Calgary council approves $1.5b in spending on Flames arena and other stuff, will explain later where money will come from

It took a break in the day-long closed-door session for an open-door session on the rules for talking behind closed doors, but the Calgary city council finally approved a Flames arena financing plan last night, as part of $1.5 billion in spending that will also fund expansion of the city’s convention center and arts center, and construction of a new field house for such sports as track, basketball, and indoor soccer. And how will all this be paid for, and will the tenants — such as the Flames — be repaying any of the capital expense through rent or revenue sharing?

The city will be able to pursue all four projects, said Nenshi, through a combination of cash reserves — including drawing from the city’s flush rainy day fund — as well as government grants and the community revitalization levy…

The city says it will release further details about the financial strategy to pay for all four projects at the Mar. 18 meeting of council.

Okay, that partially answers the first half of the question: The city will use cash on hand (which otherwise could be used for other projects, or reducing taxes, or rainy-day needs like the rainy day fund is meant for); plus a CRL, which is the Canadian version of a TIF that kicks back future increases in property tax receipts; plus grants from the provincial and/or federal governments that may or may not exist. All of this enables the council to say “no new taxes,” which is apparently what they really wanted to do, even though any government spending ultimately comes from taxes.

As for the other piece — will Calgary recoup any of this money on the back end — we apparently will have to wait for the next council meeting in two weeks. Or maybe not even then, since there still needs to be negotiation with the Flames owners? They decided all this in closed session, so who can tell!

Needless to say, not knowing any of the financial details beyond the vaguest generalities makes it really hard to evaluate how good or bad this deal would be for Calgary taxpayers, which is presumably exactly why the council is keeping the details a secret for now. All we know is that four councillors — Evan Woolley, Peter Demong, Jeromy Farkas, and Druh Farrell — out of 15 opposed the measure, though interestingly not Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who called out the last Flames arena plan as too expensive for the public. So maybe this indicates that this is a better deal; or maybe it indicates that Nenshi has caved; or maybe something else entirely; tune in March 18 to find out, or not!

Also unknown for the moment: Whether the arena design will still include its very own Stargate:

This is gonna be a long two weeks.

Calgary council still won’t say what Flames deal is, but they’re not happy with it yet

The Calgary city council is back at work debating a Flames arena plan today, and because it’s a closed-door meeting with no details to be revealed until the deal is done, we don’t even have streaming video to stare at in increasing boredom. So all that’s left to do is to instead stare at tea leaves to try to guess at what’s happening, and the Calgary Herald is on it!

Several councillors have confirmed that the 7-6 vote to postpone reflected discomfort with the proposed terms and fears the deal was moving too quickly without sufficient scrutiny.

Others on council say they’re frustrated with city hall’s inability to move ahead after months and months of discussions.

The six councillors who voted against the postponement included councillors Jeff Davison, Jyoti Gondek, Ray Jones, Joe Magliocca, Ward Sutherland and Sean Chu — the majority of whom are on the record as supporting the most recent proposal.

Coun. Evan Woolley, who voted to postpone, said he understands the frustration of his colleagues.

“At the same time, we need to have rigour to this process,” Woolley said. “Based on the conversations that came out of council meeting this week, I am deeply concerned that we are giving up rigour in favour of speed.

“I am very uncomfortable and was very uncomfortable that we were going to make mistakes and we are talking about taxpayers’ money here, and significant amounts of money.”

So parsing these even more finely, a majority of the council still wasn’t happy with the deal last week, so wanted to talk about it more today. What exactly they’re questioning, nobody’s saying, but whatever it is the questioning will be rigorous — sorry, rigourous — so everybody can breathe a little easier. Unless, of course, this is more about butt covering than actual scrutiny, but there’s no way to be sure!

We’ll find out more … not tomorrow, probably, but maybe after the council sits down with the Flames owners to hash out a final deal, and okay, it’s going to be tea leaves, nothing but tea leaves, for a while yet.

Friday roundup: Raiders’ Oakland deal still not done, A’s stadium plan gets rounder edges, Flames arena vote delayed

Let’s get right to the week’s news roundup:

  • NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on Monday that Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis was on the verge of an agreement with Oakland officials to stay put in Oakland for 2019 and possibly 2020, and four days later, they still appear to have moved no closer than the verge. More news as events warrant, if they ever do.
  • We have new renderings for the proposed Oakland A’s stadium at Howard Terminal, and they look slightly less doofy than the old renderings, or at least somewhat less angular. Odds that any ballpark will look remotely like this if a Howard Terminal stadium is ever built: two infinities to one. Odds that a Howard Terminal stadium is ever built: Somewhat better, but I still wouldn’t hold your breath.
  • The Calgary city council put off a vote on a term sheet for a new Flames arena on Tuesday, after a marathon meeting that the public was barred from. They’ll be meeting in private again on Monday, and still plan not to tell anyone what the deal looks like until they’ve negotiated it with the Flames owners, which Calgary residents are not super happy about.
  • Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer still really really wants a new arena of his own by 2024, and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times show that he met with Inglewood Mayor James Butts as early as June 2016 to try to get Madison Square Garden to give up its lease on his preferred arena site before they found out he wanted to build an arena there. This is mostly of interest if you like gawking at warring sports billionaires, but if you do you’re in luck, because the battle seems likely to continue for a long time yet.
  • The Miami Marlins are turning the former site of their Red Grooms home run sculpture in center field into a “three-tier millennial park” with $10 standing-room tickets, because apparently millennials are broke and hate sitting down? They’ve gotta try something, I guess, and this did help get them a long Miami Herald article about their “rebranding” efforts, so sure, millennial park it is.
  • Building a football stadium for a college football team and hoping to fill it up with lots of Bruce Springsteen concerts turns out, shockingly, not to have been such a great idea. UConn’s Rentschler Field loses money most years, and hasn’t hosted a major concert since 2007, with the director of the agency that runs it griping, “The summers are generally slow, the springs are generally muddy, and the falls are UConn’s.” And nobody built lots of new development around a stadium that hosts only nine events a year, likewise shockingly. It still could have been worse, though: Hartford could have spent even more money on landing the New England Patriots.
  • Speaking of failed sports developments, the new Detroit Red Wings arena district is “shaping up to be a giant swath of blacktop,” reports Deadline Detroit, which also revealed that the city has failed to penalize the team’s owners for missing development deadlines, and has held out the possibility of more public subsidies if he ever does build anything around the arena. At least the Ilitches are finally paying for the extra police needed to work NHL games, though, so that’s something.
  • Oklahoma City is considering using up to $92 million to build a 10,000-seat USL stadium that could later be expanded for MLS, because of course they are.
  • Here is an article that cites “an economic development expert” as saying that hosting a Super Bowl could be worth $1 billion in “economic activity” to Las Vegas, saying he based this on the results of last year’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis. Actual increased tax receipts for Minneapolis during the game: $2.4 million. It took me 30 seconds to research this, but apparently the Las Vegas Review-Journal is too high and mighty to use Google. Do not reward them with your clicks.

LeBreton Flats arena declared dead as Senators owner can’t reach deal with development partner he tried suing

Today is the deadline for an agreement on a new Ottawa Senators arena at the downtown LeBreton Flats site, but — spoilers! — it ain’t gonna happen:

The National Capital Commission announced Wednesday morning that mediation talks led by retired judge Warren Winkler couldn’t reach a settlement in a dispute among partners of RendezVous LeBreton, a consortium that has spent four years and more than $4 million in planning work.

To recap: Last fall Senators owner Eugene Melnyk sued his erstwhile development partners because he was upset they were also planning on building other development elsewhere; since then the two sides have been in mediation, with the deadline eventually extended until today. Those talks went nowhere, though, and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is hopping mad, or at least Canadian mad:

“I said earlier today one of the frustrations I think in this partnership was Eugene Melnyk (and) the very fact that during the NHL outdoor (game at TD Place in Ottawa in 2017), or just before that, was musing about not even going downtown,” said Watson, who also is a non-voting member of the NCC board.

“I was pretty livid with him back then. I said ‘Wait a minute. You’re putting a lot of time, effort and money into this process and you come out and just muse off the top of your head, ‘Well, I’m not interested in moving downtown.’

“The whole purpose was because you wanted to move the arena downtown because there’s no walk-up traffic in Kanata (home of the Senators’ current arena, the Canadian Tire Centre). You need that kind of walk-up traffic and transit connections to make the arena successful like all arenas in North America are in the downtown core.”

The next step for Melnyk is to do something else crazy and vindictive, I’m sure. When last seen, the Senators owner was (checks notes) offering to play in an arena if somebody else would pay to build it. Any volunteers, please raise your hand, though you may want to consider lawyering up first, as you’ll probably need it.

Indiana senate offers to pay $112m toward MLS stadium, team owner won’t commit to putting in $30m

The Indiana state senate on Tuesday night passed its bill to provide Indy Eleven with $112 million worth of soccer stadium subsidies ($8 million a year for 25 years, if you’re counting at home — here’s a present value calculator to get you the rest of the way there), plus an unspecified amount of money for even more renovations to the Indiana Pacers‘ arena and Indianapolis Colts‘ stadium. So of course, the Indianapolis Star headlines are all about how the team owners will have to put in money, too! Won’t anyone think of the team owners?

Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir called it a “good bill” — you’d hope he would, since it gives him a series of $8 million checks — but he still found things to whine about, namely that he wouldn’t get the cash until he landed an MLS franchise (the Eleven are currently in the USL) and that he would have to put in any money himself:

Ozdemir sees a scenario in which his team has its first game in a new stadium in three years. But he thinks the stipulations in the current bill — a down payment on the stadium and a Major League Soccer franchise ahead of time — could delay any debut…

In Wednesday’s interview, Ozdemir declined to say whether the team was willing or could afford to pay 20 percent of the construction cost, which would be about $30 million.

The bill still needs to pass the state house, but last time soccer stadium subsidies were proposed back in 2015, it was the house that approved it and the senate that rejected it, if that means anything. Also, last time Ozdemir was only asking for $82 million in stadium funding, and $112 million is a lot more than $82 million, but either stadiums have gotten a lot more expensive in the last four years or Ozdemir is seeing an opening for state funding and getting greedy — you make the call.

Also also, remember that people in Indiana hate this whole sports subsidy idea, not that anyone is asking them.

Long Beach offers to talk about building stadium for Angels on tiny parking lot with no idea how to pay for it

It was only a matter of time after Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno opted out of his Anaheim lease that we were going to start hearing rumors about where he might move the team if he couldn’t get a stadium renovation deal, and now we have one, courtesy of NBC Los Angeles:

The Los Angeles Angels of Long Beach? Could Angels be Moving to the LBC?

Paging Ian Betteridge! But moving on, what’s actually in the article about Long Beach’s stadium plans?

The city of Long Beach publicly stated Monday night that it has approached the Los Angeles Angels to express interest and discuss the opportunity of moving the Major League Baseball team out of Orange County and into downtown Long Beach.

Okay, “expressed interest” just means somebody called Moreno and said, “Hey, let’s talk.” Does Long Beach have an actual site for a stadium, and more important, money to build one?

Long Beach is putting forth an effort to create a downtown waterfront development plan and exploring the feasibility of a downtown sports venue on the Convention Center parking lot, according to a city of Long Beach news release attributing quotes to Mayor Robert Garcia.

The statement went to say that the city of Long Beach has reached out to the Angels regarding the opportunity but categorized the status as “preliminary” and said discussions were ongoing.

This is getting us nowhere. Hey, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times has an article about it too, what does he have to report?

The city has not determined whether a ballpark would be feasible on the site or the best use for it, let alone whether taxpayers would contribute to a construction cost that could exceed $700 million and could approach $1 billion.

That would qualify as “preliminary,” all right. Add in that the Long Beach Convention Center parking lot appears to be too small to fit a baseball stadium on, and this thing has more questions than answers:

While it’s not clear what’s in it for Long Beach to make its pursuit of the Angels public — other than getting its name mentioned on the telly — for Moreno this is stadium extortion gold: a new city to use as a threat now that Tustin has told him unequivocally to pound sand. Ideally you’d want an actual offer to use as a threat, but sports venue shakedowns have worked with less.

Islanders arena could be put on hold until someone figures out how to build $300m train station

After a couple of articles reported that the New York Islanders‘ arena project at Belmont Park could be facing delays and increased opposition, I dug into it for Gothamist, and found an epic tale of the blind men and the elephant:

  • Community activists in Elmont, the Long Island town that is home to Belmont Park (the similarity in names is apparently coincidental: Elmont was named in the 1880s while the racetrack was named 20 years later for New York City subway financier August Belmont) point to the fact that the final environmental impact statement now won’t be ready till late June at the earliest as a sign that clearly construction can’t start in the spring as originally projected, since the project will still need approvals from several state agencies, plus that land appraisal to see if New York state is really giving away $340 million in land for $40 million. Or as ammie Williams of the Belmont Park Community Coalition put it: “Now you’re telling me that a report is not going to be out till the end of June. But then you still have to put out the finding statement, and then you still have to wait for people to sue your ass.”
  • Officials with the state-run Empire State Development corporation insist that this really isn’t a delay, since the EIS was always meant to be completed in second quarter 2019, and late June means it’ll get in just under the gun. “Last week, we reiterated the same timeline we’ve had since the beginning of this project, and we still anticipate final public approval in the second quarter of 2019,” said ESD spokesperson Jack Sterne. “In the meantime, we continue to explore the possibility of a full-time train station at Belmont.”
  • About that train station: State senator Leroy Comrie, whose district abuts Belmont Park on the New York City side, last month issued a five-point list of “essential points [that] must be addressed before the ultimate fate of the project is decided,” including full-time rail service to the new arena complex from both points east and west. And this week, Comrie was nominated to the state Public Authorities Control Board, the same oversight board that killed the New York Jets‘ proposed Manhattan stadium in 2005 and more recently helped scare off Amazon from seeking $3 billion in tax breaks to locate in Queens. Only problem: Full-time rail service to Belmont Park is maybe impossible, or maybe just prohibitively expensive: Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member Mitch Pally said that the agency had priced one option at a staggering $300 million for new tracks, signals, and the works.
  • As for Comrie, he said he was “very confident” that his five conditions “are resolvable.” Still, he said, he didn’t see anything getting resolved until well into late 2019 — and possibly not until “the first quarter of next year.” That would almost certainly preclude an arena from opening until 2022.

None of this is a huge stumbling block necessarily — unless Comrie and other local elected officials genuinely insist on full-time train service being put in place by the time the arena opens and not just planned by then, in which case the geometry of space-time may be a problem. But put it all together and the odds of this Islanders plan happening seem like they’ve gone from “skids all greased” to “probable but who the hell knows.” It’s entirely possible that Islanders fans can look forward to several more seasons of not knowing which city their home games are in — that is, if the team’s owners can even talk Brooklyn’s Barclays Center into letting them stick around considering how much money the arena is losing on hosting hockey. Remind me why then-owner Charles Wang decided to move out of Nassau Coliseum for a basketball-designed arena nowhere near his team’s fan base? Oh, right: hissy fit.

Diamondbacks execs still can’t decide what kind of stadium to request for their 21st birthday

Exhibit A in evidence that the Arizona Diamondbacks owners are still trying to figure out exactly who they want to shake down for what in terms of stadiums:

“It’s been limited to this point just because we haven’t felt an urge or a need at this point. So, [I] see it maybe accelerating a bit in the near future, but we also have to focus on downtown, too, which we haven’t done enough of, to see if it’s a viable option to stay. There’s still a lot of work to do there. What it would look like if we were to retro or refurbish [Chase Field] and if there’s any sort of development opportunities around it. But I think the day of standalone stadiums is not nearly as popular a move or model as what we see now with mixed use and with multiple acres. We just have to see what’s out there – you know, land availability, proximity, partnership opportunities, what the abilities are downtown. There’s a lot for us to do.” —Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall last week

And Exhibit B:

“Once the agreement was reached — how the Diamondbacks decided what needed to be done … I just wouldn’t know the facts,” [MLB commissioner Rob] Manfred said during a spring training media event last week. “I have every confidence that Chase Field will be in condition to be a major league facility this year.”

The commissioner said he would leave it up to the Diamondbacks to comment on whether the team has begun talks for a new stadium site.

“It really is a local matter,” he said.

“It’s a local matter” is what commissioners say when nobody is asking them to use their muscle to extract stadium concessions — or when the league as a whole is cutting loose an unfavored owner to drift in the wind, but given that Manfred already used his bully pulpit on this subject two years ago when he said the team’s current stadium wouldn’t remain “major league-quality” without significant upgrades, that’s clearly not the case here.

What seems to be going on is that now that Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick has successfully used the threat of a lawsuit over stadium maintenance to get out of his lease five years early, he’s now taking his time figuring out what his next move should be. The key phrase in Hall’s statement then becomes “We just have to see what’s out there” — there are a bunch of municipalities in the Phoenix area that team execs could try to play off against each other, as well as deciding whether to try to leverage the lease expiration to get a whole new stadium or maybe a renovated one with new development rights or whatever. Being a kid in a candy store is fun, but if you can only choose one multi-hundred-million-dollar jumbo box, you’re going to want to think carefully about your decision.

Reminder: All this is about replacing or upgrading a stadium that just turned 20 years old last year. Please, everybody, stop asking me if the stadium shakedown business is fated to slow down soon now that “everyone already has a new stadium.” Rod Fort’s old observation remains astute: There’s no reason for a sports team owner not to want a new stadium every year, so long as he’s not the one paying for it.

KC newspaper editors: We only have 12 years to throw more stadium money at Royals, time’s a-wasting!

It’s been over a year since we last heard any talk about a new stadium for the Kansas City Royals, at which time Royals execs pretty much responded with Hey, you know you just renovated this place for us, but if you want to talk, we’ll listen. Back then it was downtown business leaders rattling the saber; it’s the growth coalition‘s natural ally, the local newspaper editorial board:

Downtown baseball could be an incredible opportunity. Just picture it: the burgeoning city skyline atop the outfield fence. All manner of new businesses popping up to cater to crowds filling downtown streets. That spin-off effect is utterly missing in the desert island that is the taxpayer-subsidized Truman Sports Complex. Taxpayers deserve more bang for their considerable bucks.

Yeah, we get the picture, Kansas City Star editorial board: Synergy! Nightlife! Burgeoning, so very much burgeoning! It is the same picture painted by downtown sports venue advocates the nation over, and it carefully ignores the fact that past sports projects have singularly failed to create the spinoff effects that were promised. When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense — nobody in their right mind is going to open a new business just to cater to a throng of fans who sweep past once on their way in and once on their way out, 81 times a year, leaving the rest of the calendar dark — but somehow empirical evidence never seems to come into play in these sorts of dewy-eyed scenarios.

The Star does manage to acknowledge that the Royals are still tied to their existing stadium by a lease that runs through 2030 — a 25-year extension agreed to when the city gave them $250 million for renovations in 2006. But the paper’s editors managed to portray even that as a creeping deadline:

The leases for the twin stadiums expire in 2031. That’s a ways off. But make no mistake: The gravity of this decision and the steps to be taken if a downtown stadium is to happen are considerable. Decisions must be made during the next few years.

This all transparently reads as something written after those same downtown business interests — or maybe K.C. city manager Troy Schulte, who is all over this editorial — lobbied the editors to light a fire under the public that moar stadium talk needed nowwwwww! Nothing is likely to happen anytime soon, but clearly the power structure is laying the groundwork for the next round of Royals stadium-grubbing, whenever that kicks into gear; it’s worth keeping a close eye on, especially if you’re a K.C. resident still paying a 0.375% sales tax hike for the last round of sports subsidies.

Friday roundup: Calgary residents demand say on Flames arena, Indy Eleven asked to only accept public funding of 80% of stadium, Raiders could re-up in Oakland this week

Happy Friday! Here is your weekly fact dump of news that I didn’t get to earlier in the week, because I only got two hands, man:

  • Calgary residents who went to speak their minds at yesterday’s town hall on a new Flames arena say they want to be able to speak their minds on a new Flames arena. The city council is set to vote on an arena term sheet on Monday without public input — or even revealing to the public first what’s in the term sheet — though I suppose some councillors might read the press coverage of the town hall and learn how angry the public is. It’s worked before in Phoenix, for a few weeks at least!
  • The Indy Eleven stadium subsidy proposal has made it into a state senate bill, but “with some hefty strings attached,” reports the Indianapolis Star: the team’s owner would need to put up $30 million of his own money before getting to access $200 million in public tax money (more like $112 million in present value) for stadium costs. This does not actually sound like a big ask, but hey, Star sports columnist Gregg Doyel says it’s worth any price to keep the city’s sports teams (even if they’re not threatening to move) because, and I quote, “my job could depend on it,” so why quibble over a mere $112 million, right?
  • The city of Anaheim has hired a real estate consultant to conduct an appraisal of the value of the Los Angeles Angels‘ stadium site, as it first authorized last month, which is slightly weird in that they just did an appraisal in 2014 that found that the stadium parking lots sought by team owner Arte Moreno for $1 were worth $245 million, but whatever. It’s at least good that the city is apparently committing to ask something based on actual market value for the land, especially coupled with talk of basing any land deal on the Anaheim Ducks deal, which was a decently fair price for development rights to city land. Maybe this will not be awful, despite the new mayor talking about how eager he is to cut a deal even though Angels owner Arte Moreno has no real leverage? I’m almost afraid to hope — we’ll just have to see what happens when the assessment comes in, presumably a couple of months from now.
  • Oakland officials could vote soon to approve a new lease for the Raiders for 2019, with an additional option for 2020, which would put an end to talk of the team playing everywhere else on the planet this fall. Apparently Raiders owner Mark Davis is willing to let bygones be bygones and overlook that antitrust lawsuit the city filed that led him to insist he wouldn’t play in Oakland this season. Good successful bluff-calling, Oakland officials!
  • The New York Mets will not be moving their spring training home out of Port St. Lucie, after threatening to in order to secure a revised deal for $57 million in renovations to their stadium, $55 million of which will come from taxpayers. Bad bluff-calling, Port St. Lucie officials!
  • A rival developer is seeking the same land in Montreal that would-be Expos revivers want for a baseball stadium, to use for a “new smart development of office towers, housing, hotels and public space.” Looks like a fight is in the offing, and these guys have “smart” right there in the name, so watch out!
  • Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is hoping to save some money when the New York Islanders move out for their own arena eventually — the arena is losing about $12 million on guaranteed revenue payments to the team, and without hockey will be able to book more concerts — but more interesting to me from this article is that the building lost $21 million on operations in the 2017-18 season, plus another $33 million in debt and other expenses. Maybe the Nets owners are soaking up any profits, or the arena’s builders are earning their money on all the high-priced housing that went up next door, but still the whole project seems a bit like a waste of everyone’s time and money and eminent domain takings.
  • Also, work on the Islanders’ new planned arena by Belmont Park won’t begin this spring as planned, because the environmental impact statement required for the project won’t be ready until June at the earliest, but “state officials insist the project remains on schedule.” Hmmm.
  • And finally, your regularly scheduled Tottenham Hotspur stadium updates: It won’t be open until April at the earliest, it won’t have a VIP cheese room, and team officials are catching wild foxes and shooting them in the head with pistols. Exactly one of those things was something I expected to type this week.