Friday roundup: CFL in Halifax, Columbus ghost stadium, Sydney is the new Atlanta, and more!

Are any of my American readers even out there, or are you all too busy tormenting retail workers with your demands for discounted goods? If so, you’re missing out, because we’ve got all your goods right here, at our everyday discount of free!

  • The CFL is considering expanding to Halifax, which means Halifax would need a CFL stadium, which means somebody would have to pay for a Halifax CFL stadium. Halifax Mayor Mike Savage says a stadium is “not a capital priority at this time” and would have to be built “without putting taxpayers at risk.” The Ottawa RedBlacks stadium model is being floated, which is slightly weird because that ended up costing taxpayers a bundle of money plus free land, but maybe “taxpayer risk” is defined differently in Halifax. Anyway, we’ve been this far before, so grains of salt apply.
  • Remember how I wasn’t sure what would be included in the $75 million in public “infrastructure” spending that F.C. Cincinnati is demanding? Turns out that’s because nobody’s sure: WCPO notes that the team hasn’t provided any cost estimates or a traffic study, which “leaves us wondering where, exactly, FC Cincinnati came up with its figures.” I’ll take “nice round number, slightly less than the $100 million elected officials balked at previously” in the pool, please.
  • A guy in Columbus came up with an idea to use county sales tax money to build a new stadium to keep the Crew in town, then the next day said it was just an idea he came up with over the weekend by himself and never mind.
  • The city of Worcester is still trying to lure the Pawtucket Red Sox to town, and the state of Massachusetts may be getting involved, with one unnamed source telling the Worcester Telegram that stadium funding would need to be a “a three-legged stool” among the city, state, and team. You know this article is just going to be waved around in the Rhode Island legislature as it heads toward a vote on public funding for a PawSox stadium there, and what was everyone just saying about the role of enablers in abuse, again? (Not that stadium swindles are morally equivalent to sexual harassment, obviously, but you get my point. Also, why are all the articles about the role of enablers in sexual harassment a month old, are we not going to pay attention to that after all?)
  • The state of Connecticut may spend $40 million on upgrades to Hartford’s arena and some retail properties near its entrance, on the grounds that it might make it more attractive to buyers. If this seems like getting it backwards to you, yeah, me too, but at least it’s better than spending $250 million on the arena and then not selling it.
  • Laney College students, faculty, and staff all hate the idea of an Oakland A’s stadium on their campus. “They want to disrupt our education by building a ballpark across the street with noisy construction, traffic gridlock, pollution, and alcohol consumption by fans,” Associated Students of Laney College President Keith Welch told KCBS-TV. “We will not sacrifice our education so that the A’s owners can make more money.” Pretty sure they won’t get a vote, though.
  • “Industry experts” say that the new Milwaukee Bucks arena will charge more for concert tickets because … it’ll draw bigger-name acts that cost more, I think they’re saying? That doesn’t actually seem like a detriment, though they also note that the new arena has a higher percentage of seats in the lower bowl, which people will pay more for even if they’re way in the back of the lower bowl, and helps explains why arena and stadium designers are so obsessed with getting as many lower-deck seats as possible even if it makes for crappier upper-deck seats. Which we kind of knew already, but a reminder always helps.
  • And move over, Atlanta, there’s a new planned stadium obsolescence king in town: The state of New South Wales is planning to spend $2 billion Australian (about $1.5 billion U.S.) to tear down the Sydney stadium it built for the 2000 Olympics, along with another smaller stadium in Sydney built in 1988, in order to build newer ones that are more ideally shaped for rugby, I think? Because nobody thought of that in 2000? I need to wait for my Australian rugby correspondent to return from holiday break for a more authoritative analysis, but right now this is looking like one of the worst throw-good-money-after-bad deals in stadium history, and it’s not even in America, the land that has perfected the stadium swindle. Crikey!

Montreal to spend $250m on new roof for stadium hardly anyone plays in, because “patrimoine”

Quebec Tourism Minister Julie Boulet says the province will spend $250 million on a new roof for Olympic Stadium because … dear lord, why?

Radio-Canada reported in May the roof tore 677 times over the last year and 7,453 times over the past 10 years.

Okay, yes, that’s a problem, as is the fact that the stadium can’t currently be used when there’s more than two inches of snow on the roof, which is basically “winter” in Montreal. But Olympic Stadium was a perfectly functional stadium for a decade before the roof was built, and since right now the place is mostly used for the occasional Impact or Alouettes playoff game, for that kind of cash you could just buy 60,000 parkas and hand them out to fans for each game.

Stadium chief Michel Labrecque told CBC that tearing down the stadium doesn’t make sense because “It’s part of what we call the patrimoine. My father, your father, paid for it, built it. So it’s impossible, foolish to think about dismantling it.” (Someone please direct Labrecque to read this explanation of sunk costs, or the French equivalent.) Then he said it would cost between $500 million and $700 million to demolish it, which seems a little excessive, and suggested that the stadium has to be maintained in good shape so that it can keep hosting exhibition series with the Toronto Blue Jays each spring so that MLB will give Montreal a new team, not that it would play at Olympic Stadium or anything, but just, you know, as a showcase.

I have been to Olympic Stadium a couple of times, and have an admitted soft spot for the place, but this is just madness. If you want to impress MLB, better to save the $250 million to put toward an actual baseball stadium eventually. Or, since repairing the old roof only costs $1 million a year, take $50 million of that, put it in a savings account, and pay for roof maintenance with the interest, while saving the other $200 million for anything else.

This just goes to show that the “stadiums are economic engines” meme has sunk into elected officials’ consciousness so much that they’ll even spend public money on them when there’s no team owner shaking them down for funds. I’m going to have to keep running this website forever, aren’t I?

Friday roundup: Atlanta Falcons’ non-retracting retractable roof now can’t even keep rain out

Crazed billionaires are shutting down our nation’s news media when employees try to assert their rights, so let’s enjoy journalism while we still have it with another week in news briefs:

  • The Saskatchewan Roughriders‘ old stadium got blowed up real good.
  • The developers who want to build a $15 million modular stadium for the NASL team San Diego 1904 F.C. haven’t actually filed a development plan yet with the city of Oceanside.
  • The Atlanta Falcons‘ non-retracting retractable roof has already sprung a leak.
  • Asked by the New York Post about the New York Islanders‘ bid to build a new arena on state land near Belmont Park, team owner Jonathan Ledecky replied, ““I think we’re circling the airport, just waiting to be given a landing clue,” which doesn’t actually mean anything at all that I can tell, but it sure is an evocative image. Then he pointed to the team’s new $7 million practice facility on Long Island, with a “world-class chef” for players, as “emblematic of what we can do if we were granted the right [to build] at Belmont.”
  • Sacramento city officials want to use the Kings‘ old arena, now vacant after Sacramento built the team a new arena, as a temporary convention center while the city conducts a $125 million renovation of its regular convention center. The arena is an arena, not a convention center, and it’s still owned by the Kings owners, not the city, and I’m sure this is all going to go just swimmingly, no need to be concerned at all.

Regina mayor admits city losing money on CFL stadium, but mumble “spinoffs” something

Regina Mayor Michael Fougere is trying so hard to explain why the city and province spending $153 million on a new stadium for the Saskatchewan Roughriders (plus another $120 million or so to operate it for the next 30 years) was a good idea, without actually lying about the fact. Just listen to the poor guy:

“When you model and talk about what is a return, what’s the investment and what is the economic potential of the stadium, we’re not going to make money on this one.”

That’s honest! So why are you still arguing for this deal, even though it was arranged before you took office in 2012?

Fougere says the return on taxpayer money spent for the new Mosaic Stadium is “not strictly an economic return in the sense that you have a return on investment in the classical business sense.”

Right, no actual taxpayer money getting repaid, got it. What’s the upside?

Fougere characterizes the stadium as a “public investment” to revitalize the downtown and says there will be spin-offs created as a result.

Spin-offs?

If everything works out, the new stadium, coupled with continued public investment downtown, will draw private interests to the area. Those private interests will build new facilities and, riding a wave of optimism, open new businesses.

“It really is the private sector making that decision, taking that risk, making that development and ultimately deciding what actually goes there. We’ll tell them the kinds of things we want to see in there, but we can’t dictate exactly what goes in there.”

Sooooo… “if everything works out,” putting $153 million into a new football stadium, plus an unspecified amount of money into other downtown development, could lead to private interests opening new businesses that they otherwise wouldn’t have! Not that this has ever worked well before, and besides maybe there could be cheaper and more effective ways to encourage businesses to open downtown, but … private sector! Synergy! Tax base!

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the Roughriders are, much like the Green Bay Packers, owned by a public corporation of community shareholders, so it’s at least Regina football fans who are benefiting from the city’s largesse and not some faceless billionaire. No, that’s not much of a silver lining, but take what you can get, okay?

Calgary mayor sticks fork in Flames-Stampeders combined stadium-arena plan

It’s always best not to assign too much significance to the exact wording of off-the-cuff remarks, and the CalgaryNEXT stadiarena plan for the Calgary Flames and Stampeders has been pretty much dead since it was revealed last April that the public cost would be at least $1.2 billion, and the city council could still overrule him, and declaring one plan dead isn’t the same as declaring all plans dead. Still! Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi actually using the word “dead” — as in, “the thing about a new arena project, and I’ll use those terms because CalgaryNEXT, the West Village project, is dead” — is a pretty good sign that the Chest Protector Dome is, in fact, dead. Time to move on to Plan B, of which nobody actually has a clear one, but it sounds a lot more polite than “lump it.”

The more interesting statement by Nenshi came after the “dead” thing, actually:

“But, the thing about a new arena project is that our first criteria has always been public money for public benefit, so it really is up to the Calgary Sports and Entertainment (Corp.) to figure out what the public benefit is,” the mayor continued.

Again, that’s nothing new from Nenshi, who’s consistently said he won’t approve any plan without a clear public benefit. But it’s also a bit of a thrown gauntlet: You want money for a new arena, first show me why I should build you one. This is an eminently reasonable way to approach subsidy demands, whether from a hockey team or an auto plant, and provides an even better reason to consider making the great leap northward.

Calgary residents split on $1B-plus subsidy plan for Flames and Stampeders venues

There’s a new poll out of what Calgary resident think of the CalgaryNEXT plan to build a new combined arena-stadium venue for the Flames and Stampeders, and it looks like this:

  • 19% strongly support the CalgaryNEXT project

  • 21% somewhat support CalgaryNEXT

  • 15% somewhat oppose CalgaryNEXT

  • 25% strongly oppose CalgaryNEXT

  • 20% unsure

That’s close to an even split, though the opponents feel more strongly about their opposition than the supporters do about their support. It’s actually more support than I would have expected, given that a city report estimated it would cost the public between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion and Mayor Naheed Nenshi has summed up the plan as “a lot of money that we don’t have,” but it’s apparently right where numbers have been polling for a while now, so “split” seems a fair assessment for now. The headline news appears to be that the opening of the Edmonton Oilers‘ new arena hasn’t gotten Calgarians green enough with envy to reconsider the finances, which I guess these days qualifies as good news.

Flames and Calgary agree to keep discussing new arena, can’t agree on where to find $1.3B

The Calgary city council voted 12-3 on Monday to continue discussions with the Flames and Stampeders owners on a new hockey arena and football stadium, either via the mammoth CalgaryNEXT complex or a cheaper Plan B whose details have yet to be determined. And the two sides had very different interpretations of where things go from here, not least over what the actual price tag, which for CalgaryNext the city says will be $1.8 billion, while the team owners say they can do it for a mere $1.3 billion. First, Flames CEO Ken King:

“Frankly, who knows which may emerge better. We have a luxury here. We get to choose between what may be two very, very good ideas.”

And then, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi:

“Certainly there’s a difference of opinion on numbers, but if I’m looking at their numbers they still say this is a $1.3 billion project. Obviously there’s a lot more questions, including who’s got $1.3 billion. … Even their best-case scenario is still a lot of money that we don’t have.”

There’s nothing wrong with talking, really, and Nenshi and the council seem to remain determined to take a hard line that any new venue proposals don’t involve shoveling piles of money at the teams that the public would never get back. This could drag out forever — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless you’re King and his fellow Flames and Stampeders execs, wringing their hands about how their profits aren’t as big as they’d be if they got massive public subsidies for a new building or two, and I’m guessing most of you aren’t. Though with municipal elections coming up in 2017, you have to figure King and friends have in the back of their minds that maybe they can wait for a new, more-profits-friendly city government — I tried checking on Nenshi’s latest poll numbers, but they haven’t turned up, though I did discover that Calgary residents are strongly in support of playground swings.

ADDENDUM: And then there’s this:

150-pound speaker crashes to ground in Hamilton, nobody dares call two-year-old stadium “aging”

A huge heavy object came loose at a sports stadium on Monday and crashed to the seats below, and you know what that means — the stadium must be dangerously old and in need of replacement, right? Except it’s the Hamilton Tiger-Cats‘ stadium, and its not even two years old:

The city has closed public access to its new $145-million stadium and started a wide-ranging safety review after a tower-hung speaker plummeted several storeys into the eastern stands.

The falling 68-kilogram (150-pound speaker) — about the size of a bar fridge — didn’t hurt anyone, but the resulting field closure has cancelled several community sports events so far.

The Monday incident also raises new questions about stadium safety and alleged “deficiencies” that recently spurred multi-million-dollar legal claims involving the city, province, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the stadium builder.

“When a speaker falls from a brand new stadium, I’d call that a deficiency,” said ward Coun. Matthew Green, who expressed relief no event was underway at the time. “Had there been people in the stadium (seats) we could have had a real tragedy.”

If you’ve forgotten the details of the now five-year-old squabble over the Ticats’ stadium, it wound up getting mostly funded by the city and province, in part in order to have a new stadium ready for the Pan Am Games in 2015. It wound up not being finished by then, though, and currently everyone involved is suing each other over allegedly shoddy workmanship, so plummeting speakers is undoubtedly going to become a legal thing.

The stadium is expected to be reopened soon, once the rest of the speakers are taken down and replaced by a temporary sound system. They never had this problem at Ivor Wynne Stadium, just saying, though Pink Floyd did accidentally blow up the scoreboard once.

Calgary report: Combined stadium-arena would cost public $1.2B, Flames should give up and start over

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is not your average mayor when it comes to sports subsidy deals: He’s insisted on evaluating the Flames owners’ arena plan on whether it’s good for the public, not just good for the team, openly called out NHL commissioner Gary Bettman as being a paid shakedown artist, and promised a public debate about any arena decision. Now the Calgary city manager’s staff has completed a hard-eyed analysis of the plan for a combined Flames arena and Stampeders stadium, and determined that it would cost $1.8 billion, double the total that the teams had estimated, with the public cost coming in at between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion.

That’s a hell of a lot of money, even in devalued loonies. According to the city report, the extra $900 million would go toward “land, municipal infrastructure, environmental remediation, and financing.” Most of that isn’t even the long-worried-about creosote contamination cleanup (which comes to around $65-110 million), but other items: New transportation infrastructure is down for another $166 million, for example, and finance charges would be an additional $371-390 million. (It’s not immediately clear if these are present value or nominal figures — if the latter, then it’s not really fair to count them as an added public cost, since it’s just the cost of paying later instead of now, like the additional money you pay on your home mortgage over time compared to what your mortgage is actually worth.)

The city council is scheduled to discuss the report on Monday, but it’s likely to be a short discussion — the CBC says the $1.2-billion-plus price tag “effectively scuttles the proposal as it stands.” And the report itself recommends as much, indicating that “the CalgaryNEXT concept is not feasible in its present form or location and alternative development concepts, locations, and financial models should be investigated.” In particular, it suggests looking at building a new arena near the site of the current Saddledome (which the Flames owners previously rejected as not ambitious enough) and putting a new football stadium and field house at the current site of the Stampeders’ stadium at the University of Calgary.

There’s still some concern here that by focusing on alternative sites, this could end up becoming a battle of where to build the new arena and stadium, not whether to fund one with public money — though given that the report repeatedly indicates that the city government’s first priority is that “public money must be used for public benefit,” and Nenshi has said the same, probably not too much concern. Mostly, instead of taking the team owners’ demands and price figures as a given, Calgary sat down and trying to figure out if it made sense financially from the city’s perspective — and the answer came back “hell, no.” Now they’re kicking it back to the team to come up with a plan that makes sense. It’s all eminently logical and responsible, and only remarkable because so few city administrations do anything like this.

So far, Flames CEO Ken King is insisting on keeping CalgaryNEXT alive: “I realize we may sound simplistically optimistic, but we still think there’s some room here,” he said yesterday, which is definitely either the first or third Kübler-Ross stage. There’s still many months or years of haggling to go here, almost certainly, but Calgary has set an excellent example for other cities on how to go about tackling the first round.

Flames video touting $890m stadium-arena is an unintentional comedic masterpiece

Calgary Flames CEO Ken King has released a new video on the team’s proposed $890 million stadium-arena complex, hoping to reverse the negative momentum that the project has built up since it was first floated last summer. And if standing in a white void while yammering buzzwords over renderings and clips of girls holding hockey sticks and people running up a flight of stairs will do the job, he nailed it:

I could go into a point-by-point breakdown of King’s speech, but fortunately I don’t have to, because Kent Wilson of Flames Nation has already done it. Among the points Wilson notes: Hockey arenas don’t really serve as “catalysts,” claims that building a combined arena and stadium represents a “$330 million savings” aren’t supported by any actual numbers, and the Flames wouldn’t really be paying for more than half the cost. And then there’s this, on King’s assertion that “CalgaryNext is also going to fulfil the top unfunded recreational priority for the city: a fieldhouse“:

Here’s how the hypothetical conversation between the team and the city would go on this topic:

Flames: “Hey, wouldn’t it be great to have a fieldhouse?”

City: “Yup, we’ve wanted one for awhile. We figure it will cost about $200 million to build. We aren’t sure how to justify the cost budget-wise right now though.”

Flames: “How about you just roll the $200 million cost into the arena district we’re planning in the West Village? Then the Stamps can play there too.”

City: “What? That doesn’t change the problem of funding it.”

Flames: “Can you imagine all the things the city can do with a fieldhouse? Did you know Calgary is the only City in…”

City: “You’re not answering the question.”

Unless the Flames come along and say “we’ll help pay for the fieldhouse”, or bring something new to the concept of the fieldhouse, any discussions of a fieldhouse aren’t useful. It would be like a neighbour telling you to buy a hot tub for your backyard so he can use it once in awhile. And when you tell them you’d like a hot tub but can’t afford it, he starts regaling you with the benefits of a hot tub.

And all this is at a Flames fan site, mind you. Clearly King is going to need a bigger video. Maybe something with a magic hockey puck.