Passive voice predicts money will be caused to rain from heaven by Des Moines junior hockey arena

One of the commonly asserted principles of Good Writing is that the passive voice is to be avoided at all costs; or, should I say, you should avoid the passive voice at all costs. And while there’s probably some tedious Strunk & Whitey rationale why simple declarative sentences are best — something I hope we can all agree is not always true — there is one excellent reason to beware of the passive voice, and that is that it obscures who it is who’s doing or saying something, seemingly assigning an action to an omniscient deity or the universe itself.

If that was all too oblique, let’s go with an example: this article from We Are Iowa headlined “New Des Moines Buccaneers arena expected to bring in $126M annually once built.”

What does this headline tell us? It seems to be saying that once the city of Des Moines opens a new arena for something called the Buccaneers (they’re a junior hockey team, we covered this a little over a week ago, try to keep up), you can expect it to bring in $126 million a year. What it actually says is that some particular person expects it to bring in $126 million a year. And that person is:

Chief Executive Officer Liz Holland of Merle Hay Investors, the company that owns Merle Hay Mall, said the 3,500-seat arena will bring in around $126 million annually and create around 1,000 new jobs.

In case it’s not clear, maybe because the article never says, Merle Hay Investors is also the company that wants to build the arena (in a failed mall), and get $30 million in state funding to do it. Perhaps readers might take the prediction with a grain of salt if only they knew that.

Perhaps, for that matter, they might like to know what exactly “bring in $126 million” means. In tax revenue? In arena gross revenue? In arena profits? The arena is supposed to hold 3,500 people, so if it’s in operation, say, 150 nights a year (which would be pretty good as arenas go), that’s 525,000 people total, each of whom would have to spend $240 on each trip just to get to $126 million in raw economic activity.

We met We Are Iowa once before a couple of weeks ago, when it reported on a minor-league soccer team in Des Moines looking for subsidies of its own for a new stadium, without ever explaining exactly how much money or what the city council was voting on. It turns out to be the … let’s go with “cleverly” named website of WOI-TV, which is owned by Tegna, the former Gannett TV station umbrella company that was spun off in 2015.

Not having spent much time watching Iowa TV, I can’t say whether WOI has always been especially terrible at reporting, or if printing developers’ bald assertions as fact is some new efficiency measure to break down the filters between PR and web readers’ eyeballs. The article linked above from the Des Moines Register — which is owned by Gannett proper — isn’t much better in terms of providing details or explanation, but at least sort of says who Holland is, which is the bare minimum for a journalism passing grade. Just straight-up printing corporate press releases as reality may be a worsening journalistic trend, but that doesn’t mean it’s something up with which we should put.

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Friday roundup: More crazy stadium subsidy demands than can fit in one headline, you call this a lull?

Every couple of weeks, it seems, someone in the comments predicts that we are about to see the end of sports’ 30-year surge in stadium and arena subsidies, either because of Covid-depleted budgets or legislators smartening up or just everybody already having a new place. To which I say: If the stadium scam is slowing, why are my Friday mornings still so #$@&%*! busy?

Ahem. And now, the news:

  • A lawyer for the South Bend Cubs, saying the team owners were “shocked” to discover that a law allowing them to siphon off up to $650,000 a year in sales and income taxes for their own purposes had expired in 2018, has asked the state legislature to renew it. Oh, and also increase the cap to $2 million a year. You know, while they have the document open on their screens. “South Bend and every other city that has retained their relationship with Major League Baseball have to get to a certain level by 2025,” said attorney Richard Nussbaum. “If they don’t, they risk losing the team.” It’s an epidemic, I tells ya.
  • Speaking of which, Hudson Valley Renegades owner Jeff Goldklang got his $1.4 million in stadium renovation cash from Dutchess County, after emailing residents and fans warning them that the team could move if it was denied the subsidy.
  • Fort Wayne F.C., which I had to look up to be sure it actually exists and which turns out to be a “pre-professional” (much in the way that kids are “pre-adults”) USL League Two club, is seeking to move up to League One in 2023 and wants a $150 million soccer-stadium-plus-other-stuff project, to be paid for by mumble mumble hey look over there! It also features an instant classic in the field of fans-throwing-their-hands-skyward-while-fireworks-go-off-over-soccer-players-not-playing-anything-recognizable-as-soccer renderings, which is worth $150 million if it’s worth a dime:
  • The Oakland A’s owners (not the Oakland A’s, I still remember when I was an intern at The Nation Christopher Hitchens lecturing us on how one should always say “the U.S. government” and not “the U.S.” because just because the government approved something didn’t mean the populace did, but anyway) won their lawsuit to allow their Howard Terminal stadium project to have challenges to environmental impact reviews reviewed on a fast track, which is a big thing in California. “This is a critically important decision,” said A’s president Dave Kaval, who indicated he hopes the Oakland city council will be able to vote on a stadium bill this year, presumably after it’s figured out who the hell would pay for what.
  • Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin wants to talk about building a new hockey arena to keep the Carolina Hurricanes in town long-term — their “old” one opened just over 21 years ago — and Sougata Mukherjee, the editor-in-chief of the Triangle Business Journal, points out that maybe now is not the best time what with 7% of the state not having enough to eat, small businesses on the brink, and, oh yeah, a pandemic still going on. Cue Hurricanes execs or their political talking about how a new arena will mean “jobs” in three, two…
  • While we wait, here’s San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist Bryce Miller saying that San Diego should build a new arena to lure a nonexistent NBA expansion franchise because it would be “catalytic.” In the sense of the Oxford dictionary’s sample sentence for meaning 1.1, maybe?
  • Twenty years ago this week, the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ and Steelers‘ Three Rivers Stadium was blowed up real good, only a little over 30 years after it was first opened. I went to a couple of games at Three Rivers over the years, and I agree with former Pirate Richie Hebner’s review that “the graveyard I work in during the offseason has more life than this place,” and the Pirates’ new stadium is one of my favorites. Still, it and the Steelers’ new stadium deserve the blame for popularizing tax kickbacks in the stadium financing world, after Pittsburgh voters passed a referendum barring any new tax money from going to new stadiums, and the state legislature responded by “loaning” the teams stadium money that would be “repaid” by taxes the state would be collecting anyway — prompting Pittsburgh state rep Thomas Petrone’s timeless comment: “It’s not a grant. It’s not a loan. It’s a groan.”
  • Phoenix restaurants are hoping that having partial attendance at Suns games will provide more happy hour customers, something that seems not only ambitious given the proven not-so-robust spinoff effects of sports stadiums, but also slightly heedless of whether it’s such a great idea to encourage basketball fans to congregate indoors and take their masks off to drink and then go directly to congregating indoors to watch the Suns. In entirely unrelated news, restaurants around the new Los Angeles Rams and Chargers stadium in Inglewood are afraid of being driven out of business by new high-priced options gravitating to serve well-heeled football fans.
  • Finally a partial explanation of how funding for that new Des Moines Menace soccer stadium would work: In addition to city funds, it would be up for state hotel-tax funds designated for projects that “improve the quality of life for Iowa residents.” Other projects proposed to dip into the hotel-tax pool include a Des Moines Buccaneers junior hockey arena, a private indoor amateur sports facility, and a new mall; is it just me, or does “quality of life” seem to have been interpreted as “ways to put money in the pockets of Iowa business barons”?
  • Hey, remember the $200 million highway interchange that Las Vegas is building, totally coincidentally, near the Raiders‘ new stadium? It is now a $273 million highway interchange. But the city needed to build it anyway, because traffic was too bad at the old interchange and, shh, don’t tell them.
  • Okay, here’s one way in which maybe the pandemic has delayed some stadium spending: The Baltimore Orioles owners have signed a two-year lease extension on Camden Yards, while also working with the Maryland Stadium Authority “to establish a new long-term agreement that includes upgrades to the facility,” according to WJZ-TV. So it’s possible some 2021 and 2022 sports subsidies will end up getting pushed back to 2023 or so — yay?
  • If you wanted a live webcam of construction on the new Knoxville stadium for the Tennessee Smokies that hasn’t even been approved yet, let alone started construction, the team’s new stadium promotion website has got you covered.
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