Islanders owner says Cuomo will use state money for train upgrades to new arena

Newsday’s Jim Baumbach has again sat down with a calendar to calculate when a new New York Islanders arena might open, and again come up with a best-case scenario of the 2021-22 season, if construction can be completed in 26 months after the environmental impact study is done; if it takes longer than that, which is entirely possible, the Islanders might not move into their new home until 2022.

All of which is perfectly reasonable and we already pretty much knew. The more interesting bit is about increased train service to the new development, which Baumbach sheds a small bit of new light on:

ESD has begun talks with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority about increasing service at Belmont’s Long Island Rail Road station, which is only part time. The Islanders’ proposal calls for a full-time station. [Islanders co-owner Jonathan] Ledecky said on WFAN radio Wednesday that [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo also will be involved with the LIRR aspect.

“There’s money in the budget according to the governor and his people,” Ledecky said. “We have to make sure that money gets spent and that station becomes a vital part of the community, not just when there is horse racing and not just when there is a concert or a game. All the time, 365 [days a year], 24 hours a day.”

Cuomo’s office, in response to a request for comment, referred back to a statement last month that said the LIRR “will develop a plan to modify service to accommodate New Yorkers for sporting and special events.” The LIRR reiterated in a statement this week that it is “committed to expanding service” at Belmont but did not offer specifics.

As Aaron Gordon reported last month for the Village Voice, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the LIRR, doesn’t even have a cost estimate for how much it will cost to extend full-time train service to Belmont, but clearly Ledecky is counting on the state to pay for it. Add in the steeply discounted land lease payments and possible breaks on property taxes and the public subsidy for this project has to be considered to fall in the category of “dunno, but it could be a whole helluva lot.” At least there’s a 16-month environmental review before this thing gets finalized; while the state will be focusing on things like how a new arena will affect traffic patterns, I’ll be over here trying to determine how the money will actually work. Stay tuned.

Sacramento mulling public subsidies for MLS stadium so that rich owner can stay rich

If there’s been one given in the insane world of MLS expansion, it’s been that the Sacramento bidders were promising to come up with private money to pay for the entire cost of a $245 million stadium. Except that Sacramento didn’t win a expansion franchise last month as had been anticipated, reportedly because the league was worried that the prospective owners couldn’t afford a stadium on top of a $150 million expansion fee, and you know where this is headed, right?

Sacramento city leaders and the local ownership group seeking an expansion spot in Major League Soccer are discussing public contributions to a new $250 million soccer stadium planned for the downtown railyard – conversations that eventually may include a request for a direct public subsidy to the project’s construction.

(DEEP SIGH)

This was probably inevitable given the way MLS was running its expansion bidding: Setting expansion fees as high as possible, then picking winners based less on what’s the best soccer market than on which was offering the biggest guaranteed subsidies. (While two expansion teams were supposed to be announced last month, only Nashville got the nod, and it can’t be coincidence that Nashville was the only city among the finalists that had approved $75 million in public cash.) For a while it looked like Sacramento would sneak through on the basis of having a new stadium even if the owners were paying out of their own pockets, but MLS’s determination that “No, we want a team that can afford to pay us $150 million so we can keep funding our league by selling rights to more teams for big bucks, and yet still have lots of money left over for team profits, which isn’t going to happen if you’re on the hook for all stadium costs” put a fork in that, so now it’s back to the subsidy drawing board.

What that subsidy could look like is anyone’s guess: Mayor Darrell Steinberg mentioned reduced building fees and free land for a training facility as possibilities, which don’t sound too bad until you remember that Steinberg was formerly the California state senator who wrote a bill to fast-track the Kings arena by exempting it from environmental challenges, so he doesn’t exactly have a great track record in protecting the public interest. Steinberg also said, “I’m confident we can get Major League Soccer without a major public construction or operating subsidy,” and if you’re concerned by that qualifier “major,” you’re not the only one.

As for prospective team owner Kevin Nagle, who sold his prescription-drug-benefit company two years ago for $2 billion and estimated his net worth in the hundreds of millions, the Sacramento Bee reported this:

Asked if he would request a direct construction subsidy from the city, Republic FC CEO and Chairman Kevin Nagle said the team remains “incredibly appreciative to Mayor Steinberg and the City Council for their support and are committed to continuing to work with them to explore any and all paths that will help win this for Sacramento.”

No, you’re right, that’s not an answer at all. California’s tough laws allowing referendums to block sports stadium spending may be an obstacle to any team subsidy demands here, but it might be a good idea for Sacramento residents to put one hand on their wallets, just as a precaution.

Raiders’ lease blocks Nevada from levying ticket taxes, we’ve heard this song before

The Washington Times had a big article yesterday on the Oakland Raiders‘ lease for their new stadium in Las Vegas, and how it contains a provision that would prevent the state from trying to recoup its $750 million in stadium costs by levying new taxes on the team down the road:

An unusual provision in the Raiders agreement with the state allows the team, currently playing its final seasons in Oakland, to break the lease and look for another home if Nevada attempts to impose new taxes over the next three decades on the team, stadium, fans or players. That includes visiting teams and fans as well.

The provision applies to any “targeted tax” aimed at collecting revenue specifically from players or fans. It would not protect the team or its fans from any new taxes applied generally on businesses or individuals across Nevada, however.

I’m quote in this article, calling the lease clause “adding insult to injury” since it “makes sure Nevada taxpayers never see a penny from the stadium.” Which is true, but what the Times left out was that I mentioned this isn’t unheard of — other teams have leases that prohibit local governments from levying team-specific taxes as well. This is probably because I didn’t actually cite any examples to the Times reporter — I was busy and couldn’t look any up — but a quick search through the FoS archives reveals two examples right off the bat:

  • The Cincinnati Bengals and Reds owners have lease clauses that allow them to block ticket tax surcharges during the course of their leases, and did so in 2010.
  • The owners of Minnesota United asked for limits on that state’s ability to impose future taxes on the team, though I’m having a hard time confirming whether that provision made it into the final lease agreement. (The world really needs a database of stadium leases. Get right on that, world, okay?)

I realize this isn’t overwhelming evidence, but it is a sign that the Raiders clause isn’t entirely unprecedented, even if the Times reports that Temple economist Michael Leeds said, in the paper’s words, that this provision “goes beyond anything he has ever seen.” And it makes sense that team owners would try to forestall ticket surcharges: As we’ve covered before, targeted ticket taxes tend to mostly come out of team owners’ pockets because, unlike other taxes, they reduce the amount of money an owner can get away with charging for tickets. So if you sign a 30-year lease and then the state turns around and says, “Hey, $10 surcharge on all your tickets, we get the money!” and you can’t get out of the lease, that’s a huge chunk of change that is suddenly going out of your pocket and into the public’s.

Which, of course, is exactly why it’s so disappointing that the Raiders lease contains this clause — with the state already on the hook for $750 million, a ticket tax would have been one of the only ways for taxpayers to get some of that money back. But the Raiders had smart contract lawyers, so that’s not going to be happening. Evidence really is accumulating that Mark Davis may be smarter than he looks.

Friday roundup: A’s won’t give up on Laney, Isles could play “some” games at Coliseum, more!

Tons of stray news items this week, so let’s get right to them:

  • The Rhode Island state senate’s finance committee approved $44 million in spending by the state and city of Pawtucket for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium, which is what everyone expected, because the real opposition is in the state house. A spokesperson for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said that if the bill passes the Senate, “it will be assigned to the House Finance Committee and be given a public hearing,” which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but then, Mattiello has been saying consistently that his constituents hate this plan.
  • Oakland A’s president Dave Kaval said that the team owners have “identified three final locations” for a new stadium, and … they’re the same three sites the team announced more than a year ago, even after Laney College officials since took themselves out of the running. “We spent a lot of time getting it to three final sites, and those are the sites that are viable,” Kaval told reporters. Props for sticking to your convictions, I guess, but there’s a time to go to a Plan B, and it’s maybe after Plan A told you, “Get offa our lawn.”
  • The city of Liverpool is set to spend £280 million on a new stadium for Everton F.C., four years after saying no to a similar plan, but Mayor Joe Anderson defends the plan as a loan that the team will repay and more. The Guardian reports that “the city council could make £7m-a-year profit from interest charged on a loan of £280m over 25 years, plus extra revenue from business rates and related developments once the stadium is up and running” — which sounds good if the profit is guaranteed just from the loan payments (the city would reportedly have first dibs on Everton team revenue), not so much if it would rely on those “related developments,” which could be stuff that would happen with or without a new stadium. As is so often the case, it all comes down to what that comma means.
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman toured Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday, after which New York Islanders owner Jon Ledecky said he was “confident” that “some games” would be played there while waiting for a new Belmont Park arena to be built, but that playing full seasons there would be “difficult.” So that would imply … some games in Nassau and some in Brooklyn, since the two arenas have the same owner? Some in Nassau and some at Madison Square Garden, which is set to help build the new arena? Some in Nassau and some on a frozen-over East River after that ice age that the American Museum of Natural History seems to think is imminent hits? Your guess is as good as mine.
  • A Unitarian minister writes in an op-ed for the Charlotte Observer that if the Charlotte city council is going to spend money on a new Carolina Panthers stadium, it should be required to build affordable housing, too. My theology is shaky at best, so I’m not sure what Unitarianism has to say about a right canceling out a wrong.
  • Speaking of North Carolina, the Hurricanes got a new owner this week, and in his first few hours as head of the team, he didn’t demand a new arena or threaten to move the team without one. Though that may have more to do with the team’s sweetheart lease on its current arena that last through 2024, which had led former owner Peter Karmanos to say in 2015 that “we’d have to be idiots to move from here,” so give the new guy a few more hours, at least.
  • This. You’re welcome.

Charlotte TV station knows a guy with a farm where Panthers stadium could go, totally

The Carolina Panthers story so far: Team owner Jerry Richardson was investigated for sexual harassment and stepped down as managing partner and said he would sell his stake, and immediately speculation started as to whether whoever bought the team would demand a new stadium, and then the local media jumped ahead straight to wondering where this phantom stadium that the new owner who hasn’t even been finalized yet might demand would go, and that brings us to last night’s WCNC-TV headline:

EXCLUSIVE: Where the new Carolina Panthers stadium could be built

The actual story, such as it is, is that two unnamed sources told the station that there is “interest” in building a stadium near the South Carolina border, and there’s a guy who owns a 220-acre farm there and his daughter-in-law went to school with the son of possible new owner Felix Sabates, and it’s truly amazing that this is an EXCLUSIVE and nobody else is on this story, huh?

But I didn’t come to you today just to laugh at self-important local TV news broadcasts; no, I came to you to laugh at what that headline really should bring to mind. Because where a new stadium “could” be? WCNC really should have shaken down a few more unnamed sources, because the possibilities are endless:

  • Here are 21 lots in Charlotte that are big enough to hold a football stadium. (Okay, one appears to be the side of a hill, but that worked for Dodger Stadium, right?)
  • If you’re willing to go further afield in North Carolina, here are 304 sites around the state that would work.
  • You know where there’s a lot of cheap land? Alaska. Just saying.
  • Olympus Mons. Pros: Lots of room for parking and ancillary development. Cons: Minor media market, but as long as you get a cut of the NFL’s national TV contract that shouldn’t matter too much, right?

This has been your morning exercise in finding places to build a stadium for an owner who doesn’t even own the team yet, let alone has he demanded a replacement for its stadium that’s just 21 years old, but that’s the job of journalism, right, to anticipate subsidy demands before they’re made and make them for you? Pretty sure it’s something like that.

Islanders may not be ready to open new Belmont arena until 2022

Here’s the latest proposed timeline for the New York Islanders‘ new arena project next to Belmont Park, courtesy of Newsday’s Jim Baumbach:

As Metro NY notes, if the team can’t break ground on the arena until mid-2019, then it might not open until fall of 2021 or even 2022, which would mean a bunch of years playing in an interim home, likely at Nassau Coliseum.

None of this should be any surprise: It’s a project on state land, so has to go through the SEQR process just like the Nets‘ Brooklyn arena did, and that’s a year-plus timeline. If anything, I’d think the arena development group may need the time to get their financing ducks in a row — it’s possible they’ve lined up private loans and such already, but also possible they were leaving that until after they had formal approval to build at the Belmont Park site — not to mention figure out who’ll pay for increased train service to the arena, and how much they’ll pay in payments in lieu of taxes to the state, and how much of a break on the land costs they’ll get courtesy of state taxpayers. Oh wait, that last one is already determined: a whole heck of a lot. One hopes that this year-plus break will give local reporters the time to investigate the deal to see what the likely public costs will actually be, but one doesn’t hope all that hard, given past performance.

Megatron’s Butthole is leaking

And speaking of unfortunate headlines, here’s one from yesterday’s Kansas City Star atop an AP story ahead of last night’s College Football Playoff title game at the Atlanta Falcons‘ new stadium:

High-tech Atlanta stadium a hit with fans after early woes

Mercedes-Benz Stadium is about to be on perhaps its largest national stage — Monday night’s College Football Playoff title game — and fans say Atlanta’s new $1.5 billion facility is living up to the hype despite a series of construction setbacks that delayed its opening…

So far, the stadium is winning attendees over despite its signature feature, the retractable roof, being opened a couple times during events since the opening in August. The roof, which opens and closes like a camera lens, is one of the many attractions of the stadium including the massive 360-degree, 63,000-square-foot halo video board and cheap food pricing.

So those construction delays and malfunctioning retractable roof are all a thing of the past, and everything works great now! Except maybe you might have wanted to wait for the game actually to be played before writing that headline:

The roof of Atlanta’s $1.6 billion stadium is leaking at the CFP title game
With rain hitting Atlanta on Monday, reporters at the College Football Playoff national title game noticed a stream of water pouring in from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium roof.

And:

Fans frustrated after long waits to get into Mercedes-Benz Stadium

The lines were constant, no matter how early fans arrived. By 5:30 p.m., nearly three hours before game time, the wait to get into the stadium was running about an hour.

And worst of all:

President Donald Trump arrived in Atlanta on Monday night to attend the National Championship Game between Alabama and Georgia.

Okay, so Trump’s presence can’t actually be blamed on the new stadium, except inasmuch as that if Atlanta hadn’t gone and helped build it, they probably wouldn’t have gotten to host the CFP championship game and then would have been spared the president’s presence. (Is this what economists call an externality?) The leaky roof is a bigger problem, and it really might be time to ask whether spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a cool-looking retractable roof is worth it when it doesn’t retract and also doesn’t really work as a roof. Though I guess it did earn the stadium an awesome nickname, and what price can you put on that?

If Worcester won’t threaten to steal the PawSox, the Boston Globe will do it for them

The Rhode Island state senate is set to hold a hearing today (delayed from last week by a snowstorm) on whether to spend $38 million in state and city money on a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium, and here’s a really dumb headline from the Boston Globe about it:

Will Rhode Island subsidize a new PawSox stadium or let the team leave for Worcester?

All together now: There is zero indication that Worcester is offering a more lucrative stadium deal than Pawtucket, or even any deal at all. Even if they did hire Andy ZImbalist to help plan an offer, he just lives down the road in Northampton, so his $225 an hour fee won’t have to cover much driving time. “Or risk letting the team leave for Worcester” would have been somewhat more accurate, and Twitter allows 280 characters now, so I don’t honestly know what the thinking was here, other than “move threats, even idle ones, get clicks.”

Anyway, the state senate has been more on board with the stadium subsidy plan from the beginning, with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello more the holdout, so today’s hearing may not tell us much. About the bill’s likelihood of passage, anyway; it’s proving a great litmus test on which news outlets are excited about carrying ownership’s water for them.

 

Friday roundup: Panthers stadium rumors, Isles temporary arena plans, and Project Wolverine

It’s the first news roundup of 2018! Please remember to stop writing “2017” on all your stadium-subsidy checks.

  • The Carolina Panthers haven’t even been sold yet following owner Jerry Richardson’s resignation amid sexual harassment complaints, and already Charlotte news outlets are wondering where a new owner would put the new stadium that they would no doubt demand. The Panthers’ current stadium is 24 years old. Yes, human civilization is doomed.
  • The Rhode Island state senate has tweaked its Pawtucket Red Sox stadium proposal, giving the city of Pawtucket a flat $250,000-a-year cut of naming rights fees instead of 50% of whatever the team got, and clarifying that the team would pay overruns on construction costs, but not land acquisition costs. The PawSox owners released a statement calling this “encouraging,” while House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he has “sensed resistance with the public” to putting $38 million in public cash into the deal. It looks likely that this is still headed for another Senate-House standoff, in other words.
  • New Miami Marlins owner Derek Jeter has a plan code-named Project Wolverine (for Jeter’s home state of Michigan, not the X-Man) that projects windfall profits by getting Fox to give the team a massive new TV deal and attendance to spike despite selling off all his best players. This has nothing to do with stadiums except to remind everyone that giving former owner Jeffrey Loria a new ballpark at taxpayer expense was a waste of close to a billion dollars, and getting Loria to sell to Jeter doesn’t seem to have raised hopes any of having management that isn’t delusional or focused solely on squeezing every last dollar of profit possible from a franchise that will forever be selling off any players as soon as they figure out how to play baseball. Miami might have been better off keeping its money and using it to buy residents plane tickets to go see a real baseball team.
  • NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly says the league “wouldn’t rule out” the New York Islanders playing games temporarily at Nassau Coliseum while a new arena at Belmont Park is under construction, which makes sense, because why would they? Sure, the Coliseum now only holds 13,000 for hockey games after its renovation, but the Islanders’ current home of the Barclays Center only holds 15,795, and at least the Coliseum doesn’t have its ice all off-center. Plus, the Islanders aren’t drawing even 13,000 a game anyway, so it’ll just be a matter of fewer empty seats until the new arena is opened, which we still don’t know when that would be, do we? It’ll be interesting to see what kind of lease Coliseum owner Mikhail Prokhorov offers to the Islanders owners — on the one hand, they’re threatening to go off and build a new arena that will compete with his, but on the other, he pretty badly wants them out of the Barclays Center, so it’s anybody’s guess.

Stadium renderings show Rams and Chargers fans may need oxygen masks to reach their seats

We’ve got new* renderings of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers stadium! Here’s the outside:

That’s a more attractive update on the giant-tennis-racket look, though some of that is just that the renderers chose to show it at sunset and all glowy and stuff. As for what the place will actually look like for fans instead of passing planes:

May I be the first to say, “Yikes!” The hanging video halo board is impressive, to be sure (though it’s going to be limited to very long, narrow replays), but that upper deck is just insanely high, separated from the field by three other decks of seating plus four, if I’m counting right, layers of luxury suites and club seats. The rendering makes it look like the decks are stacked fairly vertically to keep the top decks closer to the field, but it also makes it look like the rake — the steepness of the deck — isn’t too extreme, and having both of those be the case is a geometric impossibility if fans are actually going to see the field, so we’ll see how much of this is wishful thinking.

Overall, this looks like somebody took the MetLife Stadium model (which is essentially awful) and gussied it up with more curves and transparent roofs and other things to make it look more like you’re in a Star Trek movie and less like you’re in a palace of mass sports consumption. Which might be all it takes to lure in L.A. fans, who knows — we’ll have to wait and see. It seems like a risky way to spend $2.6 billion, but it’s not my money or yours, so whatever.

One more rendering before we go:

Do people really line up in incredibly orderly lines in Southern California to pass through the … virtual turnstiles? Metal detectors? What are those things, exactly? It seems an awfully sedate throng to be attending a football game, anyway, though maybe they’re hypnotized into a stupor by the permanent flock of balloons.

*UPDATE: This just in:

I have no idea why these are being reported as new renderings, then, unless everybody saw the LA Curbed article talking about construction progress and showing renderings and just assumed they were all new. Sorry for passing along bad information, but the nosebleediness of that top deck remains remarkable.