Friday roundup: OKC Thunder want their subsidies sooner, Indy Eleven want theirs later, let me repeat back your orders to make sure I have it right

I’ve already thanked everyone individually, but I’d like to give a collective shoutout to all the readers who signed up as FoS Supporters this membership cycle. The money you send translates directly into time I can spend covering stadium and arena news for you, and I remain extremely heartened by your support. If you sent me your mailing address, your magnets should be en route; if you didn’t, send me your mailing address already, these magnets aren’t going to ship themselves!

And speaking of covering stadium and arena news, let’s cover some stadium and arena news, why don’t we:

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Could an indy league revive Hagerstown’s stadium after MLB consigned the Suns to oblivion?

Reporting on plans for what to do with stadiums in the 18 cities that were completely jettisoned from minor-league baseball (separate from the 25 additional cities that are having their paid players replaced by college interns) has been sadly lacking since last months’ hit list announcement, likely because most news media in 2021 has the attention span of a gnat and the budget of one as well. But yesterday there was some news from Hagerstown, where the Suns have been dematerialized after 40 years, leaving behind a stadium that has hosted pro ball on and off since 1930, with several renovations along the way.

The Hagerstown city council held a work session on Tuesday to explore the options, and they are, in order of appearance in the Herald-Mail, the newspaper of the Maryland-Pennsylvania-West Virginia conjunction:

  • Host some “cost-neutral local events, such as high school baseball games” or concerts.
  • Build an indoor turf facility there (likely looking something like this), so locals don’t have to travel elsewhere for sports like youth soccer.
  • Bring in a baseball team in an independent league, two of which have contacted city officials already about using its existing stadium.

All these are reasonable ideas, as is surveying local residents about their preference before moving ahead with any of them. Mayor Emily Keller said that she doesn’t want to cost local residents more money, which also sounds good; there’s also the issue of who would staff games or concerts, since the city doesn’t have staff available. (Hopefully event organizers could either bring their own staff or pay enough of a fee for the city to hire some workers.)

The indy-league baseball option is especially interesting, not so much because it’s necessarily the best one, but because there’s been so much speculation that running unaffiliated minor-league teams wouldn’t be sustainable; one exec of an eliminated minor-league team told me his organization’s research showed it would take a guaranteed 3,000 tickets sold per game just to break even. If two independent leagues are at least sniffing around — the Atlantic League has to be one, thanks to its geography and the fact that it only has six teams currently including the newly created Gastonia Honey Hunters — that’s a good sign that maybe indy leagues will fill some of the vacuum left by the contraction of the affiliated minors.

All this would be significantly easier if North American baseball ran more like European soccer, with promotion and relegation, so that Hagerstown could just find some local willing to sponsor a semi-pro team and then watch it try to win its way back up to the professional ranks. That still wouldn’t be perfect, though — somebody has to buy enough tickets to pay the ticket takers and pay for turning the lights on — so if indy leagues can fill a similar role, that’s better than nothing. It will be very interesting to see how this unfolds as the season approaches, depending on when and if coronavirus levels decline enough for that to even happen.

 

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Jacksonville kills $200m Jaguars Lot J subsidy, Khan says he’ll ask for money for some other project instead

So! Last Thursday the Jacksonville city council’s committee of the whole voted 15-4 in favor of granting more than $200 million in subsidies to Jaguars owner Shad Khan for his Lot J development project, making it a fait accompli that the plan would get the needed 13 votes for approval when the full council (the exact same people as the committee of the whole) voted on it last night. And then this happened:

The Jacksonville City Council on Tuesday rejected a $233 million development deal with Jaguars owner Shad Khan to build his proposed Lot J development next to TIAA Bank Field, as the deal was unable to overcome a barrage of criticism that it required too much of taxpayers and offered too little in return

Supporters of the bill defeated an attempt made Tuesday by Council President Tommy Hazouri to strip a controversial $65.5 million interest free “breadbox” loan from the deal, which Khan’s development team said was a necessary condition for them to build the development.

However, their efforts were a pyrrhic victory. Without the removal of the loan, the deal lost supporters and died in a 12-7 vote, one shy of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.

Wha’ happened? In last night’s vote, councilmembers Randy DeFoor, Garrett Dennis, and Joyce Morgan switched sides to join Al Ferraro, Matt Carlucci, Danny Becton, and Tommy Hazouri in opposing the deal. Media reports aren’t entirely clear on what caused the defections — the Jacksonville Daily Record cited concerns about “an expected low return on investment for the city, lack of hard construction costs and a financial viability gap analysis being withheld by Cordish and what the public perceived as a lack of transparency in the deal,” but all that was as true last week as this one. (A financial analysis of the deal by the city auditor way back in November projected that the city would only get back 44 cents in revenue for each dollar it spent on subsidies.) It surely didn’t help when Dennis and Mayor Lenny Curry had a Twitter war last week accusing each other of cheating on their wives, but that still doesn’t quite explain why all three members voted one way last week and the other way yesterday.

Anyway, since the council still approved more than $155 million in Lot J subsidies (the $65.5 million interest-free loan would have only been worth maybe $30-40 million in value to Khan), what normally happens next is that the team will go back to the drawing board to see if it can rework the deal, maybe splitting the difference to, wait, what’s that now?

“We’ve pulled the plug on Lot J. It’s dead, but it doesn’t change the way we started this,” [Jaguars president Mark] Lamping said…

Lamping said Khan now will shift his focus to negotiation with the Downtown Investment Authority for his proposed Four Seasons hotel and medical, residential and retail development on the St. Johns riverfront at Metropolitan Park and the Shipyards.

There are a couple of things that could be going on here. The first, and less likely, one is that Khan is trying to grease the skids for a move out of Jacksonville by making a series of crazy demands and then throwing up his hands when the council rejects them, saying, hey, I tried. Or, the Lot J scheme was genuinely such a money-loser that Khan really only was into it if he could get a huge pile of city cash to do so; and now that the city has only offered a chintzy $155 million, he’ll move on to his next project and see if that raises less of a stink with the council. (And/or helps him revive interest in his Shipyards plan, which was fading as of last summer.) And, of course, the as-yet-unspecified amount of money he’s seeking for renovations to his stadium, which was just renovated in 2014 and again in 2017. Shad Khan is determined to have his publicly supported payday someday, somewhere, it’s just a matter of figuring out where to squeak his wheel.

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Worcester stadium hits $157m, is now the most expensive minor-league park of all time

The city of Worcester issued an update on Friday (actually dated tomorrow, but whatever) on its new Red Sox Triple-A stadium, which is full of small-type charts and lists and generally pretty dry. But Grant Welker of the Worcester Business Journal got out his abacus and went to work on the numbers, and was able to report this:

The cost of building Polar Park, the new home of the minor league Worcester Red Sox, has risen to $157 million, Worcester officials said Friday afternoon, reflecting cost increases stemming largely from the coronavirus pandemic.

With the increase, the public facility will become the most expensive minor league baseball stadium ever built, surpassing the inflation adjusted $153-million home of the Las Vegas Aviators.

May I be the first to say: Yikes!

The WooSox owners are paying for the latest $17.3 million in cost overruns, so at least this won’t cost Worcester more than the $100 million or so in subsidies that were approved back in 2018. Still, how on earth did this project’s costs balloon so rapidly?

The last time the stadium ran into overruns, it was $30 million in added costs that, according to Welker, mostly stemmed from “unexpected costs borne by the city for obtaining adjacent parcels, moving businesses and knocking down buildings to make way for the ballpark.” (Also because Worcester officials forgot how hills work. Let us never forget that.) This time it’s undefined pandemic-related costs: Some this appears to be “we had to stop work for seven weeks and still need to finish by spring 2021 (assuming there’s baseball in spring 2021)” and some of it something about supply chains mumble mumble, but still, $17.3 million seems like a lot for that.

The WooSox also have agreed to a lease, which is good because nobody remembered to do that before approving the subsidies and starting construction; I haven’t read through it fully yet, but it looks unremarkable. And the update also includes a whole bunch of new renderings, so let’s enjoy some of those now:

That’s unremarkable enough, though it’s amusing that some ad sponsors have been specified (Shaw’s grocery store) while others still just say “SPONSOR.” (Where the first-base coaching box should be. I’m not sure that’s allowable under baseball rules.) Also the team logo appears to be a smiley face with arms and legs. And Red Sox two-time All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts appears to have been demoted to the minors, or maybe is there on a rehab assignment. Otherwise, nothing too alarming.

Now it’s getting alarming. Why are there giant statues of Red Sox championship rings, and what does that small child and his mom find so fascinating about them? Other than that, looks like a pleasant enough plaza, though I’m not sure it’s advisable for the couple at the far right to walk through it barefoot.

What the hell? As a parent, I know something about what kids want in a baseball-themed playground, and it would either be 1) a miniature ballpark where you can play wiffle ball or 2) a big-ass slide. Baseball-themed boulders and a basepath covered in giant golf tees seem like odd design choices, and that’s even before we get to the smiley-face mascot (which must be inhabited by either a person with an abnormally short torso or with no head) playing keepaway with a baseball bat with a small child. We are well on our way to Boschian hellscape here.

This image, of a grassy hill outside the ballpark called Home Plate Hill because it’s kind of adjacent to the home plate grandstand, I guess, is unremarkable except for the woman at left who appears to be taking a photo of her dog using a large cinnamon roll as a camera.

Big Blue Bug Solutions is, as you might expect, a pest control service. It has apparently contracted to show off its solutions for pest removal by sponsoring an area where a select few fans can enjoy close-up views of the game without any protective netting, the better to be squashed like bugs by any foul balls.

Okay, it turns out Xander Bogaerts hasn’t been demoted — or rather, he’s been demoted to an unearthly realm where various Red Sox players of the last 50 years are all consigned to play out their declining years in a minor-league ballpark. Also Jim Rice has to play first base which he never once did in real life, even though Carl Yastrzemski, who did play lots of first base, could easily be moved there from Rice’s preferred position of left field. Clearly whoever constructed this image really has it in for Jim Rice — look, he’s even batting 9th, while the unheralded Jarrod Saltalamacchia bats cleanup — which is fair, Jim Rice was one of the most overrated players in baseball history.

Finally, we have the Ecotarium, Museum of Science and Nature, which seems to consist entirely of an exhibit on pitch speed, which you would think would at least include a radar gun and a place where kids could try out their feeble throwing arms and learn something about how radar works or something. But no! It’s just a cardboard cutout of a kid throwing a ball, at a distance of maybe ten feet from a photograph of a catcher. I’m almost willing to believe that this is supposed to be a real kid but the colorist screwed up, but if so why is he being forced to deliver his pitch over a counter? And won’t errant throws grievously injure those two older kids nearby admiring the ceiling? Oh wait, I get it — the science here is medical science, and kids will be able to see it in action up close and personal when EMTs have to rush to the aid of someone who’s just been concussed by a baseball delivered to their noggin at close range! I take it back, these people totally know what will entertain a small child — can’t wait to make my first visit!

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Friday roundup: Jacksonville doubles down on $200m+ Jaguars subsidy, MSG replacement vaportectured, Norfolk arena sabers rattled

So, yeah, some stuff happened this week, and is continuing to happen now. But let’s not let rampaging Viking cosplayers distract us from the fact that the new year has also brought a resurgence in sports subsidy activity, with a whole lot of news that normally I might write individual posts about if I hadn’t been up too late refreshing Google News, so instead you’ll have to bear with me through some long bullet points:

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Jacksonville councilmember: We can’t demand Jaguars lease extension for Lot J approval, or how will they hold us up for more subsidies later?

NOPE NOT MUCH NEWS TO REPORT YESTERDAY, NUH UH

Let’s take a break from trying to make sense of whatever the hell is going on here and instead look forward to the future. Namely, to later today, when the Jacksonville city council gets set to hold its first vote on Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s proposal for a massive development on his team’s stadium’s Lot J. The Lot J plan, you will recall, would require more than $200 million in city cash, interest-free loans, and tax breaks, but never fear! Some council members are proposing amendments!

City Council member Ron Salem said Wednesday he has worked with the Jaguars on an amendment saying that if the team were to leave Jacksonville before 2034 and Khan’s affiliate Gecko Investments sold its stake in the Lot J development, the city would get 50 percent of the proceeds from such a sale.

Salem said the amendment responds to concerns he’s heard that the Lot J deal should come with an extension of the Jaguars lease for TIAA Bank Field, which currently runs through 2030.

Ummmm, that doesn’t actually respond to those concerns at all, does it? The team could still leave Jacksonville, and so long as Khan held on to his stake in the development, the city would be squat out of luck. Not to mention that it would only cover an additional four years past the end of the existing lease. If the issue is wanting Khan to promise to keep the team in town for longer, why not, you know, make that part of the deal?

He said it’s not realistic to link the lease extension to Lot J because the city and the Jaguars will be talking in the coming years about TIAA Bank Field renovations and the lease extension will be tied to stadium improvements.

I mean. This is really quite something. We’ve seen local elected officials carry water for sports team owners before — lord, have we seen that — but I can’t remember a time previously when one has said, we can’t demand concessions from the local sports baron, because then what will he have left to trade with us when he comes back for more cash? Even if you give Councilmember Salem the benefit of the doubt and think what he really meant was Khan won’t agree to a lease extension now because he’s waiting to use it for Round Two, that’s still pretty remarkable, given that the council is totally within its rights to just sit on its hands and not approve anything until it gets what it wants.

There are other amendments on the table as well:

  • Council president Tommy Hazouri has proposed removing the city’s $65.5 million no-interest loan from the financing plan, which the Florida Times-Union reports “would drop the city’s total commitment to $167.5 million,” though if you look at the numbers the subsidy could still be close to $200 million even without the loan.
  • Hazouri and councilmember Randy DeFoor have proposed an amendment requiring that if the Jaguars leave Jacksonville, Khan would have to pay “liquifidated damages” (no, that’s not a word) of up to $152 million, though that figure would decline over time.
  • Councilmember Rory Diamond is seeking to prevent any city officials involved in the Lot J deal from going to work for Khan or his partners for five years after leaving their city jobs; current “revolving door” laws only prohibit jumping to companies you’ve voted to aid for a span of two years.

Today’s vote is just a committee vote to move the proposal to the floor of the full council, but because it’s the “committee of the whole,” everyone on the council will be voting, so it’ll be a good litmus test of how Tuesday’s final vote will go, if it happens. It’s possible that today’s vote could approve a vote Tuesday but that the one then will fail — Tuesday’s vote, unlike today’s, will require a supermajority of 13 out of 19 councilmembers since it requires a change to the city capital budget in the middle of the budget year. You can watch today’s hearing, starting at 10 am ET, via Zoom using the login information here. If, you know, you don’t have anything better to pay attention to today.

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Hartford hopes spending $100m on new restrooms and coffee bars will make arena profitable (it won’t)

A hearing on Connecticut’s planned $100 million renovation of Hartford’s sports arena has been pushed back to February so that the city can hold more talks with the owner of neighboring retail space, which, whatever, unless you’re really so bored under lockdown that you’ve resorted to watching arena renovation hearings. But the Hartford Courant article on the delay does provide an opportunity to see exactly what the state is planning to spend the money on, and why.

The state already spent $35 million on renovations in 2014 and $18 million more in 2017. Initial plans for a $250 million renovation that would have added new concessions concourses on both the upper and lower levels were rejected because $250 million, and also because hardly anybody ever sits in the upper level what with the arena mostly only hosting minor-league hockey and the occasional college basketball game. So instead the state is focusing on redoing just the lower level concourse:

The renovation will include industry standards restrooms, concessions, premium seating and other systems for the average 12,000 seats that events typically draw rather than the arena’s full 16,000-seat capacity.

The premium seating includes bunker suites at center court, a club with seating for 100 or more — both on floor level close to the action. More loge seating would be added elsewhere in the arena.

State officials hope the renovation will increase revenue with more premium seating and amenities; push the venue to make a profit, which it traditionally has not done; and reduce expenses, eliminating costly repairs to outdated equipment for which parts are difficult to find.

So, some math: The arena has previously been reported to be losing about $1 million a year in recent years. Interest rates are low right now, but even if $100 million in renovation bonds can be sold at a low rate like 3%, that’s still going to add $5 million a year in red ink to the arena’s books. So just to get the arena back to break-even, it will take at least $6 million a year in new revenues from the added concessions and luxury seating. I haven’t been able to find current concessions revenue numbers, but this article indicates that premium seating currently only generates $1.4 million a year currently, so this would require Hartford Wolf Pack and UConn basketball fans to be willing to increase their spending a whole lot to be able to sit and go on their laptops while the game plays on a screen somewhere in the background, which seems speculative, to say the least.

About that earlier article, by the way: It’s about a study from last February by everyone’s favorite dysfunctional stadium consultant, Convention Sports & Leisure, which projected that the Hartford arena renovations would indeed increase annual revenues, but would still leave the arena running about a $500,000 annual loss. The study also indicated that the arena is currently running a $2-3 million loss, not the $1 million previously reported, and that the new luxury seating would generate $3.6 million in new gross revenues, and — you know, honestly, trying to do math on CSL reports is hopeless, because they’re just number salad. But “even a consultant who’s paid to make arena renovations seem worthwhile can’t figure out how to make this one look profitable” is a perfectly legit takeaway here, if “people will spend millions of dollars more at the arena if you give them nicer bathrooms and coffee bars” wasn’t doing it for you.

 

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Fort Myers considering spending “hundreds of millions of dollars” to turn one of its four baseball stadiums into a baseball stadium

Hum de dum, what do we have this morning? An article from Fox Southwest Florida headlined “Councilman says stadium plans are rushed,” about a sports complex in Fort Myers? That’s not one that was on my radar, let’s see what it has to say:

Pump the breaks.

Oh man, with an opening like that, this could be great! Let’s see where it goes from there.

Councilman Fred Burson introduced the idea of an amateur sports facility to council on November 16th. It would replace City of Palms Park, where the Red Sox had spring training, which is scheduled to get demolished later this year.

The Boston Red Sox indeed had spring training at City of Palms Park, but not since 2011, when they relocated to a new stadium out by the airport. (City of Palms Park was all of 18 years old at that point.) The old facility has mostly served for college baseball since then; Fort Myers has two other stadiums as well, one that hosts the Minnesota Twins for spring training, one that used to host the Philadelphia Athletics, and so should go without saying it’s a bit old, though it’s also being remodeled and currently heavily used for amateur sports.

Just three weeks later City Manager Saeed Kazemi had already recommended a contractor for the project. A process that could take six months. Burson says he thinks it’s all because the city manager doesn’t want a stadium there at all.

Er? No further explanation of why the city manager recommending a contractor would be a move to scuttle stadium plans, unless maybe Kazemi is trying to push for some alternate development plan that could be moved ahead with more quickly? Anyway, Burson said this, so just put it on the station website, that’s how journalism works, I’m almost definitely sure!

Burson wants the facility because he says it’ll bring more revenue to downtown Fort Myers.

“I’m wanting to make it something that will support the businesses, and the hotel industry in Fort Myers, and Lee County,” he said.

You may recall from past economic studies that spring training games themselves provide no measurable economic impact to Florida cities, likely because the number of people who travel to Florida in March just to see spring training is swamped by the number of people who go there because it’s warm and there are beaches, and maybe take in a baseball game while they’re there. It’s maybe possible that amateur sports, which can take place all year, would have more of an economic spinoff … for hotels? Would that many people really travel to Fort Myers just to have their kids play in amateur baseball tournaments? And that many more than would come for tournaments that could be held at the existing four stadiums? A previous article indicated that Burson said that “during the summer, Perfect Game, an amateur baseball organization, hosted tournaments that brought about 32,000 people to the region,” which even if you believe that number seems like maybe they don’t need a new sports complex to draw tournaments, but anyway:

Another hesitation for some – the cost, which Burson says ultimately could have a price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“I’m not talking about the city spending money to do it. I’m talking about coming up with a plan – a complete plan, and selling it to a development company,” he said.

Hundreds of millions of dollars. For an amateur sports complex. In a city with four baseball stadiums already. But don’t worry, a development company will surely pay for this, because it’s a can’t-lose proposition!

Councilman Johnny Streets said he supports the stadium, but the timing is off.

“Before we just rush into something, I think we need to take care of some of these other items,” he said.

Streets says the stadium should take a backseat to the pandemic and the city’s housing crisis for now. The city manager has not responded to Fox 4’s requests for comment on these claims as of Monday night.

And that’s the end of the article! Does Streets have any idea how to pay for the complex, if he supports it, just not now? Have any development companies expressed interest? Are there any other ideas for ways to use the old ballpark land, even if maybe they won’t bring throngs of high school travel teams and their families beyond the throngs that are already coming to Fort Myers?

So many questions, so few answers, because if Fox Southwest Florida doesn’t have time for copy editing, it really doesn’t have time for making more than two phone calls before writing an article about a project that would put hundreds of millions of dollars at stake. Sorry, three phone calls, there’s that one to the city manager that wasn’t returned. More news on this developing story as it becomes available, though given the state of reporting in southwest Florida, I wouldn’t exactly hold your breath.

 

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Thursday roundup: Teams top off 2020 with added public stadium cash, look forward to more of the same in 2021

Welcome to the long-awaited season finale of 2020! What plot twists do you think they have in store for us? I was going to guess some musical numbers, but we already got that earlier in the season, so it’s really anybody’s guess.

One thing never changes year after year, though, even a year filled with unprecedented deaths and huge hits to local government balance sheets, and that’s rich people who own sports teams trying to get public officials to sign large checks to them. How successful were they this week? Let us count the ways:

  • The state of Ohio officially approved $16 million for F.C. Cincinnati‘s new stadium and a $25 million loan to the Columbus Crew for their new stadium, bringing the total public subsidies for those two projects to $97 million and … a loan at 3% interest isn’t actually a significant benefit to the Crew, so that’s probably still around the $98 million it was at before. Both are well short of D.C. United‘s MLS record $183 million in subsidies, but still Ohio taxpayers are looking at some real money here. And don’t forget the Crew owners are still maybe looking for additional tax breaks, so there could be more public costs to come in stoppage time!
  • Elsewhere in MLS, the New York Red Bulls owners may be looking to build a new training facility just seven years after opening their old one (and just expanding it in 2017), either because they need more room or because other teams have glitzier practice fields now, depending on which part of the SB Nation post you want to believe. Team execs have hinted they may be looking at Kearny, the next New Jersey town over from their home stadium in Harrison, but no details yet on where the training center might go or how it would be paid for.
  • Once indoor concerts are a thing again, there could be a short-term boom for venues like Nassau Coliseum that were otherwise having trouble booking shows, notes Newsday, since everybody is going to want to tour at once and everybody can’t play Madison Square Garden at once. The less good news is that this might not take place until 2022; in the meantime, I’m still very eager to see who’s going to get to play on New York City streets this spring and summer, because man oh man do I miss live music.
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is allowing the Buffalo Bills to have limited attendance at their home playoff game, and local restaurateurs are griping that they can’t have indoor dining at the same time, even though indoors and outdoors are two different places with two different viral infection rates. (The article also mentions that less than 2% of new infections can be traced to restaurants and bars, apparently based on this spreadsheet released by Cuomo, but since the governor’s office hasn’t revealed whether that’s the percentage of all new infections or just those that can be contact traced — it’s way easier to tell if someone is living with someone who has Covid than if they sat near someone at a restaurant — major grains of salt apply here.)
  • Hawaii is still set to spend $350 million on building a new Aloha Bowl after the old one was condemned. No, I don’t know why Hawaii needs a $350 million football stadium either.
  • Most pro sports teams that applied for Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans back in the spring withdrew their requests when they realized how bad it looked for them to be scarfing up all the money that was meant to keep small businesses afloat, but that’s not the case with the Pittsburgh Penguins owners, who kept their $4.8 million in PPP loan money and say they needed it to pay their arena rent. On the one hand, the rest of the NHL somehow managed to pay rent (where teams are paying any rent) without the need for a government bailout; on the other, most of the PPP money went to places like giant restaurant chains anyway, so if the Penguins are just taking money out of the mouths of TGI Friday’s owners, I guess whatever.
  • The Metro Millers, an indie-league baseball team set to start play in 2022 in the Minneapolis suburb of Shakopee, have hit a couple of roadblocks on their planned $36 million stadium, namely that private investment is “on hold” thanks to the pandemic and crowdfunding only brought in $7,000 of the team’s $600,000 goal. But they’re still planning on opening in 2022, or maybe 2023, or whenever the money materializes. “It needs a lot of work, at least from the funding aspect of it,” Shakopee Mayor Bill Mars said back when the project was first announced in 2019, with a projected opening date of 2021. “It will be interesting to see how they progress over the next six months to a year as far as funding.” Not going too well! Paying for stadiums is hard when you need to do it out of actual venue revenues instead of finding some other sucker to stick with the tab.
  • The Las Vegas Review-Journal has ranked potential NBA expansion cities, mostly to assert that Vegas should be co-frontrunners with Seattle, the end.
  • There was an article earlier this week on how the Jacksonville Jaguars getting the first pick in next year’s NFL draft and the right to take quarterback Trevor Lawrence “could impact NFL and London to tune of hundreds of millions of dollars,” which really didn’t make much sense — something about how having a marquee player could give Jags owner Shad Khan more leverage to get stadium money from Jacksonville or move elsewhere, somehow. Instead let’s focus on how the New York Jets somehow fumbled away their near lock on the #1 draft pick by winning two games in a row, because #LOLJets is always fun even for someone like me who doesn’t watch football and thinks it should probably be replaced entirely by video games.
  • The city of Cleveland is tearing down two warehouses new the Browns‘ stadium so the team can have more room for hosting fans at the the 2021 draft in April, even though it’s pretty unlikely that large numbers of fans will be allowed to gather in one place, even outdoors, by April. The city says it’s only keeping “attic stock” in the warehouses, so those can be relocated at a cost of just — whoops, article is over, no time for that detail, sorry!
  • New San Diego mayor Todd Gloria told a radio show that he’d like to see a new arena built in his city, and you can listen to his interview at that link if you want, but meanwhile I’m transfixed by this arena rendering, which I had missed until now:
    What is happening here? Is there some kind of giant glass wall (fringed with plants, because plants) taking up an entire corner of the arena bowl so that people outside can see the people sitting inside and vice versa? Won’t that make it hard for people inside to see whatever is going on on the court or rink or stage, with all the light pouring in from outside? Why is there a streak of light in the foreground that passes right in front of (or through) all the people on the street? If it’s one of those time-lapse things where cars just look like streaks of light, does that mean all the pedestrians have been frozen in place by some calamity? Maybe this is the surprise that the last day of 2020 holds for us: the end of time itself? If so, go listen to that radio clip now, it may be the last thing you ever do!
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The year in vaportecture: The future is green and attacked by birds and spiders

It’s that time of the season again, when we look back on the year just past and count all the dead stacked up like cordwood and the life we missed out on thanks to — no, no, it’s time to look at silly pictures of sports venues and what underpaid renderers tried to pass off as the future of sports spectating! After a year in which actual sports spectating was largely reduced to robot fans and the occasional small groups of drunk people not wearing masks in states that decided to just say “fuck it, let’s sell some tickets,” what has that done to the visions of sports dancing in designers’ heads? Let’s take a gander:

The Columbus Crew celebrated getting $98 million in stadium subsidies by releasing some fresh vaportecture of what the resulting stadium would look like. It featured strange drink rails and giant soccer balls suspended in midair, fans throwing their hands in the air for no reason (as one does), and one shot of the stadium seemingly under attack by a flock of birds that, I must remind you, some human person put in the image on purpose:

So I didn’t notice this the first time around, but the stippled pattern on the roof of the stadium (which doesn’t seem to be shaped in a way to maximize coverage of the fans beneath, but never mind that just for now) actually looks a lot like a flock of birds, so maybe the real birds have been attracted by decoys? Or maybe part of the plan for the stadium is that actual birds will provide a structural element, in some kind of futuristic melded artificial-natural ecosystem? Maybe the players themselves will be replaced by birds, to save on payroll? So many questions.

Soon after this, ArchDaily, which is one of a seemingly endless number of websites dedicated to the wet dreams of starchitects and the people who for some reason idolize them, just straight-up ran a bunch of unrelated vaportecture images from around the world with no context, then declared this “the future of sports architecture.” A lot of them seemed to involve plants, or stadiums hidden under plants, or pretending to be plants:

Apparently the future is going to be mostly about plants, either because we’ll have learned that plants are key to preventing climate change or because we’ll have killed them all with climate change and will be busy erecting monuments to what they used to look like in the Before Times. (No, not those Before Times, the other Before Times.)

The Kansas City Royals owners haven’t formally demanded a new stadium yet, preferring to let downtown development interests do the dirty work for them. And early in the year, a local architecture firm released images of what they would build in downtown K.C., if only someone gave them a few hundred million dollars to pursue their dream:

That doesn’t look like much of anything in particular: an inclined donut with a donut-shaped roof sitting atop it, though the trees growing 50 feet up off the ground are a nice touch, lending it that all-important air of greenness without having to specifically address how much extra steel would be needed to support all those root systems. Front and center, though, is the real star of the show, our old friend Cab-Hailing Purse Woman, who had been previously sighted outside Worcester’s new baseball stadium and standing on a blank void in Halifax while athletes played various sports at the same time nearby. (She even brought her friend from Halifax, Taking A Picture Of The Sky In Green Shirt Lady!) Clearly somebody’s focus groups have shown that while people may like to go to sporting events to throw their arms in the air wildly and watch fireworks during the daytime, the real attraction is getting to hail cabs, and seeing that in action creates a subliminal reaction that is guaranteed to separate voters from their money.

A few months later, Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno released renderings of his own new stadium development he’ll be building with the aid of $350 million in discounted land, and look who he invited to the party:

Somebody stuck a (badly deformed) foam #1 finger on her hand, but I would recognize that purse anywhere! Too bad she’s trying to hail a cab, or possibly exult that the Angels are #1 (pro tip: the Angels are not #1) to a bunch of people speeding away from her in a bike lane, but she gets points for trying! (Moreno’s people also included some green roofs, though with all the trees depicted as safely on the ground, this honestly feels like the old future.)

New Mexico United, not to be dissuaded by not knowing where it would build a stadium or how much it would cost or who would pay for it, released images of a soccer venue dominated by a giant Muffler Man robot and what appears to be a giant spider on its roof:

On the inside of these vaporstadiums, meanwhile, things don’t get much less weird. Some people, like in this Nashville S.C. stadium rendering, throw their hands in the air in excitement even though they can’t even seen the match from where they’re standing:

Others, as in this Hartford arena rendering, just go on their laptops and ignore the game entirely, or rather one basketball game and one hockey game, since even the arena’s internal video feed director can’t imagine that many people will be interested in watching the Wolf Pack when there’s a basketball game on somewhere:

And some fans watch a sport that is played by people lovingly depicted by a watercolor artist as 20-foot-tall homunculi:

And then, courtesy of Phoenix Rising F.C., there was, uh, this:

Finally, we have what is hands-down the worst stadium detail of the year, or maybe of all of recorded human history. Once again from that set of Royals stadium renderings:

Yep, it’s a clip-art fan holding up a handmade sign (check how the second line of text doesn’t even line up, they clearly used Letraset) reading “HEY CDC KC HAS THE FEVER.” In the year 2020. Sure, it was January 2020, but even then Covid was enough of a known entity that I cracked a joke about it at the time, so really, WTF? Even if the renderer was just trying to distract us from the fact that the base coaches had been raptured out of existence and taken the protective netting with them, this seems in extremely bad taste — but then, unveiling images of people packed in like sardines enjoying sporting events at stadiums requiring massive infusions of public cash during a pandemic that has put the world’s economy on hold and left millions of people and businesses at risk of eviction or bankruptcy is in extremely bad taste to start with, so maybe this is truly the most 2020 vaportecture image of them all.

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