Sacramento to flood downtown with lights and cops so Kings fans aren’t afraid of new arena

With the Sacramento Kings‘ new arena set to open in October, where’s that transformation it’s supposed to create for its downtown neighborhood, according to the standard pro-arena-development line? Part of it is coming, but it’s taxpayers who will be paying for it:

Likely beginning this week, the city will install 104 pedestrian-level streetlamps on dimly lit blocks leading to the arena as well as several parts of midtown. The $1.7 million lighting program will supplement added police patrols, new police cameras and volunteer guides who will work the streets around the arena during events.

The hope is to make newcomers to downtown feel safer, and to encourage more people to stick around at bars and restaurants before and after games when the arena opens this fall.

None of this is bad, per se. But the notion that sports venues automatically make people flock to an area takes a bit of a hit when the story becomes “build it, and then build new streetlights and flood the area with police patrols and cameras, and they will come.” The Sacramento Bee report adds that “the arena building itself has been designed to serve as a beacon, with glass walls allowing interior light to spill onto adjoining walkways and streets,” though that’s not going to do much for pedestrians on the 200+ nights a year where nothing’s going on at the arena.

If there’s another concern, it’s that the Bee reports that most of the arrests downtown currently are for drug possession, so this at least raises the specter of Sacramento police doing sweeps of downtown for unapproved citizens who might freak out the basketball-goers. “Revitalization” is a complex, murky concept, one that’s not always easily captured in a “does it look different than before?” snapshot, as much as boosters and journalists alike sometimes like to pretend it can be.

Economics of pulling NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte overblown, but still power in shame

The NBA finally made it official last night that it was moving next year’s All-Star game out of Charlotte in protest against North Carolina’s law banning both LGBT antidiscrimination laws and people using bathrooms that don’t match their “birth gender,” and this is how the New York Times chose to lead its story:

The National Basketball Association on Thursday dealt a blow to the economy and prestige of North Carolina by pulling next February’s All-Star Game from Charlotte to protest a state law that eliminated anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Prestige? Definitely. If anyone in the nation didn’t already think of North Carolina as “that state where they check your birth certificate before letting you pee,” they sure will now. Economy? Meh.

I’ve covered the myth that big sports events create a massive benefit for local economies at length both here and elsewhere — short version is, yes, having lots of people come to town for a few days generates some more economic activity, but not that much, since 1) a lot of the money goes straight to league pockets without landing in the local economy (leakage) and 2) everyone else steers clear of town those days who would otherwise be there, which cancels out the new visitors (substitution). How much is an All-Star Game actually worth? For the 2014 All-Star Game in Minneapolis, the estimate of new economic activity in the state was $21 million to $55 million; for the 2010 All-Star Game in Dallas, the estimate is zero. (And note that this is total economic activity; for actual tax revenue received, move the decimal point over at least one place.) The numbers might be a bit higher if you just looked at city economic activity rather than state, but “Now that Charlotte won’t have the NBA All-Star Game it won’t be able to cannibalize spending from Raleigh!” isn’t exactly the best rallying cry.

But that’s actually fine — the point of maneuvers like this is less to hit local politicians in the pocketbook than to not allow them to play in any reindeer games. I used to know a lot of people in the international anti-apartheid movement, and they always said that one often overlooked piece of the decades-long struggle to force South Africa to allow blacks basic human rights was the international sports boycott: White South Africans, it turned out, could put up with constant protests and world economic sanctions and even guerrilla attacks better than they could with having their soccer and rugby and cricket teams locked out of those sports’ World Cups. It wasn’t the only factor by a long shot, but it did play a key role in getting F.W. de Klerk and his generation to the negotiating table.

North Carolina isn’t being shut out of competing nationally, of course, it’s just losing an All-Star Game that, frankly, nobody really cares about. It’s still shame, though, and makes me wonder what would happen if, say, the NBA refused to let any of its teams play regular-season games in Charlotte on the same moral grounds. That would be fascinating to see, and while I don’t really believe it’s going to happen, it would certainly be putting the league’s money where its mouth is.

Islanders owners discussing new arena in Queens or LI, all hell about to break loose

So when new New York Islanders owner Jon Ledecky answered questions last week about the team’s future — previously planned to include staying in Brooklyn but playing six games a year in a renovated Nassau Coliseum — by saying “Barclays Center is our home,” I called it “noncommittal,” on the grounds that 1) Ledecky was still pretty gripey about the flaws of the Brooklyn arena and 2) “Barclays Center is our home” could mean either “we would never leave a place with so many important memories made over the last nine months” or “it’s where we live, we have to deal with it until we figure out something better. It sounded like typical owner weasel words, a way to keep your options open without actually saying you wanted to keep your options open.

But even I didn’t expect this, just a week later:

The New York Islanders are in talks with the owners of baseball’s New York Mets about building a hockey arena adjacent to Citi Field in Queens, people with knowledge of the discussions said.

Willets Point is emerging as a persuasive alternative to the team’s current home at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center if the Islanders’s owners and arena officials can’t agree on a series of hockey-specific improvements, said the people, who asked for anonymity because the negotiations are private.

That was from Bloomberg News, but the anonymous sources were soon talking as well to Newsday (which cited “two people familiar with the situation”) and the New York Post (just “sources” — the Post doesn’t get too hung up on attribution). The Post’s article also included this tidbit:

But if that doesn’t work out, Islanders owners Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin could move the team to Elmont, LI, sources said…

A state source confirmed the Islanders have made preliminary inquiries about moving the club to vacant state-owned land near Belmont Park. That is near another parcel being eyed by the Cosmos for a soccer stadium.

With all this, a clearer picture is starting to come into focus. When Ledecky and partner Scott Malkin bought the team from Charles Wang earlier this year, they inherited Wang’s lease on the Barclays Center, which he had agreed to despite the building’s problems for hockey — it was deliberately “value engineered” to be too small for the sport, in order to save on construction costs — because he was sick and tired of fighting with Nassau County officials over a new arena there. They also, however, inherited the opt-out clause that Wang had negotiated to allow the Islanders to break their lease in 2019 — and that’s the kind of leverage that you’d have to be crazy as an owner not to try to use.

So is an arena next to the Mets stadium feasible, and what would it take to build one? The parking lot to the west of Citi Field is already designated for the giant “Willets West” mall, but that’s currently held up in court because the lots are technically still city parkland. Could the Mets try to build an arena instead if the mall is nixed? Would the courts allow that more readily? Who knows?

Then there’s Willets Point proper, to the east of the Mets stadium, a melange of auto repair businesses that the city has been working to seize and evict for years to make way for a mixed housing and commercial development. Could the city agree to incorporate an arena as well? And on either site, would it provide the land for free, and leave it exempt from property taxes, which might be enough to entice the Mets and Isles owners to actually build this thing? And if they did, could it possibly be successful in a metropolitan area already glutted with arenas (Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center, the New Jersey Devils‘ Prudential Center in Newark, plus soon the redone Nassau Coliseum) and only so many concerts to go around?

Of course, Ledecky and Malkin may never have to determine if a Queens (or Elmont) arena project is feasible, if they can use the mere possibility as a hammer to get Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov to redo Barclays for hockey. The Isles owners haven’t come out and said what “improvements” they want, but to make a genuinely NHL-scaled space you’d need to knock down the entire west end of the structure and build it out another 50 feet or so, which wouldn’t be cheap, and would also entail shutting the arena for an offseason or two and losing out on revenue from those dates. So to get it done would require quite a formidable threat, and “we’re going to take our puck and go to Queens” might be the kind of thing that gets the attention of their current landlords.

Either way, though, it looks like we have a war on, one that’s likely to drag out for months or years as the various combatants (Ledecky and Malkin, Prokhorov, the Wilpons, the city, maybe Elmont) jockey for position and remake alliances. That should at least help tide everyone over until the final season of Game of Thrones.

Cubs giving high-priced Wrigley fans own private bar, bathrooms

Speaking of stuff sports teams owners build because they think it’ll help them make more money, the Chicago Cubs ownership has revealed the next renovations to Wrigley Field coming down the pike:

As part of the 1060 Project, an overhaul to the stadium and the area surrounding the venerable ballpark, the Cubs revealed plans for the first of four “premier experiences” Tuesday and launched a priority list for those interested in plopping down a $500 deposit to secure their spot for the right to some exclusive amenities.

The American Airlines 1914 Club is scheduled to open for the 2018 season underneath the club box seating bowl between the home and visiting dugouts.

After the last out of the ’16 season, crews will begin tearing apart the lower bowl behind home plate to build the shell for the club, which will not provide a view of the field but will give fans with tickets in the area a place to go before and during games for upgraded food and beverage options, shelter from the elements and private restrooms. The re-done seating area will be ready for the ’17 season and construction will continue underneath.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is paying for this out of his own pocket, so at least there are no worries about public subsidies going to create what will effectively be an upscale private bar in a baseball stadium. And as far as the Wrigley Field experience goes, the effect should be minimal: The dugouts will be moved a little bit farther down the lines, but probably hardly anyone will notice otherwise.

Mostly, it’s a reminder of what “state-of-the-art” is all about in stadium construction: ways to sell well-off people stuff that can justify sky-high ticket prices. Cubs VP for sales and marketing Colin Faulkner told the Chicago Tribune, “They’re paying up to $350 a ticket in that area and the value that we’re providing them right now is not in line with what they expect.” Apparently what makes people who can afford $350 a ticket feel like the expense is worth it is some marble tabletops to sip their top-shelf liquor at, and not having to go the bathroom next to the hoi polloi. Strange world we live in.

Panthers owner gets giant statue of self, endless Pepsi machines, at least one from public

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson got an $88 million gift from Charlotte city taxpayers in 2013 — after being invited to sit in on closed-door council meetings on the subsidy — to perform upgrades to the stadium that he himself owns. The Panthers just revealed the latest batch of goodies they’re building with the money, and they include:

  • “Four new security posts around the stadium to account for people coming onto the property and to account for people once they are inside the property,” according to Panthers exec Lance Emory.
  • Ninety-five new walkthrough metal detectors.
  • More WiFi access points.
  • Improvements to the top 500 level deck, including digital menu boards and all-you-can-drink Pepsi stations.

None of that is terrible stuff to add, though why it’s the responsibility of the city of Charlotte to add it remains baffling. (In return for the money, Richardson only promised to keep the team in town until 2019, which by one accounting is the third-richest per-year subsidy in NFL history.) If you want terrible stuff to add, you have to turn to this:

According to the Charlotte Observer, the two panthers “represent both offense and defense and North Carolina and South Carolina.” But you’d surely figured that out already.

I can’t find any reporting on how much the statue cost, let alone what money was used to pay for it, but given that it’s described as a birthday present from Richardson’s corporate partners, at best it’s something that they could afford to give him because of the $88 million in city cash that he brought in by hanging out with the city council back in 2013. Maybe those two cats in the statue represent something else as well, which suggests an even better nickname for the thing.

Warriors arena in SF clears legal challenge, may actually get built someday

The seemingly never-ending battle over the Golden State Warriors‘ proposed new arena in San Francisco got at least one resolution yesterday, as San Francisco Superior Court Judge Garrett Wong ruled that the environmental impact statement that the San Francisco city council approved last winter was in fact conducted properly:

In a statement, team President Rick Welts said the ruling “brings us a huge step closer to building a new state-of-the-art sports and entertainment venue, which will add needed vitality to the Mission Bay neighborhood and serve the entire Bay Area extremely well.”

“We look forward to breaking ground soon,” he said…

Osha Meserve, a land-use attorney representing the [Mission Bay Alliance], said she is “disappointed on behalf of our co-plaintiffs and the people of San Francisco.” She said that the judge was under “extreme time pressure to make a ruling.”

This whole business of challenging environmental impact statements in court has become pretty de rigueur these days, especially in California, since it’s just about the only legal hook that opponents have for challenging land use decisions: You can’t overrule the city council on the grounds that a project is dumb or against the will of the people, but you can if you can find that the traffic analysis didn’t take something into account. It doesn’t often work, and in this case it didn’t, but it’s worth a shot.

This still doesn’t completely clear the path for the construction of the new Warriors’ arena — which, as a reminder, will be built entirely with private money and even pay property taxes, because that’s just how much moolah is available from San Francisco big spenders — as opponents could still choose to appeal yesterday’s ruling, and there’s still a separate lawsuit charging that the UC-San Francisco chancellor didn’t have the authority to agree to set up a $10 million traffic mitigation fund to ease problems during Warriors games. At this point, it’s extremely likely that the arena will get built eventually and the Warriors will move across the bay, but I wouldn’t be totally shocked if it didn’t happen by the September 2019 target date, because lawyers.

People love living near stadiums, says paper devoted to saying people love living places

The New York Times real estate section chimes in on stadiums today, which is great news, because it means we can explore the bastion of weirdness that is the New York Times real estate section. First off, let’s hit the checklist: Does the article boast of a hot new neighborhood or neighborhoods that savvy buyers should be aware of? Check!

Once considered neighborhoods to avoid, property around many of Europe’s great soccer stadiums is growing more popular these days, as cities grow more expensive and teams build new facilities. Home buyers are finding bargains near stadiums and developers see opportunities to create new urban communities.

Does it do so by exclusively quoting realtors, developers, and happy residents of these areas? You bet it does: five realtors, one developer, and two residents. Does it describe the featured neighborhoods of having some nebulous trendiness that can’t be measured, only felt? Of course!

“There is a buzz about the place,” Mr. Spooner said. “People come here to have a good time.”

And most of all, does it eventually undermine its own premise with counterevidence, but bury that way at the end of the article so that readers (and the headline writer) can ignore it? You betcha! First it notes that “prices are often lower than in other neighborhoods” (which is noted as an attraction, but is also an indication that living near a stadium isn’t actually seen as that desirable), then the whole premise comes crashing down when the scene shifts to Barcelona and Rome:

Barcelonians are fanatical for Barça, but they are not necessarily eager to live near Camp Nou, the team’s stadium, said Joan Canela, of the Engel & Völkers Barcelona office.

“None of our clients demand to be near the stadium,” he said. The stadium “hurts value, because it is an area that becomes very crowded when there is a match, is complicated to park and the neighbors may have problems to access to their homes,” Mr. Canela said…

Barbara Maravalli, 42, rents a three-bedroom apartment with her husband and two children about half a mile from [Rome’s] Stadio Olimpico. “It played absolutely no role in my choice,” she said. “I wanted to be close to the center and surrounded by green areas.”

On game days there are “crazy” traffic jams in the area, Ms. Maravelli said. Her 20-minute drive to work can take an hour if she does not plan carefully. “I would rather they move the stadium, but I love this area so much that I would keep on staying here,” she said.

Add it all up, and you have: A bunch of realtors trying to sell or rent apartments around some of Europe’s big soccer stadiums say they’re a great deal; as for actual residents, some like being near stadiums, some don’t. That’s not actually a story at all, but in Times Real Estate land, it’s more than enough to warrant a headline like “Stadium Neighborhoods Are Becoming Magnets for Home Seekers,” which who knows, might even help stoke interest in those areas, as a Times R.E. mention has been known to do. It happened to Bushwickit’ll happen to you!

 

Ballmer: Seattle not getting NBA team anytime soon, probably not arena either

Steve Ballmer, who owns the Los Angeles Clippers but is from Seattle and was possibly going to be part of an ownership group for a new team there before buying the Clippers, says don’t hold your breath for Seattle getting an expansion team, at least in the next year or two:

“It’s just not likely to happen,” Ballmer told those attending the conference. “There has been no discussion about expansion since I have been involved with the league. So, I don’t think that will happen. The league has really moved to favor teams staying in their current markets. You’d have to find a team that’s at the end of their (arena) lease, where it looks hard to build an arena and where they’ve tried really hard to build an arena.”

The next year or two is an eyeblink in league expansion time, so that’s really no surprise. Why it’s significant is that the city’s memorandum of understanding with Chris Hansen expires in November 2017, so even if the Seattle council works out its qualms over closing a street to make way for the arena, there may not be an NBA team to build one for, which is required as part of the deal.

Hansen’s best chance of building an arena, said Ballmer, is to find an NHL team to bring to town — something that would take some fast footwork, since Hansen doesn’t have a team owner lined up, and the NHL just announced expansion that didn’t include Seattle, and there’s at least a $100 million funding gap if Hansen brings hockey to town instead of basketball, and also Hansen doesn’t really like hockey. Verdict: mostly dead.

New Islanders owner noncommittal about playing in Brooklyn, Long Island, anywhere

When developer Bruce Ratner signed a deal in 2013 to take over and renovate the Nassau Coliseum, then-home of the New York Islanders, it included an agreement for the Islanders to play six home games in Nassau even after moving to Ratner’s Brooklyn arena in 2015. Ratner doesn’t own Brooklyn’s Barclays Center anymore, though, and the new co-owner of the Islanders, Jon Ledecky, tells Newsday that he’s not 100% sure he wants to go through with playing home games on the Guyland, either:

“I think the key is neither party’s principal [representative] was there when that deal was made,” Ledecky said at a meet-and-greet luncheon with reporters at 21 Club in Manhattan. “In other words, that deal was between Bruce Ratner and Charles Wang at the time and now we’re the owners of the Islanders.”

Besides, Ledecky can’t say enough about how great it is to be in Brooklyn, and is totally not considering jumping back to Nassau County when his lease out clause kicks in starting in 2019, right?

“Obviously we’ll never be able to replicate the home feeling of Nassau Coliseum and I think in the first year people longed for that,” he said. “I know I did. Bluntly, I missed the Coliseum.”

But Ledecky was encouraged by the atmosphere in the playoffs, saying he thought it was even louder than the Coliseum got, and he believes Barclays Center is willing to work with the team to make necessary improvements.

“There were challenges last year,” he said. “I would be lying to you if I said there wasn’t. Does that mean you blow up Barclays Center and leave? No. You try to improve the home you have.”

Yeah, that sounds less like “commitment” than like “keeping your options open.” The Islanders are stuck in Brooklyn for another three seasons, and are surely going to try to build a fan base there and figure out how to make hockey work in an arena that was built solely for basketball. If it doesn’t work out by 2019, though, Long Island is still there. If nothing else, it’s leverage to try to get Brooklyn arena owner Mikhail Prokhorov to do some hockey-friendly upgrades — assuming Prokhorov cares about having hockey there instead of booking more concerts. At least it’s nice to see rich guys exerting leverage on each other for once, instead of on the public, so enjoy this while it lasts.

Three weeks after promised arena announcement, Coyotes owner still hasn’t revealed site

It’s now been three weeks since Arizona Coyotes owner Anthony LeBlanc’s promised announcement of a new arena site for his team, which he met by saying he had one but he wasn’t going to tell anyone where it was yet. Supposedly he was going to tell us all about it once a “real estate agreement” had been worked out, but either the lawyers are still haggling or he was blowing smoke, because there hasn’t been a peep since. Look, here’s an Arena Digest report all about how there’s no news to report!

Tune in next Thursday to see if LeBlanc is still twiddling his thumbs on this. What, you had something better to do this summer?