Milwaukee residents continue to berate Bucks arena deal at latest public hearing

The Milwaukee city council held its first public committee hearing on the Milwaukee Bucks arena plan yesterday, and as at the council’s previous public town hall meetings, there was lots of unhappiness at the already-approved-by-the-state-but-not-yet-the-city deal:

“Buck owners Mark Lasry, Wesley Edens and Jamie Dinan are New York billionaire hedge-fund owners who have the resources to build this arena themselves,” Jennifer O’Hear, speaking for Common Ground, told members of the Common Council’s Steering & Rules Committee.

“They do not need our public money,” she said. “Our children and our neighborhoods need our public money.”

Okay, that’s Common Ground, which has been harping on this whole “schoolkids need more money than billionaires” thing for a while now. (Come on, what do schoolkids have to spend money on? It’s not like they could even drive a yacht if they had one!) What about the hoi polloi, the average Joe, the person on the street?

One speaker after another panned the idea.

“It’s trickle-down economics,” Mary Watkins said. “We are hurting. We cannot afford to put millions of dollars in a project billionaires can build on their own.”

Several speakers said they were opposed to the entertainment district, which they thought would cannibalize existing bars and taverns.

“I have long accepted that the ship has sailed and the arena will be built,” Pat Small testified.

“Downtown has no shortage of bars and restaurants,” he said. There is “no need to subsidize the entertainment district.”

Peter Rickman, of Wisconsin Jobs Now, told council members: “Milwaukee has a good jobs problem.”

He urged council members to hold the Bucks accountable for living wages and for workers’ rights, both during the construction of the arena and its facilities, and once those facilities were built and staffed with waiters, janitors and housekeepers.

On the other hand, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “business and labor leaders” said the arena would be a “catalytic project,” presumably by means of something like this. The full council is expected to vote on the plan on September 22, at which point we’ll find out whose opinions they listen to.

Rhode Island protesters fly kites to oppose taking parkland for PawSox stadium

I haven’t reported much on the Pawtucket Red Sox‘ demand for a new stadium in Providence ever since the team’s owner up and died in May right in the middle of his stadium campaign. The campaign continues on without him under former Boston Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, though, as does public opposition to the $60 million in cash subsidies plus free land that team execs are asking for. And yesterday, about 150 opponents of the deal descended on the proposed riverfront stadium site flying kites and carrying beach chairs, to demand that the land be used as a public park as was intended when a highway was moved to create it in the first place:

The I-195 Commission, a state agency, bought most of the land and is reselling it, although some was given for free to use as a public park, including the 5-acre parcel the Pawtucket Red Sox, a Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, want to build on.

Johnston resident Don Bianco said taking the land away from residents who want an open space public park would be “borderline criminal.”

“There will never again be the possibility of a waterfront park in downtown Providence,” Bianco said.

Citizens with kites aren’t the only ones with a problem with the proposed PawSox deal, with the federal government also saying it’d want to be reimbursed the $4 million value of the park land if it’s instead given to the team, while Brown University is so far balking at selling an adjacent parcel that it owns for what would become left field. The state legislature doesn’t plan to meet to discuss any of this until next January, so expect lots more behind-the-scenes haggling in the interim.

Minnesota United land option expires, either killing Minneapolis plan or meaning nothing at all, depending

The Minneapolis land purchase option deadline for Minnesota United expired yesterday, and there are no signs that the team’s owners got an extension, though the Minneapolis Star Tribune seems to be hedging a bit behind “we don’t actually know nothin'”:

A development entity associated with Minnesota United FC had secured the exclusive right to purchase industrial property near the city’s Farmers Market for a $150 million stadium. But time ran out on that deal Monday, and there was no sign it was extended.

The team, which is seeking a tax break from the city, declined to comment on the implications of the deadline for a Minneapolis stadium. … [Property owner Robert] Salmen, who owns about 80 percent of the property proposed for the stadium, did not return a request seeking comment on Monday. … Minneapolis and Hennepin County officials weren’t giving up hope Monday, however, amid the team’s public silence.

Of course, an option is just an option, and there’s nothing stopping United owner Bill McGuire from going back to Salmen and waving a check in his face when and if he has a stadium deal in place with Minneapolis that he’s happy with. But it’s definitely a step back for any Minneapolis stadium plan.

Meanwhile, while I was traveling last week, the St. Paul city council last week approved a nonbinding resolution endorsing the idea of exempting the city’s share of stadium land from property taxes, but only if United pays for all stadium design, construction, and operations out of its own pocket. That’d be only part of the stadium site (the rest is in private hands, and would presumably remain taxed), so not a huge boon to McGuire, but then again paying for the stadium itself with private money wouldn’t preclude Mayor Chris Coleman’s previous idea to have the city pay for cleanup and infrastructure on the site with city TIF money, so … really, this is all way too soon to tell how it’s going to work out, beyond “everyone wants to make Bill McGuire happy without it looking like they’re just giving him money for his new toy.” There is much jockeying yet to go.

Scott Walker goes on TV, tries to justify building all sorts of crazy things

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker went on Meet the Press yesterday, and they actually asked him about the Milwaukee Bucks arena subsidy deal that he pushed through. His answer was unsurprising:

“For the state of Wisconsin, it’s less than $4 million a year to protect $6.5 million we collect. And over the next 20 years, that grows to a total of just shy of $300 million the state collects in income taxes for less than $80 million,” he said. “I’d be a fool.”

This is the “cheaper to keep it” line again, and we’ve covered the problems with it before: First off, that $300 million figure for future state income taxes is made up out of whole cloth, and almost certainly hugely overblown. And secondly, the $80 million (I have $75 million, but whatever) in state subsidies is only a small fraction of the $450 million in state, county, and city cash and tax breaks that will be going to the Bucks owners, meaning even by Walker’s numbers, Wisconsin taxpayers overall would be taking a large loss on the deal, even if the state treasury in particular might come out okay.

Fortunately for Walker, he distracted voters from his crazy-ass arena math by elsewhere in the interview calling building a wall across the Canadian border “a legitimate issue for us to look at.” To be entirely fair, Walker was just agreeing with Meet the Press host Chuck Todd’s question that “Why are we always talking about the southern border, and building a fence there — we don’t talk about the northern border?” Though to be even more fair, saying things that are no more crazy than Chuck Todd isn’t exactly something worth bragging about.

Owner of Minneapolis soccer land says hell with soccer, I’ve got better people to sell to

With all the talk about whether Minneapolis or St. Paul will be the first to offer Minnesota United owner Bill McGuire his precious property tax break for a new soccer stadium, it seems to have escaped notice that McGuire’s option to buy downtown Minneapolis land for a stadium site is set to expire. Like, today:

“The only thing that can change is they have a check on my desk on Monday morning. In reality, I doubt it,” said Robert Salmen, who owns two of the three parcels on Royalston Avenue that would be used for the stadium — about 80 percent of the proposed site.

A development entity representing Minnesota United team owner Bill McGuire secured the yearlong option at this time in 2014. Salmen said once it expires Monday, he does not plan to sell to McGuire.

“We have no interest. … Even if they’re interested at this point, we’re not going to proceed,” Salmen said. “We’re done with it.”

Now, Salmen could always just be trying to wrangle a check out of McGuire, but given that the latter is still in the midst of playing the Twin Cities off against each other, and buying Minneapolis land before securing a tax break would shoot his leverage to hell, that would seem to be a pretty stupid strategy. More likely Salmen is thinking that he can possibly get a bidding war going for his property — “When I want to sell, or if somebody makes a stupid offer, I’ll sell,” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune — and doesn’t see any upside to continuing to deal only with one suitor.

Weirdly, there’s been no public comment from McGuire on this yet, though perhaps not so weirdly, since McGuire isn’t really a public comment kind of guy. More news later today if and when Salmen actually lowers the hammer, I expect.

Stop the presses! St. Louis business leaders have no real opinion on Rams stadium!

Not much new this weekend in the standoff between Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and state legislators over who’ll get to decide on a St. Louis Rams stadium deal, so I know what you’re thinking: Won’t anyone think of the local business leaders?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has your back, magnates of industry. Not that you really seem to care much:

Through press representatives, corporate executives either declined to discuss the stadium plan’s specifics or did not respond to requests from the Post-Dispatch to describe in detail their support, or absence of support, for the project.

The few who were willing to speak on the issue were on either side of the spectrum: enthusiastic supporter or sharp critic.

Let’s try to picture the editorial process by which this giant ball of nothingburger ended up in a major U.S. newspaper. Either the reporter in question pitched his editor on a story on how local business leaders feel about a new stadium, or the editor assigned it to the reporter, probably figuring, Hey, these are Important People, we can get a story out of this on a slow Sunday. Problem was, hardly anybody answered. But it was too late to fill the hole in the paper with some actual news, and the article was already written, so sure, “Business execs guarded on stadium proposal” is a news story if we say it is, right?

Where it becomes really problematic, of course, is when whoever it was made the designation of who gets to be Important People. There are any number of people in St. Louis that could have been contacted for equally ambiguous opinions — “Union leaders guarded on stadium proposal,” “Schoolteachers guarded on stadium proposal,” “Women with small children standing on line at local supermarket guarded on stadium proposal” — but business leaders are considered newsworthy just because they are, even though no one elected them, they don’t get any more votes than anyone else, and their opinion doesn’t matter any extra for economic reasons. (It’s not like the local Schnucks grocery chain is going to shutter all its stores and move to California if things don’t go its way, even if its execs had a way they wanted things to go.) It’s like a weird holdover of feudalism: When there are important decisions to be made, ask the local rich guy. We’ve ostensibly had representative democracy for the last couple hundred years, but it’s taking a little while for journalism to catch up.

Missouri senators say they’ll withhold Rams stadium cash; Gov. Nixon: I don’t need their stinking votes

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has been doing his best to assert that he’ll move ahead with his $400 million-ish St. Louis Rams stadium subsidy plan with or without anyone’s approval, suing to get out of any requirement for a public referendum, asserting that he can sell bonds without needing to ask the legislature first, and funneling as much money as possible through tax credits that he doesn’t need anyone’s permission for. He’s still going to need the state legislature to pay off any bonds, though, and key state lawmakers now say they’ll simply refuse to do so if he tries to go ahead without letting them vote:

House Budget Chairman Tom Flanigan sent a letter Wednesday to Gov. Jay Nixon warning that he will block any effort to put money in the state budget for payments on a new stadium unless the Legislature or voters first approve the additional debt…

“Let me state that I am not opposed to a new stadium in the St. Louis region,” Flanigan wrote to Nixon. “However, I am opposed to using state resources, both tax credits and direct appropriations for debt service, for a new stadium before the existing stadium debt is paid for in full.”

Nixon promptly replied with some digits, and they were raised middle ones:

“The fact that — in the interim — four, five or six folks start talking about it out of a legislature with 200 people? They’re certainly entitled to say what they want,” Nixon said on Thursday. “But it is not going to dramatically affect continued progress we’re making in a taxpayer-sensitive way to move forward.”

When those “four, five or six folks” include the chairs of the budget committees that can block your legislation, I might not choose to be quite so flip about it, but hey, I’m not governor of anything.

Now, before anyone starts painting this as a major roadblock, note that the opposition senators (all of whom are Republicans, while Nixon is a Democrat, if you’re scoring at home) didn’t actually say they’d oppose the stadium funding, just that they’d do so unless they get to vote on it first. There’s clearly some opposition to spending public money on a new Rams stadium before the old one is paid off, but if the line in the sand is just “let us vote on it,” then there’s a clear path for Nixon to compromise. Or would be, if he weren’t dead set on belittling the legislators he needs in order to get this thing approved.

Meanwhile, the NFL relocation clock keeps on ticking, though no one has any clue how many minutes are left to go, or even what yard line any of the teams are on. At some point, presumably, the league is going to declare a two-minute warning (sorry, this metaphor just doesn’t want to die), and whether it’s a bluff or not, then we’re going to see things explode all over the place. I’d put the over-under around February 1, but feel free to set up a real betting line if you want to crowdsource this prediction.

Orioles consider asking for public money to upgrade Camden Yards, apocalypse threat level raised to “nigh”

So four years and change ago, I wrote this:

If current trends are going to continue, circa-1990 stadiums like SkyDome/Rogers Centre, New Comiskey Park/U.S. Cellular Field, and even Camden Yards would have to be replaced by the end of this decade. Okay, probably not Camden Yards — though I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Baltimore Orioles ask for “improvements.” But it’s going to be very interesting to see whether teams start demanding new stadiums, and if so how they justify them, as the first wave of “retro” parks start going out of warranty.

As it turns out, whoever had 2015 in the “When will the Orioles owners ask for upgrades to Camden Yards?” pool, you’re a winner!

The Baltimore Orioles are considering updates to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the 23-year-old stadium still celebrated for its red-brick hominess and retro charm…

The latest stadiums incorporate design elements — such as open concourses commanding views of the game — that Camden Yards lacks. Many also include stadium clubs for VIPs that offer prime, low-level field views.

Now, this isn’t totally crazy, depending on what the Orioles want to do with the stadium (and even team officials say they’re not sure yet). Doing some minor improvements a couple of decades down the road certainly makes a lot more sense than tearing a stadium down and building a whole new one, and shouldn’t be a problem so long as the public isn’t expected to—

The state holds a capital expenditure account that might be used. And since there is some retired debt on Camden Yards, new bonds could be issued to finance improvements.

Guh? I’d ask on what planet it would make sense for the state to finance upgrades that will benefit solely the Orioles, but the Baltimore Sun website never answers when I shout at my computer screen.

The one possible silver lining is that the state might ask the Orioles owners to extend their lease beyond 2021 in exchange — “Typically, when you see a very large amount of capital expenditure, it comes with a new lease negotiation,” Maryland Stadium Authority Michael Frenz told the Sun — though given that they have a decent sized market and a popular stadium and are making money hand over fist, it’s not like they could reasonably threaten to leave with or without a lease. Maybe the MSA will offer to float some bonds for stadium construction in exchange for the Orioles offsetting the bond costs by paying more in rent — ha ha, we all know that’s not likely to happen. But we can dream, can’t we?

Every city in the U.S. still thinks it can get an MLS franchise, and you know what that means

Sacramento Republic FC has chosen a designer for a new soccer stadium if it makes it to MLS (not that it doesn’t already have design renderings — hope you know how to design magical purple glowing radio towers, HNTB!), and the mayor of San Antonio is looking to help bring an MLS team to an expanded stadium in her city even as the local NASL owner is selling his franchise, and some developers in Las Vegas want to convert the 51’s minor-league baseball stadium for an MLS team, and…

…you know what? I’m going to go watch some baseball at the place with the free tickets. If there’s any important stadium news the rest of this week I’ll check in. If it’s just more MLS expansion teams, it can wait till next week.

Meanwhile, enjoy your vaportecture porn:


Tuesdays will never be the same again: Heather McCoy Show finale tomorrow at 8 am PT/11 am ET

For the past two years, I’ve been honored to be a weekly guest on Heather McCoy’s radio show on KUCI in Irvine. Tomorrow morning is her last show, and expect a star-studded cavalcade of, okay, I think it’s probably just going to be a regular show. But who knows? Maybe we’ll solve the problem of public sports subsidies once and for all. You never know — so tune in tomorrow morning at 8 am Pacific (11 am Eastern) and find out!

And if you miss it, the archive of tomorrow’s show (and all past shows) will remain available via the Heather McCoy Show podcast page. It’s no substitute for hearing us talk about the latest stadium news, but given that we were probably going to be talking about the possibility of any NFL teams moving to L.A. for the next few months, reruns might not end up being all that different.