Missouri senate fails to ban Rams stadium funds, threatens to refuse to make bond payments instead

The question of who can authorize taking tax revenue currently going to pay off the Edward Jones Dome and using it to fund a new St. Louis Rams stadium has gotten ultra-crazy, with these latest developments in the state legislature:

  • The state senate passed a bill banning using the money to pay for a new stadium.
  • House leaders got the funding ban stricken from the bill in conference committee.
  • Senate leaders said the governor would go ahead with selling bonds based on the Jones Dome money at his own risk, because “we’re not technically obligated to pay” and could just refuse to appropriate funds to pay off the bonds, and bondholders wouldn’t like that much, now would they?

The plan to use the Jones Dome payments for a new stadium is in plenty of trouble as it is, because then somebody would still have to pay off the Jones Dome, and in the governor’s current plan that somebody is the city of St. Louis — which has a law prohibiting new stadium funding without a public vote, and lawyers willing to sue to enforce that provision. But state senators threatening not to pay the governor’s IOUs are a nice added touch. At this point, Nixon might want to just hold a referendum already, and pull out all the stops trying to win it — though it’d undoubtedly help if Rams owner Stan Kroenke were showing any interest in helping to do so, since he’s the guy with the money for a big-bucks ad campaign. What’s the world coming to when you can’t even count on the local billionaire to buy votes?

Shed a tear for Milwaukee journalists, for this is their job

Milwaukee and Wisconsin leaders met for a second straight day yesterday to discuss funding plans for a Bucks arena, and how’d that go?

“We are continuing to talk about a solution,” Bucks President Peter Feigin said.

Yup, yup, I expect you are. And are you getting anywhere?

“Another productive working session. Everyone is continuing to operate in good faith and there’s a lot of issues that need to be worked out, but I think I think that people want to work these issues out. So, there’s no announcement whatsoever. We’re going to continue to meet. Staff are going to be exchanging numbers and we’re just going to continue to work,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

If printing that sort of PR pablum — along with a summary of all the different arena funding proposals floated so far, to fill out space — seems like a thin excuse for an article, such is the lot of the daily journalists now covering the Bucks arena closed-door meeting beat. In fact, it gets worse than that: Check out the reporting that’s gone on before each of the meetings, when elected officials didn’t even have anything new to refuse to comment on. From yesterday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website:

Shortly before attending another meeting to discuss cost-sharing for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, Mayor Tom Barrett was circumspect about where the talks stand…

“We had a good working session yesterday in Madison and we’re going to continue the discussions today (in Milwaukee). I think it’s fair to say that there are a lot of moving pieces right now. I think that everyone who is involved in this is operating with goodwill. And it’s a challenging issue,” Barrett said.

Now there’s a nothingburger of a quote, but the mayor said it, so it’s news, right? And it’s still better than the report that poor Rich Kirchen of the Milwaukee Business Journal filed on Wednesday, as all the politicians filed into a room at the governor’s office and shut the door behind them:

The key players arrived Wednesday afternoon for a closed-door summit on possible public funding of a new arena in downtown Milwaukee but nearly all of them declined to comment as they entered the Governor’s Conference Room at the state Capitol in Madison….

“I’d be thrilled if something was (agreed to),” [Milwaukee County Executive Chris] Abele said. “We’ll do whatever we can to get there. We have a number of parties so I don’t speak for anybody else.”

It’s hard to say who’s to blame for this kind of on-the-scenes information-free reporting — the journalists involved no doubt figure it’s what their editors want, editors figure it’s what readers want, and readers probably click on it eagerly, even if there’s no metric in Google Analytics for “disappointment at finding nothing of interest after clicking on a promising headline.” (Man, can you imagine if there was? BuzzFeed would go out of business overnight.) But it has to stop, because, well, it’s hurting America.

What else could Milwaukee’s assembled journalistic corps be doing instead of chasing elected officials around for non-quotes, you ask? Well, they could be analyzing the likely funding options left on the table, like Milwaukee Magazine did the other day. Or read Gov. Scott Walker’s actual arena proposal to find that if the Bucks owners were to break their lease, they’d have to repay the state’s costs, but not the city’s or county’s, as reported by Urban Milwaukee’s Bruce Murphy yesterday. Or, really, pretty much anything that requires actually researching facts and reporting them to readers, rather than just being a quote-harvesting service for people with fancy titles.

Not that the daily journalists never do this — they do, every once in a while. But it’s way too infrequent an occurrence, especially when they have yards of column inches (or column pixels) to fill each month. There’s an incredible story unfolding in Milwaukee right now, about how two rich guys bought the local NBA team and are, with the help of a move threat deadline set by the league, trying to extract $250 million in public money to replace a 27-year-old arena from a state that may soon have trouble paying for its schools and highways. Instead, we get this:

“We understand the importance of it. We understand the impact on the state of Wisconsin, on the community here, on the region here, and I understand that all of us have an obligation to our taxpayers. So, it’s very much a work in progress, but I’m glad that we’re working.”

Is it any wonder that people think this stuff can be done equally well by robots?

Wisconsin officials meet to talk Bucks arena, fun time is had by all

Representatives of the Milwaukee Bucks, aides to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, top state legislative leaders, and Milwaukee city and county leaders all got together yesterday to talk about how the heck to pay for a new $500 million arena that none of them actually want to pay for, and … well, it was a closed-door meeting, so nobody knows what was discussed. But according to all who were there, they had a great old time filling out the forms and playing with the pencils:

“It was a good give and take,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said. “We’re pleased.”…

Barrett, [Milwaukee County Executive Chris] Abele, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Bucks President Peter Feigin all described Wednesday’s talks as positive. …

“I look for as many ways to get to yes and rule out as few options as possible,” Abele told reporters after the meeting. “I want all the parties to be as happy as they can be. I want to get the Bucks here. And as everybody said, we want to be responsible to the tax dollars.”

“I think everyone in that room is operating in good faith,” Barrett said. “They all recognize that we have a responsibility to the taxpayers…and we all share the same goal, which is to make sure that we have the Bucks stay.”

Reading between the lines, then, everyone agreed that funding a Bucks arena was why they were in the room together, and managed not to accuse each other of promoting gun violence or anything. And will meet again today to see if anyone actually has any bright ideas for how to pay for the Bucks owners’ new toy. Whether you take that as a sign of progress or of back-room collusion probably depends on how happy you would be to see them adopt some Rube Goldberg financing device that would spend now, figure out how to pay for it later, because that sure seems like where this thing is headed.

Orlando mayor says soccer stadium approved two years ago won’t happen unless state kicks in $30m more

Back when the city of Orlando and Orange County approved $40 million in subsidies for Orlando City S.C. in 2013, it was supposed to be enough to cover the cost of an $85 million soccer stadium, with plans to add more bells and whistles — more luxury seating, a second “executive club,” and more advertising boards — if $30 million in additional state tax breaks came through. Now, though, with site prep for the stadium still in the early stages, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer is suddenly saying the state sales tax rebate is “integral” to the project, and without it … something. Something bad.

You can’t really blame Dyer, since it’s not his money that’s at stake here — I mean, it is his citizens’ money, since they’re Florida taxpayers, but it doesn’t come out of his budget — so it makes sense for him to pull out all the stops to lean on the state legislature to approve the cash. One would hope that state legislators would instead look at the facts that past state sports subsidies have only returned 30 cents on the dollar and that the Orlando project is only promising to create 60 jobs and politely decline Dyer’s demands, but this is Florida, so probably not.

Oakland stadium honcho gets mad at NFL for Raiders move threats, must be new at this game

On Tuesday, NFL VP for stadium extortion Eric Grubman called in to an L.A. radio show and talked smack about Oakland’s stadium plans for the Raiders, because that’s what he does. In particular, Grubman said that over the past three years, “I visited with public officials, and I feel like we’ve gone backwards. So I feel like we’ve lost years and gone backwards. And that usually doesn’t bode well.”

Floyd Kephart, the financier trying to put together an Oakland stadium deal, however, apparently failed to read Grubman’s resume, and so yesterday freaked the hell out at the NFL capo:

“Every time he comes, there is a backward step,” Kephart said of NFL Executive Vice President Eric Grubman, who was in Oakland last week. “And if he would just stay the hell out of here, we might actually get a deal done.”…

Kephart peppered his remarks before the Airport Area Business Association with one-liners Wednesday but said afterward that he took umbrage with Grubman’s tone at last week’s meeting. “You don’t come to a city and threaten it with ‘I’m going to take your team away. We’ll move to Carson if you guys don’t do something,'” he said.

Floyd, Floyd, Floyd. When you’re the NFL, that’s exactly what you do. It’s not something you need to take umbrage over, it’s something to shake your head sadly at, and try to defuse by talking about all the great progress you’re making, blah blah blah. Sure, I guess that can be tough when you’re not really making much progress, but then just point out how the folks in Carson don’t know how they’re going to pay for their stadium, either. But resorting to petty name-calling is … way more entertaining, actually, so by all means, keep it up!

Carson council approves NFL stadium rezoning without public vote, because it can

Yeah, the Carson city council went and done did it:

A local City Council on Tuesday night unanimously voted to clear the path for a proposed $1.7 billion stadium near Los Angeles that could become the shared home to the NFL’s San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders…

Council members could have opted to put the issue before Carson voters, but instead chose to approve it outright themselves as state law allows.

As covered here yesterday, most of the project details still fall into the “reply hazy, ask again later” category; what the Carson council approved yesterday was the ballot language approved earlier in a petition drive, which voters now won’tget to  vote on because the council did it on their behalf. From the looks of it — it’s 309 pages, which makes you wonder how many petitioners actually read the whole thing, let alone city council members — it mostly approves a bunch of rezoning of land targeted for the stadium, plus some “stadiums are cool” language to make clear the intent of the initiative. Everything else will get worked out later, though it’s been promised that the city will only be on the hook for police and traffic costs, which the teams (the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, under the current plan) would reimburse them for.

There is one cost that isn’t being mentioned, and that’s foregone property taxes: Under the plan, the entire 157-acre site that would be home to the stadium — and parking, and presumably some other development, since a stadium don’t need no 157 acres — would be transferred to a public authority, which pretty much always means exempting it from property taxes. As we’ve seen before, property tax exemptions can add up to a whole lot of money, so it’s worth asking questions about how much this would amount to for Carson — in fact, that would have been a good question to ask before voting to move ahead with this deal, but meh, there’s always time to figure stuff out later, right?

Bucks exec debates self on arena deadline in poet-journalist’s latest tour de force

Aw, man. Here Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sportswriter/poet Don Walker had gone and written the long-awaited sequel to his epic work consisting solely of quotes from Milwaukee Bucks president Peter Feigin; the new one was all about how Feigin had declared that a new arena plan would have to be finalized in the next ten days, or else. And while it may not have had the stylistic purity of the original’s incessant repetition of the phrase “Feigin said,” it was still a worthy successor, outlining the team exec’s ultimatum without once asking anyone else if it was for real.

But now it’s gone, flushed down the internet’s memory hole, not even a ghost surviving on the Wayback Machine. And the culprit is none other than Feigin himself, who ruined everything by turning around and insisting that there is no deadline, and there never was a deadline:

Late in the afternoon — and three hours after his comments were posted online — Feigin released a statement from the Bucks that attempted to backtrack.

“There is no immediate deadline for a financing plan and we’re not creating one,” it said. “We’re simply hopeful that progress continues with our partners and throughout the legislative and political process.”

Bucks’ spokesman Jake Suski said Feigin misspoke. He said Feigin didn’t want to leave the impression that the Bucks were imposing their own deadline. “That wasn’t his intent,” Suski said.

Earlier, however, the Bucks president had been quite clear, saying if an arena financing deal doesn’t get completed, “the Bucks will be gone from the state of Wisconsin.”

The resulting revised article still only quotes Feigin (and Suski), but the magic is gone. Though come to think of it, maybe what Walker and Feigin are doing here is trying to elevate stenography journalism by subverting it: In the future, newspapers will just reprint what powerful people say without question, but the powerful people will make up for it by debating themselves on the topic. It’s a whole new paradigm of checks and balances, and you’re reading it first in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Might as well try something, because journalism sure isn’t going to save itself.

Detroit council gives up and lets Red Wings owner have his arena rezoning without job commitments

Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch finally got his rezoning approval from the Detroit city council last night, and it didn’t require a community benefits agreement for local hiring or promising to save two historic buildings or any of that. Instead all that will be worked out later, without the council holding its best leverage, because surely that’s a good plan.

Ilitch celebrated the ruling by tearing down a popular sports bar that stands in the way of his planned arena. (No, not with his bare hands, but if it’s more fun to picture it that way, go for it.)

Connecticut considering tax breaks to help lure minor-league team from Connecticut to Connecticut

It’s been a while since we checked in on the new $56 million stadium that Hartford is helping to build for the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats, who will become the Hartford Yard Goats. (It’s a train thing. Also, goats are cool now.) Apparently the latest is that in addition to the city paying the team to play in the stadium, it would also agree to exempt the team from the state’s 10% admission tax on tickets. [EDIT: Or more accurately, to kick back the admission tax to the city, which would use it to help make its payments to the team to help fund the stadium. So it would be shifting part of the existing subsidy cost from the city to the state, not on top of it.]

This is a gift that some other Connecticut venues have been able to extract from the state legislature, so on the one hand you can see why the Yard Goats (and the Bridgeport Bluefish, who are also seeking to get out of paying the admissions tax) would be going for this. On the other hand: Why on earth should the legislature of the state of Connecticut want to help a team move from one part of the state to another? Especially when the team is already moving, so this would simply be a gift to plump up the Yard Goat owners’ bottom line? (Don’t for a moment think that a lower ticket tax would make tickets cheaper for fans. Owners may not be rocket scientists, but they know how to charge 10% more in face value if a 10% tax goes away.) Why, I ask?

[State senator John] Fonfara said it was not unusual for the state to help businesses from moving out of state and instead move from one city to another. He cited the Diageo liquor producer moving from Stamford to Norwalk, Oakleaf Waste Management moving from East Hartford to Windsor, and the ING Financial Services moving from Hartford to Windsor.

And there you have it: States are now in the business of helping steal businesses from one city to move them to another, because if they don’t do so, some other state will do it first! Hey, Congress: Art Rolnick is still waiting.

Pulitzer-winning newspaper asks if Rays fans are staying home out of anger that owner can’t break lease

The Tampa Bay Rays are terrible, and the New York Yankees shortstop is Didi Gregorius, so you might expect that attendance for a Rays-Yankees matchup in April might be lower than usual. Or, if you work for the Tampa Bay Times, you can use it as an excuse to write an article titled “Smaller crowds against Yankees at Trop: Are fans tiring of stadium stalemate?” that features lines like these:

But, still, the crowds for the Yankees games were small. Does the stalemate between the city and the team have anything to do with it?

“It certainly may, but I don’t think there is any way to find out,” said council member Bill Dudley.

Now, there are two ways we could approach this. We could look at attendance in past years that the Rays were lousy when there was no stadium controversy, and see that they’re actually drawing better than in the bad old Devil Rays days (though this year’s average is admittedly goosed a bit by having one of their seven home games be opening day). Or we could just try to picture a Tampa Bay baseball fan thinking, “Hey, the Yankees are in town. Could be a good night for a ballgame — but damn, I sure am tired of the city council not letting the Rays owner break his lease and try to get a new stadium built somewhere else. Why, it’s a veritable stalemate! Stalemates are like ties, and ties are for soccer. Hey, I wonder if there’s any soccer on TV? Do I even like soccer? Where did I leave the remote?”

The Tampa Bay Times, interestingly, filed this not under “sports” but “human interest,” presumably because they don’t have a category tag for “clickbait.” Give them another few months, they’ll get with the program.