiations, becomes a very real possibility. After Mayor-elect Muriel E. Bowser is inaugurated in January, she could use eminent domain to take Akridge’s land on Buzzard Point at a price negotiated in court.

That’s much simpler, avoiding concerns that the District would be getting a lousy deal on the land swap, and that tearing down the Reeves Center would displace city jobs, and … it feels like something’s missing here. Let’s see, instead of the land swap, the city takes the land by eminent domain, and pays Akridge what a court determines (which could actually end up being more than the land owner agreed to in the land swap) — oh, hey, yeah, where does the money come from to pay Akridge now?

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said he expected both [committees] to hold votes Tuesday, but there are questions about how to pay for the stadium if the council agrees to retain the Reeves Center.

Um, yeah! Though at least if it keeps the Reeves Center, D.C. doesn’t have to find money to build a replacement for the Reeves Center, which it hadn’t yet begun to work on.

In terms of overall subsidies, then, this deal is pretty much exactly like the old one: D.C. would still be providing about $180 million in cash and tax breaks, just a chunk of the cash value will now come from “to be determined” instead of from handing over the Reeves Center. But it’s the new mayor’s $180 million subsidy plan now, instead of the old mayor’s, and in D.C., that’s often what makes the difference.

Cobb County chair won’t face ethics charges over secret Braves deal, because that’s not the ethics board’s table

I am so, so, so sorry: I failed to keep you guys updated on the outcome of the ethics investigation into Cobb County Commission chair Tim Lee, who secretly hired a lawyer to negotiate an Atlanta Braves stadium deal without even telling his fellow commission members and then lied about having done so, then got brought up before the county ethics board on ethics charges, then claimed he couldn’t be charged because county ethics rules aren’t really rules so much as suggestions. Last Thursday, the ethics board handed down its ruling:

The ethics case against Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee has been dismissed.

Sorry, what?

Thursday evening, the Cobb Ethics Board was all set to conduct a long hearing on the charges that Cobb resident Tom Cheeks [sic – it’s actually “Cheek”] brought against Lee. But then, on the advice of the Ethics Board’s attorney — and to Cheeks’ surprise — the board suddenly dismissed two of the charges against Lee.

Then Cheeks himself got up and withdrew the third and final charge. Cheeks said that because Lee had apologized earlier, that was good enough for Cheeks.

Apparently what the board’s attorney, Bob Grayson, advised was that violations of the Open Records Act should be addressed in court, not by the ethics board. Why this advice came at the last minute, and why Cheek then decided to throw in the towel, isn’t exactly clear, nor is who if anyone will now pursue this in court, but apparently now it’s okay in Cobb County to violate the law if you apologize for it later.

Finally, Cheek told the Marietta Daily Journal yesterday that he’s not sorry about filing the ethics complaint, even though it cost the county $10,000 in legal fees (mostly to hire the lawyers who eventually told the board to dismiss the complaint, after 70 hours of work?!), because “Transparent government — you can’t put a price tag on that.” Charges are now expected to be filed against Cheek in the Cobb County Board of Irony.

Billionaire Bucks owner says if state offers him $150m, he’ll take it as his due

Breaking news about the Milwaukee Bucks arena plan from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Don Walker, who as we know, never breaks news unless it needs to be broken!

Bucks co-owner Wes Edens open to idea of ‘jock tax’ to help build arena

Wes Edens, a co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, says the idea of a jock tax to help finance the construction of a new, multipurpose arena in downtown Milwaukee is a good starting point for coming up with a workable plan.

“I think that how we actually pay for it and what the form of the financing is and kind of all the technical nuances at some point will be very important,” Edens said in an interview with the Journal Sentinel. “To me it’s less important today than just the notion that, let’s just agree what’s on the table with the benefit of the team being in town. Once we have done that, we’ve got a really useful place to start the dialogue.”

Okay, so let’s take a closer look at what we’ve learned here. First off, the co-owner of the Bucks would be “open” to the idea of having the state of Wisconsin take all the income taxes that his employees pay and sending them directly to him. This is truly remarkable, as most billionaires when offered $150 million decline, saying, “No, no, I have plenty of money already.”

Second, Edens didn’t even actually say much specific about the jock tax, beyond generally endorsing the argument behind the Bucks getting to collect all of their employees’ state income taxes while lobbing an oblique move threat (“If the Milwaukee Bucks are forced to leave town because they don’t have an arena, those taxes are leaving with them”). His statement above makes clear that he’s not going to endorse any particular method of giving him $150 million, just that he thinks he deserves it, because of all the revenue that his team generates for the state. And as for those studies by economists showing that income tax receipts don’t change one bit whether teams are playing in town or not, hey, how many jobs have they created?

Business prof says Kings arena could bring MLS team, TV station gets all excited

What the what, CBS Sacramento?

Economists: Downtown Sacramento Kings Arena Could Pave Way For MLS Franchise

That … doesn’t even make any sense? Certainly Sacramento is vying for an MLS expansion franchise, along with everyone else on the planet, and maybe having successfully thrown a whole lot of money at the Kings would help convince the soccer league that they could have money thrown their way, too. But from an economic perspective, what does one have to do with the other? What kind of economists are these, anyway?

Sacramento State economics professor and Wells Fargo wealth adviser Sanjay Varshney says if that arena wasn’t under construction, there’s no way anyone would be talking about the possibility of an MLS stadium coming to the railyards.

“The fact that Sacramento succeeded in keeping the Kings here and are putting in a new arena will be a factor in whether or not we actually get soccer now,” he said.

So, first of all, that’s not economists, plural, it’s one economist. (No one else is cited by name in the CBS Sacramento story.) And second, it’s arguably not even one economist, because while Varshney does have a master’s in economics, he’s actually he’s a finance professor at Sacramento State’s business school, who recently stepped down as dean to work as an investment advisor for Wells Fargo’s wealthy clients.

Not that this makes Varshney unqualified to speculate wildly about how MLS will pick which cities to expand to, any more than any of the rest of us are. But hanging an entire story on this, and spinning it as something “economists” predict, is a low point even for TV news.

Back in the real world, meanwhile, MLS officials heard pitches from would-be owners in Sacramento, Minneapolis and Las Vegas for the last expansion team of the passel being handed out by the league this decade. A decision could be made by the league Board of Governors meeting on December 6, or not.

Florida’s sports teams drop 2,000-plus pages of subsidy requests on state

Apparently alongside filling out the cracktastic application form, contenders for Florida’s new process for doling out sales-tax kickbacks for sports projects are allowed to submit additional material. And oh, what additional material:

Based upon sheer paper volume, Orlando and Jacksonville would be the front-runners in the new funding process.

The application from Jacksonville, supported by the Jacksonville Jaguars, stands at 954 pages.

Orlando, working to assist the Major League Soccer expansion Orlando City Soccer Club with a new 18,000-seat stadium, submitted a 1,144-page application.

Less bulky, Daytona International Speedway LLC filed a 110-page application. South Florida Stadium LLC, filing for the Miami Dolphins’ home, submitted 219 pages of material.

Included in these 2,000-plus pages are promises of new jobs, and new tourists, and new new new new! Also most of the work is already underway, so wouldn’t actually be new in the sense of “wouldn’t happen without the subsidies.” But, you know, details! Details that staffers at the state Department of Economic Opportunity will now have to dig through and analyze, which hopefully will mean more than just checking off which boxes the various applicants have provided screwy justifications for, but I’m not exactly holding my breath.