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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So four years and change ago, I wrote this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, enjoy your vaportecture porn:


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

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

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

Poll finds Calgary residents don’t want to spend public money on Flames arena, are confused by polls

A poll of Calgary residents by Mainstreet Research and the Calgary Herald finds people like new things, but don’t like to pay for them. Also, they will answer lots of contradictory things if a poll asks them contradictory questions.

To the specifics of the poll on the $890 million or maybe really $1.2 billion Flames and Stampeders stadium/arena/floor wax plan:

Do you think the Scotiabank Saddledome, current home of the Calgary Flames & Calgary Roughnecks, needs to be replaced? 32% replaced, 27% renovated, 23% leave as is, 17% not sure.

Do you think McMahon Stadium, current home of the Calgary Stampeders, needs to be replaced? 35% replaced, 32% renovated, 19% leave as is, 14% not sure.

That indicates that a majority (50-32% for the arena, 51-35% for the stadium) of Calgary residents think the existing arenas shouldn’t be replaced. Clear enough, right?

Do you agree or disagree with the following: a proposal to build a new arena, stadium, and field house is good for the city. 30% strongly agree, 25% somewhat agree, 13% somewhat disagree, 18% strongly disagree, 14% neither agree nor disagree.

What the.

Thinking about everything you have seen or heard about Calgary Next, do you support the project or oppose the project? 19% strongly support, 20% somewhat support, 20% somewhat oppose, 14% strongly oppose, 26% neither support nor oppose.

Okay, so people don’t think the existing stadium and arena should be replaced, but do think a new stadium and arena would be good for the city, and aren’t sure whether they support or oppose the project. I guess given the first two, the last one shouldn’t be all that surprising, but that’s a lot of cognitive dissonance there.

What else we got? Oh, right, no one has asked yet about paying for it.

As proposed, funding would come from the following sources. $200 million from the Flames ownership group; $200 million from the city for the municipal field house; $250 million from a ticket tax on users, and the remaining $240 million would come from a community revitalization levy with governments giving up or postponing future tax revenue. Do you support this financing model? 19% yes, 49% no, 33% not sure.

Even taking into account that very large “not sure” (of which I’m sure a large percentage actually represents “Whaaaaaaa? Can you say that again slowly?”), that’s a significant sentiment in opposition to putting up $490 million in public tax money. (Though the way the question is phrased, I suppose it’s possible that some people are upset that the public wouldn’t be putting in more tax money. Possible, but unlikely.)

In your view, how should CalgaryNext be funded? 45% Flames ownership, 40% Flames and government, 15% not sure.

Okay, that seems to indicate that a plurality of poll respondents don’t want any public money used for this.

As polls go, this is a hot mess, and if it indicates anything, indicates that people simultaneously believe everything they are being told about the stadium+arena project. (It’d be good for the city! We don’t need it! We don’t want to pay for it!) Perhaps somebody (*cough cough Calgary Herald*) could be doing a better job of explaining it, so people could come up with some non-contradictory opinions?

Anyway, enough with the public — what does the Calgary city council think of the proposal?

Ward 4 Coun. Sean Chu said he agrees with the 49 per cent of poll respondents who oppose the proposal’s financing model.

“I’m always of the opinion the taxpayers’ dollar should not be supporting any professional sport,” he said.

“From what I’ve heard, people are unanimously saying no tax dollars for this project.”

But Coun. Evan Woolley, who represents the area where the complex would be built, said despite the poll indicating many are opposed to spending public money on the megaproject, it may be exactly what the city needs.

“We have a downturn in the economy and we have an opportunity to build something that will diversify our economy,” he said.

This is going to be a long debate.

Flames CEO says Calgary making it hard on prophets (no, not profits, through radio, so maybe)

Calgary Flames CEO Ken King went on TSN 1050 radio in Toronto yesterday (sorry, don’t know where it’s archived) to talk about his $890 million Frankenstadium plan, and got in some quality whining about how he’s not appreciated enough for being willing to put up half the cost of a project for his own team’s benefit:

“It’s funny, if you get off a plane from New York or London or Paris and said, hey, I’ve got $550 million and I’m kind of interested in your city and I’m kind of interested in doing a project, people would be falling over themselves. Please, please come here. But it seems in sports it’s difficult to be a prophet in your own country.”

I … don’t think that’s actually true that out-of-towners get automatically lavished with property-tax kickbacks and cash from the city treasury and money to clean up polluted sites, at least not any more than in-towners do. But it’s always nice to lead with complaining that no one loves you enough for your money.

And speaking of those property-tax kickbacks — what would be called tax increment financing (TIF) in the U.S., and is a community revitalization levy (CRL) in Canada — King confirmed that these wouldn’t be just taxes on the stadiarena, but on all the development that would theoretically take place around it:

“There will be office towers, condos – just like stuff between Air Canada Centre and Rogers Centre – that will be built. A portion of the taxes from those – a portion – for a period of time will be used to finance the project. By the way, those are taxes that don’t exist if we don’t do this.”

This is the age-old argument for TIFs, and it has a gaping logical hole: If there’s actually demand for office towers and condos, then they’ll be built somewhere in your city, with or without a new sports venue. (Unless you think people will suddenly flock to Calgary to buy condos the minute the Stampeders are playing in a new stadium instead of an old one, which, uh, yeah.) Which means that you end up with the same amount of overall development, but the city suddenly not getting new property tax revenue to pay for all the things that are needed to support an expanding city.

This is exactly what happened with runaway TIFs in Chicago, as discussed this week on the penultimate episode of KUCI’s Heather McCoy Show. (Last episode this Tuesday! Tune in to hear if Heather can top Jon Stewart’s Daily Show farewell!) It’s really nice to think that there could be a perpetual motion machine that could use tax money to pay for things without it costing anybody anything — really nice if you have $550 million in your pocket and want $500 million more from the public, that is — but Calgary might want to check on how well it’s actually worked in practice first, just in case.

St. Paul to vote on giving United tax break, because property taxes on vacant land are magic

Is this Minneapolis vs. St. Paul war over Minnesota United on, or what? The St. Paul city council is expected next week to vote on a resolution asking the state legislature to approve a full property tax exemption for a stadium site in St. Paul, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s words, “so long as the owners build it with their own money.” (This would be totally different from requiring United to pay property taxes like everyone else, but giving them an equal amount of cash for a share of construction costs, because … well, just because, okay?)

Then there’s this pair of sentences from the Strib:

Mayor Chris Coleman has said he would support a tax break for the proposed 10-acre stadium site, since it hasn’t paid property taxes for more than half a century….

Some believe that the city should stick with plans for an urban village on the site that would include housing, commercial space and parkland.

So it’s been vacant for more than half a century, and clearly it will never get developed, except for the plan to develop it that would now be set aside for a stadium. Got it! You said “free money,” that’s all I heard!


Now that Scott Walker has okayed Bucks subsidies, Milwaukee residents get to say they hate them

Scott Walker may have signed the state portion of the Milwaukee Bucks arena funding bill, but the Milwaukee city council still needs to sign off on it too. And unlike the state’s round of discussion, which mostly consisted of lots of top officials gathering behind closed doors, the city seems determined to have more public hearings, which means Milwaukee residents can express how pleased they are that there’s a deal to keep their beloved NBA team in town:

“I can’t even afford to go to a Bucks game,” said Cherri Hampton, who lives near N. 20th St. and W. Capitol Drive, well north of the proposed arena site. “I think my money should go to the Milwaukee Police Department so they can protect my neighborhood.”

“We’re looking to cut education, but we come up with money to buy an arena for millionaires. It doesn’t add up to me as a regular citizen,” said Gilbert Johnson, lives near 30th and Michigan.

Feel the excitement!

Alderperson Milele Coggs told the crowd that the deal is “not done” and “I have not made up my mind”; it’s unlikely that the council will try to make significant changes at this point, regardless of what their constituents say, but unlikely isn’t quite impossible. A final vote is expected on September 22.


Calgary columnists: Flames won’t move without new arena, we need new arena to stop Flames from moving!

The arguments for spending as much as half a billion public loonies on a new Calgary Flames arena are rolling in, and they are, um, creative:

  • Beneath the headline “The economic case for CalgaryNEXT,” the Calgary Herald’s Deborah Yedlin argues that building a combination Flames arena/Stampeders stadium is necessary to keep the “creative class” (read: young professionals) in town. Her entire evidence: one “young lad” who moved back to Calgary “because of the business opportunities that exist here.”
  • Over in the Calgary Sun, columnist Michael Platt skips even the slimmest of economic arguments, and goes right for the heartstrings, with the story of an eight-year-old boy who died in 2012 after a battle with brain cancer, and to whom the Flames meant “happiness.”

The notion that sports teams draw residents who help boost the local economy is a venerable trope by now, but it’s entirely unsupported by evidence: Studies show that cities with sports teams don’t grow any faster than those without. (For that matter, Yedlin’s warning that without sports Calgary would turn into Buffalo is a bit bizarre, given that Buffalo has teams in the exact same two sports — hockey and football — as Calgary does.) And when business leaders in particular are asked why they choose to locate in one city over another, sports teams are way down the list, with such things as good schools and transportation infrastructure at the top — which kind of makes one think that it would be more worthwhile to spend public money on trains and schools instead of stadiums, if anything.

As for the happiness of dead children, Platt indulges in even more bizarre turns of logic. Check this out:

The truly cynical will say the script always ends with the team threatening to move, before public cash is inevitably granted — but in this case, there’s not even a hint of such posturing, and the Flames actually have a plan that offers a lot of public benefit for the public money spent.

That includes the development of the creosote-polluted west end, and a bunch of new sporting facilities for use by the public, plus the likelihood of major concerts and sporting events.

But beyond that, there’s the benefit of having the Flames.

Follow that? The Flames aren’t threatening to leave without a new arena, but let’s stop to consider what it would mean if the Flames left. With friends like these, who needs move threats?

Back in the non-pundit world, Alberta premier Rachel Notley was decidedly unenthused by the Flames’ request for an indeterminate amount of provincial funding to help clean up pollution at the proposed arena-stadium site, saying, “There are many, many capital requests and the well is, quite frankly, only so deep,” though she added that “if we get a request, we will consider it, like we would consider any other request.” That was enough to get Edmonton officials to say that if Calgary gets any provincial money for its arena, they want some too for the already-underway Oilers arena. This seems likely to be a door that Notley is not going to want to open — who knows what Lethbridge and Red Deer would ask for? — but as with everything else here, we’re just going to have to wait and see what’s just posturing and what’s actual policy.

Flames owner proposes $890m hockey-football Frankendome, seeks at least $490m in public cash

Calgary Flames owner CEO Ken King issued his long, long awaited arena plan yesterday, and it’s a doozy: a hockey arena sutured to a football stadium for the CFL’s Stampeders, which would also double as a soccer stadium and “field house” for amateur sports. Total cost: $890 million, of which the public would cover — well, we’ll get to that in a minute. In the meantime, crazy-ass renderings!

calgary_next2A long while back, I started referring to stadium projects with a passel of other things thrown in (mixed-use development! a convention center!) as “kitchen sink projects,” because they include everything including that in an attempt to play hide-the-subsidy in a giant pile of financial paperwork. King’s proposal includes a whopping big kitchen sink in the form of that “fieldhouse,” which allows him to claim that it’s a public benefit, even though the biggest beneficiaries would clearly be the Stampeders, which he just happens to own as well.

As for how the $890 million cost would be paid for, in true kitchen-sink tradition, it’s as confusing as possible:

It’s proposed the $890-million cost would be paid from four sources — a $240-million community revitalization levy, a $250-million ticket tax, $200 million from the city to fund the field house (long a priority on the city’s recreation list) and a $200-million contribution from the Flames’ ownership group.

That “community revitalization levy” would come from kicked-back property taxes, and is effectively the Canadian version of tax increment financing — it’s the same revenue stream the Edmonton Oilers used to raise public money for their arena. Meanwhile, the $200 million for the field house/Stampeders stadium doesn’t appear to have a source attached to it at all, beyond “Hey, you guys said the city needs a field house, you figure out how to pay for it.”

The proposed site for this monstrosity also requires between $50 million and $300 million in cleanup because it was formerly the site of a creosote plant — no, not this kind of plant, this kind — which would be paid for by, um:

King said it will take a group effort to clean up the land and that he wants to get all levels of government involved.

In other words, Not Me.

So that’s somewhere between $490 million and $740 million in public cash, in exchange for which Calgary taxpayers would get to use the football stadium an undetermined number of days a year for an undetermined bunch of sportsy things. King’s announcement came while Mayor Naheed Nenshi was on vacation — what an incredible coincidence! — so it was left to deputy mayor Diane Colley-Urquhart to reply:

“We don’t build great cities by saying, ‘we have no money.’”

Um, you might have wanted to check with your boss before saying that:

Mayor Naheed Nenshi called the proposal “intriguing,” but said challenges exist that must be addressed.

There are very significant requirements for public funding beyond the field house funding, and there is currently no money,” Nenshi, who is on vacation, said in a statement.

Nenshi certainly seemed to leave the door open for discussion, but as he’s also been adamant that he won’t spend public money if there isn’t an equal public benefit — and that $240 million in CRL funding would go straight down a King-sized hole as far as the city is concerned — this still promises to be an epic throwdown. There’s also still lots we don’t know about King’s plan — his snazzy CalgaryNEXT website doesn’t say squat about who would cover maintenance and operations costs, who would get revenues from events like soccer games at the stadium, or all kinds of other important details. Settle down for a long one, because we are almost certainly going to be talking about King’s Frankendome for months if not years to come.