Cleveland Plain Dealer: Give Cavs owner $70m, because LeBron and Mickey Mouse WOOHOO!!!

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has historically not been a very good newspaper in covering stadium development issues, taking local sports team demands seriously even when they want to do things like cover their stadium with a geodesic dome, and generally giving Roldo Bartimole an entire career of shaking his head sadly at their miserable reportage.

None of that, though, prepared anyone for this editorial published on Friday, which argues that it’s totally worth Cuyahoga County giving Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert $70 million to pay half the costs of an arena expansion because, well, let’s try to follow along:

[Do you remember] the payoff when LeBron James electrified the city and team by coming back and helping to deliver an NBA championship in a never-to-be-forgotten, come-from-behind series? A series that turned downtown Cleveland into a sea of ecstatic fans and led to a victory parade that attracted Cavs fans the world over for a glorious day of downtown pedestrian gridlock that banished our comeback doubts.

Yes, winning championships is fun. Gilbert doesn’t get to rescind that championship if his renovation isn’t approved. So, what’s your point again?

How much would it be worth to get even more economic development value from the money the public already has invested in Quicken Loans Arena — the jobs, the energy, the draw — by extending the life of the Q another dozen years or more?

An excellent question, though posed a bit strangely — the only thing threatening “the life of the Q” is the city and county’s eventual willingness to replace it, so it’s not like that decision is really hanging on a new glass exterior wall. But sure, it’s a calculation that should be conducted, ideally with studies and tax revenue projections and—

It’s certainly worth the deal on the table now in which the Cavs pay half and make other commitments to the county, city and region.

Or you could just say “You betcha!!!” Yup, that is also an option.

As part of the deal, the Cavs pony up $122 million of their own dollars (for an arena the public owns) and underwrite risk in the financing deal for the county and agree to stay in Cleveland until at least 2034.

Yeah, no, not exactly. That $122 million isn’t in cash but in increased future rent payments, which will reimburse the county for half the $140 million in renovation costs, leaving the other $70 million to be covered by ticket taxes and hotel taxes that would otherwise go into city and county coffers. Yes, the public owns the arena, but only on paper so Gilbert doesn’t have to pay property taxes. (He owns the revenue streams from the arena, which are the important part.) I have no idea what “underwrite risk” means, other than that Gilbert would over cost overruns, which, that’s all well and good, but he’d still get his $70 million in free money regardless.

The only real reason worth considering here is getting Gilbert to extend the Cavs lease to 2034, when it currently expires in … 2027. So that’s seven years of added lease time, in exchange for $70 million in renovation subsidies. We have seen worse deals, but that doesn’t necessarily make this a good one.

The Q is a city treasure that goes far beyond its use by the basketball team.

How many of the region’s children have been wowed there by Mickey Mouse on ice skates, circuses and monster truck shows? How many people have danced in the aisles to the performances of Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Jay Z, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce? We want those acts to keep coming.

Now we’re getting deep into crazy talk, and not just because Paul McCartney is going to be 92 years old in 2034. Does the PD editorial board really think that Mickey Mouse is going to refuse to lace up his skates and play Cleveland if the arena doesn’t have a new glass wall in front? Have they bothered to investigate what concert acts want out of an arena? Or is investigation one of those old-media things that fly in the face of synergy and monetization and whatever else the things that used to be called newspapers are in the business of now?

All in all, this editorial can be summed up as: Arenas are fun places, is $70 million really too much to spend on more fun? To which the answer should be: We dunno, let’s check it out. That’s what the Detroit Free Press did when Gilbert came asking for cash for an MLS stadium in that city; clearly either the billionaire has greater pull in Cleveland, or the Plain Dealer editors have forgotten Rule #1 of journalism.

Connecticut governor says if he spends $250m on arena, “folks” may bring a hockey team

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy has explained that his screwy invitation to let the New York Islanders play in Hartford isn’t so screwy after all, because, um, some other guys who don’t actually have a hockey team called him about playing in Hartford if they got one:

“As a result of sending that letter, getting as much publicity as it got, we have been contacted by a group that would very much like to explore … bringing a team should they be successful in acquiring it,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday afternoon during a tour of the 42-year-old downtown arena…

“There are folks who are seeking to understand exactly what our plan calls for, and that’s not exclusively the Islanders anymore,” he said. “We’ve been contacted by other folks who are interesting in acquiring an NHL team and want to know what we would do to this facility to modernize it.”

That “modernize it” is the rub — aside from the vagueness of “folks” being the rub, obviously — since Malloy is proposing $250 million in renovations to the Hartford arena at a time when the state is facing a $1.3 billion deficit. The governor, trying to get out in front of the criticism, painted this as courage:

“We have a decision to make, do we close this facility in the next few years and give away the traffic in the downtown, give away the attraction of this facility in a city that’s fighting to make a comeback and fighting to retain the jobs it currently has, which I think is not the way to go, quite frankly,” he said. “And that’s why I’m more than willing to take some political heat to accomplish what I think is in the best interest of Hartford, the capital region and the state of Connecticut.”

That is indeed the decision to make, but deciding it’s “not the way to go” before actually crunching the numbers is, well, not the way to go. How about a study comparing whether it would be more beneficial to the state’s economy to put $250 million into a hockey arena without a hockey team or into, say, local education budgets? Hey, Connecticut legislators, maybe one of you would like to take this on as a spring project?

Angels owner says team will stay through 2029, was totally pwned by Anaheim mayor

This was hinted at last September, but Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno has officially thrown in the towel on using his opt-out clause on his lease at Anaheim Stadium, telling reporters that his team will remain there at least through 2029:

”It’s going to take some time to get ourselves prepared to see which direction we’re going to go,” Moreno said of the possibility of building a new ballpark. ”We have flexibility, but acquiring land and getting a proper partner and getting prepared in California is a three-, four-year process.”

This can only be seen as a major victory for Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait (and his constituents), who blocked attempts by Moreno to threaten his way into a major stadium renovation subsidy. The timetable of events, you will recall: The Anaheim council gifted Moreno with a 2019 opt-out for no damn reason, then the owner demanded a whole bunch of free land to compensate for him doing renovations on his own behalf, then Tait conducted an appraisal that pointed out that the land was worth nearly $100 million more than the renovations, then Moreno threatened to move to an air base in Tustin, then nobody in Tustin thought that was a good idea, then Moreno slunk back to Anaheim.

This is exactly how it should work: If a team waves around move threats, city leaders should say, “Yeah, get back to us when you have a real offer, and maybe we’ll talk.” And then if the owner is just bluffing, you get away without having to pay him $250 million in taxpayer cash.

Not that Anaheim Stadium won’t ever need renovations (though recall that it just had renovations 20 years ago, which isn’t a lifetime no matter what some other teams may think). But now both Moreno and Anaheim can sit down and figure out what it makes sense for each side to spend on them, if anything, without worrying about the pretend threat that the owner is going to move to an invisible stadium elsewhere in SoCal or move out of the nation’s second-biggest media market entirely. All of which could have been the case all along if the council hadn’t been daft enough to hand out that lease opt-out clause, but at least victory has been grasped from the jaws of defeat for once.

Zoning commission approves D.C. United stadium design on grounds it could suck worse

D.C. United‘s new $300 million stadium, which will get $183 million in land acquisition costs and tax breaks from district taxpayers, finally got final approval yesterday from the D.C. Zoning Commission, after design tweaks to make it look less like a prison. And just listen to how excited zoning commission members are about the project coming to fruition!

“The responses on environmental issues and traffic issues have been adequate to make it passable, but I’m still extremely disappointed,” member Peter May said. “It just kind of barely makes it. It’s been a disappointment all the way through, so I hope it turns out better than I fear it will.”

The stadium probably won’t be a disaster of terrible traffic and empty streets on non-game days, at least not any more than all stadiums are. At least the zoning commission pushed back on some things, and got some small concessions, which is more than cities where cities where projects get final approval without anyone even discussing what the transportation plan will be. Yeah, it’s a low bar, but that’s about where we’re at with democracy these days.

Arizona senators push to give Coyotes, Suns, D-Backs up to $1.1b for new arenas and stadium

Arizona Coyotes owner Anthony LeBlanc may not have any idea where he wants to build a new hockey arena now that Arizona State University pulled out of a planned venue in Tempe, but that’s not going to stop members of the Arizona state senate from pushing legislation to give him $170 million in sales- and hotel-tax kickbacks to help build one. And hey, while we’re at it, let’s make it easier for the Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns to get state subsidies, too:

The bill would allow creation of “community engagement” districts of up to 30 acres. Within them, up to half of the state’s share of sales taxes generated from retail sales and hotel stays would be dedicated to paying the bond debt for new sports or entertainment facilities. It also would allow an additional 2 percent district sales tax to be applied to all purchases within the district, with those revenues also dedicated to defraying the cost of facility construction.

In the case of the Coyotes, the plan envisions public funding covering 57 percent of a new arena’s cost, with new sales taxes covering $170 million and the host city contributing $55 million. The Coyotes said the team’s portion would be $170 million, amounting to a 43 percent contribution toward the $395 million total cost.

This is a bit of a hybrid bill, combining super-TIFs (where half of existing sales and hotel taxes would be kicked back to pay teams’ construction costs) with a new sales tax surcharge in the area around the new sports venue. The math on how much of a subsidy this amounts to gets dicey — virtually all of a TIF would be cannibalized from sales and hotel tax receipts elsewhere in the state, but a slice of a sales tax surcharge could come out of a team owner’s pockets, depending on how big the surcharge area is — but the vast majority of it would be a straight-up gift to team owners, all to allow cities in one part of Arizona to steal teams from cities in another.

You’ll note that I said “teams,” not just the Coyotes. That’s because the new super-TIF districts could be applied to help build any new sports and entertainment facilities. The only limit is that state money would only be allowed to pay for half of construction costs up to $750 million — meaning that if the Coyotes, Suns, and Diamondbacks all availed themselves of the legislation, as you know they would love to do, Arizona taxpayers could potentially be on the hook for $1.125 billion. (If the Coyotes stick to their $170 million demand, the max would be only $920 million, but as we’ve seen before, sports construction costs only tend to go up, and there’s nothing stopping LeBlanc from revising his ask as time goes on.)

Now, the bill has so far only passed one committee in one branch of the Arizona legislature — Sen. Bob Worsley of Mesa used one of those “gut an unrelated bill and insert your own language” tricks to get it on the agenda of his own transportation and technology committee — and none of the teams involved have identified places where they’d like to build new facilities, or how to pay for their halves. Still, it’s a pretty remarkable response to a “crisis” started by the Coyotes’ need to leave their nearly-new arena in Glendale because … hey, Coyotes ownership, why do you need to leave again?

“It does not work in Glendale,” Ahron Cohen,the team’s general counsel, told the Senate panel. “In 2013, our ownership group bought the team. The previous ownership chose to go out there.”

Oh. Well, if it “doesn’t work,” then it doesn’t work. I thought you were going to say something about how you couldn’t bear to be forced to compete for the rights to operate the arena instead of just being handed $8 million a year by Glendale in a no-bid contract. Good thing it’s not that, because asking the state of Arizona to pay you a couple hundred mil to get you out of that pickle would be chutzpah in the Nth degree, and only complete morons in state government would actually consider it.

Milwaukee Bucks introduce “digital tour” of their PR spin for new arena

The Milwaukee Bucks have introduced an interactive virtual tour that fans can take of the team’s new $500 million arena that taxpayers are funding virtually all of , and — hey, wait a minute, that’s not an interactive virtual tour, that’s a video of some Bucks guy taking an interactive virtual tour! We want to do our own clicking on our own touchscreens, Bucks guy!

Anyway, for those who can’t be bothered to take 2:33 to watch the video, here are the highlights:

  • The virtual tour is “used in all of our meetings” and “super-impactful”!
  • There will be a lobby!
  • Fans sitting in the first four rows will get their own VIP entrance, so they aren’t forced to hobnob with those peons sitting in the fifth row!
  • Those VIP fans will get to gawk at/reach out and touch/throw things at the players as they enter the court via their tunnel from the locker room, because that’s worked oh so well in the past.
  • Designer types call entry ramps “vomitories” without thinking its funny, and apparently without thinking everyone else will think it’s funny.
  • Seventy-five percent of the main concourse is open to the court area, so that you can “grab a beer” and “still watch the action.” Now, having spent a lot of time at baseball games where open concourses are more common, I can tell you how this will work: Because of sports geometry, while you are waiting on line for your beer, you will only be able to see the airspace above the actual game; because of sports fan behavior, you won’t be able to see much of it, because lots of people will be standing at the edge of the concourse, blocking your view. So in reality, you will be waiting to grab your beer, will hear a big noise, look over to see what happened, not be able to see a damn thing, try to decide whether to run back to the seating bowl (or the vomitory) to see what’s going on, decide it’s too late, then look up at the video screens placed by the beer line to watch that instead. I.e., exactly what you’d do in a space without an open concourse, but with the added feature of eliminating several rows of decent seats and replacing them with ones at the back of the upper level.
  • Bucks guy says of the concourse that “this is where most of the guests are going to spend their time,” so either he’s anticipating really slow beer lines or acknowledging that most people will be there to eat the food, not watch the Bucks.
  • “Everybody is much closer to the action.” There is no way that this is true, especially when you consider those gaps for the open concourses, but it is a thing that every arena and stadium developer says, so this guy is contractually required to, too.
  • Those creepy party spaces where fans won’t get to see the game but will get to be bathed in strange neon lights are now called the “sky mezzanine level,” and the Bucks are “really excited” for people to use them for weddings and corporate events and stuff other than watching Bucks games, because that would be a terrible idea.
  • And speaking of terrible ideas, the “corner sponsor towers” that likewise featured no way for most fans to see the game and possibly no railings appear to be gone, though it’s hard to tell without a virtual tour that I can actually control.

In short, it looks pretty much like every other new sports venue, with maybe a couple of unique elements that could be fun or could be awful, but now comes with a heaping helping of PR to help you understand why you’re having a better time, whether or not you actually are. If that’s not super-impactful, I don’t know what is.

St. Louis council approves $127m for Blues, MLS venues, voters can still block the latter

St. Louis lawmakers took major steps last week toward throwing $127 million at upgrades for the Blues‘ hockey arena and construction of an MLS soccer stadium, though the latter will depend on the results of an April voter referendum:

  • The board of aldermen voted on Friday to approve $67 million in subsidies for Blues arena renovations. (It will add up to $105 million over time, but it’s worth $67 million in present value. And while it would mix sales taxes, ticket taxes, and other revenues, all those are all diversion of existing taxes, not new ones the team owners are agreeing to pay, so as discussed earlier, it’s all money that the city would otherwise be able to spend on other things if not being siphoned off for the Blues owners.) Alderman Steve Conway defended the subsidy as necessary to keep drawing NCAA events (“If we don’t make improvements, what comes into general revenue diminishes over time”), though he didn’t appear to provide numbers showing that any added revenue is worth the expense; Alderman Antonio French retorted, “We do not have $105 million to give to anybody. And we’re about to give money to some of the richest people in town because they want a new scoreboard.”
  • Circuit court judge Michael Mullen approved putting $60 million in funding for a new MLS stadium on the April ballot, despite the board of aldermen having approved it too late for the deadline after the initial bill was withdrawn and revised. There will actually be two votes: one to raise sales taxes by 0.5% to expand St. Louis’s light rail system, which would automatically cause use taxes on out-of-state purchases to rise by the same amount; the other would approve taking those use taxes and pouring them into paying off $60 million worth of stadium costs. If either fails to get a majority, the stadium subsidy wouldn’t happen.

The soccer stadium vote will be, unless I’m mistaken, the first time that St. Louis voters will actually be going to the polls under the law approved by a 2002 referendum requiring a public vote on any sports subsidies. (The Cardinals stadium had already been approved then, and the Rams stadium never happened.) The only poll on the subject that I can find is just of Democratic primary voters (though St. Louis is pretty overwhelmingly Democratic); it found respondents opposed to soccer subsidies by a 61-22 margin, so I think it’s fair to say the proposal faces an uphill battle. There’s still two months of campaign spending left, though, so open up those Jamba Juice (and Bain Capital) coffers, Paul Edgerley!

Virginia takes lead in willingness to overlook “Redskins” name to throw money at team owner

Legislators in D.C. and Maryland have proposed bills barring public money or land from going to Washington’s NFL team so long as it’s called the “Redskins,” and while both face uphill battles, the Washington Post has its eyes on the real story here: Ooh, boy, maybe this means Virginia will get the team now!

A bill proposed by Maryland and District lawmakers this week could give Virginia an edge in landing the Redskins’ next stadium…

Virginia may be the easiest jurisdiction to cut a deal with. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has no problem with the team’s name and has been talking to the Redskins since last summer…

[Team owner Daniel] Snyder needs to move quickly: McAuliffe’s term ends next January and who knows how his successor will feel about pledging $1 billion in public money or the team’s controversial name.

The Washingtonian, meanwhile, says that one bidder isn’t nearly enough, so really West Virginia and Delaware should get in on the action, so that Snyder can get the best deal possible:

Snyder will need at least three bidders to get the best deal for the consistently mediocre team, which has a racist slur for a name. Should the proposed legislation in Maryland and DC succeed, it would be an ideal time for some of the wider Washington area make a play for the Redskins.

Delaware is a summer base for many Washingtonians and a two-hour drive isn’t out of the question for rabid football fans (even if people who actually live in Delaware are more likely to follow the Eagles or Giants). It’s facing a tough budget crunch, but maybe there’s a little room for football on the books? And then there’s West Virginia, a state that belongs to the Pittsburgh Steelers but includes part of the same metropolitan statistical area as what most people consider to be Washington. It, too, is within the arguable limits for a Sunday drive, and it’s the closest red state, an increasingly important criterion for this team. That new stadium design could even work in Charleston, maybe!

The Washingtonian is joking, I think. I have no explanation for why the Post seems to think that a governor who is willing to spend $1 billion so that a team owned by an asshole billionaire who is at best an unrepentant apologist for racism can replace its stadium that’s just 20 years old is an opportunity for Virginia, and not a danger to be avoided.

Loria mulls selling Marlins to Ivanka Trump’s brother-in-law, our dystopian future is now

Miami Marlins fans and baseball followers in general have been waiting for decades to get rid of Jeffrey Loria, the evil mastermind who got Miami taxpayers to give him half a billion dollars for a new stadium so he could afford to buy better players and then said, Crap that, I’d rather keep the new stadium and still get the cheapest players I can so I can collect revenue-sharing checks from MLB. So any deal that removes this guy from the owner’s chair would be good, right? How about if it means Loria walking away with up to $1.6 billion and the team being run by Ivanka Trump’s brother-in-law?

The Kushners — led by Joshua Kushner, a venture capitalist, and Joseph Meyer, his brother-in-law and key lieutenant for the family’s investments — have pursued the Marlins for several months, devising a complicated financial arrangement that would include bringing in partners later, these people said. Mr. Kushner is the younger brother of Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law.

Neither Jared Kushner, who married Ivanka Trump in 2009 and is a top White House adviser, nor Charles Kushner, the family patriarch who spent over a year in prison for illegal campaign donations, tax evasion and witness tampering, is participating in the effort, these people said.

While I don’t want to judge the son on the sins of the father, this is a somewhat problematic family to consider inviting into MLB, to say the least. And according to the New York Times, MLB has qualms about it as well:

The deal has already prompted questions within Major League Baseball, according to the people briefed on the conversations, about what kind of relationship Mr. Trump would have to the team and whether that would be a benefit or a disadvantage. Would fans or sponsors boycott or embrace the team or league based on a comment or Twitter post by Mr. Trump? And would Mr. Trump attend games?

(And if he did attend games, would he insist that they were really sellouts? <rimshot>)

The one silver lining of a Marlins sale to the Kushners: Taxpayers would get a cut of any sale price, according to its stadium deal, though given the complex formula for calculating that, Miami Dade County’s chief financial officer says he’d have to figure out what the county would have coming to it, guessing only that it would be “several million dollars.” This does not seem like proper compensation for getting out of the frying pan only to enter the Trump family fire, but the decision is in Loria’s hands. And we know that we can trust him to … okay, never mind.

Vikings ask people of Minnesota to build a fence to keep out people of Minnesota

The owners of the Minnesota Vikings want the state of Minnesota to help pay for a permanent fence around the $1-billion-plus new stadium that the state just helped pay to build, because why exactly?

Lester Bagley, the Vikes’ vice president of public affairs, says the fence would help maintain security. He cited the instance last season when protesters climbed the rafters to unfurl a banner denouncing the Dakota Access Pipeline.

When pressed by KARE 11 on how a new fence might have kept them at bay, Bagley admitted it wouldn’t, while noting that his argument sounded convincing at the time.

Ha ha ha, Minneapolis City Pages, very funny. What did Bagley really say?

Kent Erdahl: “Any indication that fencing was part of what (went wrong) in that last game?”

Lester Bagley: “No, it wasn’t but it still.. it showed that there are issues related to fan safety and stadium security that need to be addressed.”

Wow, okay, he pretty much did say that.

No price tag on the fence project yet, but Bagley did say he expected the state to share the cost of it, because “if it’s used for Vikings games and for non-Viking games, other events, it’s a shared cost.” I.e., the Vikings aren’t happy with their temporary fencing, and want a permanent fence, but if it’s permanent then just anybody who uses the stadium can use it, so you guys help pay for it, okay? Do you think this is the same argument Bagley used as a kid to get his parents to buy Pong “for the whole family”?