FC Cincy mulling Kentucky tax kickbacks to pay its entire stadium cost, and other week’s news

All the news that wasn’t fit to print this week:

  • FC Cincinnati now wants the Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati to own its stadium since Hamilton County doesn’t want to. (Does “own” mean “pay for”? Reply hazy, ask again later.) Or maybe Newport, Kentucky, since, according to team president and former city council members Jeff Berding, that would allow the team to recoup its entire $100 million through tax increment financing kickbacks of property taxes paid on the property. How would it generate a whole $100 million in TIFs? Reply hazy, ask again later.
  • Would-be Seattle arena builder Chris Hansen hired University of Washington public finance professor Justin Marlowe in May to compare the economic impact of his Sodo arena proposal to that of the KeyArena renovation plan, and he has issued his report, which says that the Sodo plan would create three times as much tax revenue for Seattle ($103 million over 35 years vs. $34 million for Key). On the other hand, the Key plan would include some kind of sharing of arena revenues, though that wouldn’t kick in until the Key developers got their share, and, yeah, basically it’s a muddle. On the whole, it seems to give the edge to Hansen’s plan, if only because that arena would pay property taxes, but I’d need to sit and break down the math to say exactly by how much, and I’ve been waiting for time to do that all week, so clearly it’s not happening. Reader exercise!
  • Oakland A’s executive VP Billy Beane promised that once the team gets a new stadium, it will stop trading all its decent players once they start to get expensive: “There’s only one way to open a stadium successfully, and that’s with a good, young team. … Really what’s been missing the last 20 years is keeping these players. We need to change that narrative by creating a good team and ultimately committing to keep them around so that when people buy a ticket, they know that the team is going to be around for a few years.” Which could make sense if a new stadium draws enough fans that having a winning team boosts revenues enough to pay for player salaries, though we’ve heard this song and dance before elsewhere.
  • The Nashville Sounds‘ new stadium was supposed to cost taxpayers $37 million, but it ended up costing $91 million.
  • What does $74 million in public subsidies buy Minnesota Timberwolves fans and staff? New seats, new restrooms, new locker rooms, an ice floor that doesn’t leak, two new loading docks, and a big glass wall, because everybody’s gotta have one of those.
  • The athletes’ village from the 2016 Rio Olympics is now a wasteland of unsold condos, because everything the Olympics touches turns to trash.
  • A homeless camp has arisen on the site of the planned Las Vegas Raiders stadium. Make your own metaphors.

County officials: No big money for Cincy MLS or arena redo, but maybe tax breaks or something

Hamilton County commissioners continue to make unhappy noises about funding either a new FC Cincinnati stadium or a renovation of Cincinnati’s arena, saying they have a lot of priorities other than new sports facilities right now:

All three commissioners are wary of repeating the mistakes they say county and city officials made more than 20 years ago, when new stadiums for the Bengals and Reds saddled county taxpayers with huge financial obligations.

“We’ve all lived to regret that,” said Commissioner Todd Portune.

Fellow Commissioner Chris Monzel said building stadiums, including the two the county already owns, shouldn’t be the business of county government.

“We have two facilities already,” he said. “That’s two too many.”

That’s pretty cut and dried, then, and—

The commissioners did not, however, rule out the possibility of helping proponents of a new arena and soccer stadium, even if they don’t approve a large public investment. While putting a higher sales tax on the ballot is the most likely way to raise big money, the county and city could pursue more modest measures, such as donating land, granting tax breaks or seeking help from state and federal grants.

So it appears the commissioners just don’t want to own a new stadium, but they’re maybe open to giving it public money? Or, more likely, they’re sending a signal that $100 million is a lot of money, and raising the sales tax just to renovate an arena that only really needs minor upgrades is a little nuts, but maybe ask for less and we’ll consider it. Which could be a reasonable “let’s not close any doors” approach, or could be a way to tell constituents that they’re not throwing money down any more stadium holes while secretly considering doing just that, or a combination of the two.

FC Cincinnati: We need $100m in stadium cash because soccer fans use bathrooms differently

With FC Cincinnati Carl Lindner III demanding $100 million in public subsidies for a new soccer stadium, there has naturally enough been speculation about why the team can’t just keep playing at Nippert Stadium, where the team leads the USL in attendance, and it’s not even close (19,678 to second-place Sacramento Republic FC‘s 11,569). On Friday, however, team president Jeff Berding called using Nippert “implausible due to some insurmountable challenges.” Those challenges, according to WCPO-TV?

Entrances are relatively narrow, especially for soccer, where fans tend to march in together en masse.

Concession stands and restrooms are used differently, too, with soccer fans tending to rush to them together after the uninterrupted 45-minute first half.

Okay, so as ridiculous as “restrooms are used differently” sounds, there is some truth to this: You don’t want to go to the restroom or run out for a hot dog during play in soccer, since you might end up missing the one goal of the whole match. So there does tend to be a stampede to the concourses at halftime.

However, 1) it doesn’t appear to be dissuading fans from turning up at Nippert for soccer currently, 2) Nippert just underwent an $85 million renovation to, in part, build new concourses, 3) new stadiums haven’t done much to solve the problem of halftime soccer crowds, and 4) even if more restrooms are needed, surely those could be added for less than $100 million?

These are all important issues that WCPO seems not to have asked about, possibly because the station didn’t talk to anyone other than an FC Cincinnati exec. (And the University of Cincinnati’s athletic director, who just said they haven’t had any discussions yet about extending FC Cincinnati’s lease.) For an important topic like this, you’d think you’d want your reporter to talk to more than one team source, but maybe that’s just me and my old-fashioned notion of journalism where getting things right matters.

Friday roundup: What arena glut looks like, and other news of our impending doom

Hey, I like this Friday news roundup thing! Let’s do it again:

  • A public hearing has been set for Elmont Public Library on July 10 to discuss the possibility of a New York Islanders arena near Belmont Park racetrack. Team owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin won’t have to submit their actual bid until after that, so who knows what everyone will be commenting on, but I’m going to try to go and report back, if I can figure out what time the hearing is, a detail that none of New York’s myriad news agencies seem to have reported on.
  • There’s a thing called the Canadian Premier League, apparently, though it’s more destined to be a second-tier league (think USL of the North) that can serve as development for Canadian soccer players. Anyway, assuming this gets off the ground, Halifax has approved plans for a privately funded 7,000-seat “pop-up” stadium on a public soccer pitch, which will be taken down once the season is over so regular folks can use the field — park users are a little gripey, as you’d expect them to be, but all in all it’s a far cry from the kinds of demands that minor-league soccer teams in the States are issuing, and promises to be far less of a disaster than most of the other things Halifax is known for.
  • Two out of three Hamilton County commissioners agreed to sign non-disclosure agreements before receiving details of FC Cincinnati‘s soccer stadium proposal, because it was the only way they could find out about the team’s plans. Apparently being on the deliberative body that will be deciding whether to give your team gobs of money just doesn’t hold the same kind of sway that it used to.
  • The Atlanta Hawks owners are considering building a mixed-use project around their arena similar to what the Braves did around their stadium, which Mayor Kasim Reed says is the result of the city handing over $142.5 million in renovation funds, no, I don’t understand that either. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution further reports that a new state law would allow local governments to kick back sales taxes to help pay for development in so-called “enterprise zones,” and okay, now it all starts to make sense.
  • One of the Detroit city councilmembers who voted to approve $34.5 million in subsidies for a new Pistons practice facility says she’s considering changing her vote after being deluged with complaints from constituents, but also said she believes the objections are “based on misinformation that I plan on trying to address or clarify at this public meeting on Friday,” so, we’ll see.
  • And finally, here is a photo showing three past, present, and future NBA arenas all side-by-side, because this is what 21st-century America thinks is a rational use of land, resources, and carbon footprint. Future alien visitors who find this as a relic of the civilization that once was, we can’t really explain it either.

F.C. Cincinnati CEO: We want to start Ohio-Kentucky bidding war to build our new stadium

As discussed last week, F.C. Cincinnati is considering stadium sites in either Cincinnati or Newport, Kentucky across the Ohio River, to the degree that its stadium renderings can’t seem to decide where they are relative to downtown Cincinnati. Now, though, owner Carl Lindner III has made clear that his intention isn’t so much to identify the best site as to get a bidding war going between the two cities in an attempt to shake loose $100 million in public money:

“It would be an exciting place, a transformational-type investment that would be made,” Lindner said of building a new stadium in neighborhoods such as the city’s West End.

But, he quickly added: “It’s ultimately going to end up being where we can get the support.”

This is a common gambit, and sometimes works — Minnesota United‘s owner playing off St. Paul and Minneapolis for tax breaks comes to mind — but sometimes doesn’t — think the Los Angeles Angels‘ owner’s failed attempts to shake loose money from Anaheim by threatening to move to Tustin, only to have Tustin turn them down for money as well. Best you can say is it’s worth a shot, though it’ll depend on elected officials in one city or another thinking that the presence of a soccer team will be worth more than $100 million in economic benefits, which isn’t likely. (Isn’t likely to be worth that much, I mean; what the officials will think I can’t say.) At that price point, for 19 home games of soccer, a reasonable response would be “Wait, somebody else will pay for this thing, and our residents still get to go see games just by going across a bridge? Don’t let the door hit you!”

Lindner’s best bet might be less playing the two cities against each other than shopping around his stadium demands around to every level of government — both states, both counties, both cities — in hopes of finding some group of politicians susceptible to the “If you build it, spending money will come” argument. That’s a lot of government bodies, and he only needs one to bite, so, sure, maybe — there have to be some politicians somewhere out there who can’t do math, right?

FC Cincinnati unveils stadium vaportecture, downplays $100m in tax money needed to build it

FC Cincinnati has unveiled renderings of its new stadium plans! Do they have fireworks? Do they have spotlights aimed pointlessly at the sky? Do they have poorly proportioned people and soccer goals that defy physics? You betcha!

Basically, it looks like a soccer stadium, only way more orange. Have your own fun picking apart the artistic skills of the renderers — my favorite is the way in the top photo there appears to be light streaming upward from the soccer pitch itself, which will no doubt be equipped with a fiber-optic turf surface — and keep in mind all the while that the main goal of this exercise is to get taxpayers in Cincinnati (or maybe Newport, Kentucky, across the Ohio River) to cough up as much as $100 million toward building this thing, because who can say no to women in tank tops holding scarves?

Cincy soccer team exec: We’ve never asked for subsidies before, so give us $100m as thanks

The owners of the USL’s F.C. Cincinnati are listening to Alexi Lalas and moving ahead with plans for building a new stadium as they prepare to apply for an MLS expansion franchise, and blah blah blah, here are some places they may want to build it, where’s the bit about who’ll pay for it? Here we go:

[FC Cincinnati President Jeff] Berding said FC Cincinnati is committed to spending $250 million of its own money — $150 million for MLS franchise fees and $100 million toward the stadium. Berding wouldn’t say how much public money the club wants, but he did say FC Cincinnati’s contribution would cover more than half of what’s needed to build a stadium. So it figures it could be asking for less than $100 million in public aid.

That’s a little on the vague side, but it does sound like “almost $100 million” is probably in the ballpark. Though as usual, until a funding plan is actually revealed, there’s no way to tell whether that’ll be almost $100 million total, or almost $100 million in direct construction subsidies, plus tax breaks and operating subsidies and what have you.

And either way, that’s a significant chunk of public change for a team that may or may not win an expansion franchise regardless of whether it gets a stadium built. (Or, looked at another way given MLS’s relentless expansion frenzy, might get a franchise eventually even if it played in a hole in the ground. Not that they play in a hole in the ground currently — F.C. Cincinnati currently plays at University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium, where they outdraw several MLS franchises, either a sign that they have the kind of fan base that can support a new building, or that they don’t need a new building, because the old one is plenty popular already.) A new group called No More Stadium Taxes has been formed to oppose the plan, as well as plans to spend public money on expanding Cincinnati’s arena, with attorney Tim Mara, a veteran of the Bengals stadium subsidy battles, on board.

The best part of this whole story, though, is Berding’s explanation of why team owner Carl Lindner III, son of the late billionaire Reds owner Carl Lindner Jr., deserves public funds to help build his private soccer stadium:

Berding also suggested public investment would be a payback to the Lindner family for its largesse over the years.

“Carl Lindner and his family have brought thousands of jobs to the city for decades and never asked for help,” Berding said.

I suppose that’s technically true of Lindner’s ownership of the Reds, since while he owned the team when Great American Ball Park opened in 2003, the bill that authorized it was passed in 1996, when Marge Schott still had possession of the team. (I’m not going to check into whether Lindner’s multiple Cincinnati-area businesses ever asked for tax breaks or the like, though that’d be a fun exercise for both readers and Cincinnati journalists.) But still, “We’ve always run our business with our own money, how about throwing $100 million our way in appreciation of us never asking for help before” seems a little off somehow — but I guess when you’re a billionaire asking for public funds, you need some kind of excuse, even if it’s just “My family has never screwed you over — yet.”

Famous soccer guy calls FC Cincinnati crazy for not wanting new stadium

The owners of the USL soccer franchise F.C. Cincinnati — yes, of course there’s a minor-league soccer team called F.C. Cincinnati — are being refreshingly reasonable about their plans for building fan support toward eventually getting a possible MLS slot, noting that the team’s current home, University of Cincinnati’s 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium, is more than big enough to fit an MLS team if it ever comes to that. And Hamilton County isn’t interested in building a new stadium after racking up hundreds of millions of dollars in debt on new stadiums for the Reds and Bengals. So the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Patrick Brennan had to go a bit far afield to find someone to say that Cincinnati needs a new soccer stadium now now now now!

Not having a stadium in the works could be damaging to FC Cincinnati’s cause, said Fox Sports soccer analyst and former U.S. men’s national team veteran Alexi Lalas.

“This is a gold rush, and you’ve got to get there and stake your claim because they’re going to continue to expand, but eventually it will be capped,” Lalas told The Enquirer. “This is not for the faint of heart. There are going to be plenty of casualties along the way. People are going to get hurt, and not everybody is going to get rich. And it’s going to require deep pockets, not just fortitude of body and mind.”…

“In this day and age, ‘major league’ means having your own soccer-specific stadium and having your own facility, and being able to show how it’s going to get done,” Lalas said, “and in the current climate, a lot of times it can’t be done with public funding.”

Okay, Alexi Lalas is a famous former soccer player and current soccer TV analyst, but WTF is he doing in this article defining what “major league” means? He grew up in the Detroit suburbs, went to Rutgers, and never played pro soccer within 500 miles of Cincinnati, so there’s no local connection. The only imaginable explanation here is the reporter thought (or was told by his bosses), “We need someone to espouse the MLS point of view that only new stadiums are acceptable!” or “We need conflict!” or just “Hey, doesn’t somebody in this office have Alexi Lalas’s phone number? He’ll probably comment, he’ll comment on anything! Have you seen him on TV?”

As for the content of his comments, there’s something special about anyone who can call stadium-building both “a gold rush” and a likely money-loser without public subsidies all in the same article*. Though given what happened in the actual gold rush, maybe he was just showing an astute knowledge of history.

[*EDIT: Reading more closely, it doesn’t look like Lalas was explicitly saying that stadiums require public money to make money, just that oftentimes teams will want public money, but elected officials won’t always cough it up. That’s a more reasonable point, but there’s still a “Man up, build a new stadium like all the other kids are doing!” tone here that’s a bit odd for anyone not on the league office payroll.]