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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Pawtucket, Des Moines approve maybe $90m in soccer subsidies, local reporters can’t be bothered to explain it

A $46.2 million subsidy for a Pawtucket USL soccer stadium was approved last week by … okay, let’s let the dueling crappy press reports explain it. First, the Providence Journal:

The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation board Friday afternoon approved $46.2 million in state incentives for a proposed $284-million soccer stadium and residential and commercial development on the Seekonk River in Pawtucket…

The 8-to-0 votes Friday approved $36.2 million in state borrowing for infrastructure improvements associated with the project, to be paid off by new tax revenue from Tidewater Landing. It also included $10 million in Rebuild RI tax credits, plus rebates of the sales and use tax on materials used during construction.

That seems pretty straightforward: The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation is the state development agency, and $46.2 million worth of future tax kickbacks (for a stadium that will only cost $40 million to build, plus a bunch of other non-soccer development) is about the size of what was being discussed last week. So, now it just needs to be approved by the state legislature, presumably? Let’s see what the Associated Press has to say:

A city committee approved the use of bonds and tax rebates amounting to $46 million for the project on Thursday, the city said in a statement.

The city … council? According to an earlier Providence Journal story, the “new tax revenue” kickbacks will include both state and city money, so it makes sense that the city would have to approve it. But why only a committee? Is there a full council vote still to follow? Anyone? Have our nation’s journalism outlets just totally given up on explaining anything that isn’t in the press release?

Meanwhile, in Des Moines, where last week it was reported that the city was working on subsidies for its own USL stadium that would amount to “much less than $45 million” (“much” here being a technical fiscal term meaning “something”), the city council voted last night to … the only reporting is from something called We Are Iowa, and here’s what it says:

The Des Moines City Council voted Monday night to approve a preliminary plan for the Capital City Reinvestment District, which formerly belonged to Dico, Inc.

The Council also voted to approve preliminary terms to sell part of the area for an urban renewal development agreement with Krause Group…

The Stadium District will transform the area into a “welcoming gateway into the downtown” part of Des Moines. A 6,300-seat, multi-use soccer stadium is hoped to be built in the area as well as a 150-room hotel with office buildings and a parking ramp.

Okay, what are those “preliminary terms”? Would the project still get tax kickbacks, just like in Pawtucket? Hello?Come on, guys, seriously, this is like your one job!
More news on both of these as they’re reported, I guess, which may or may not ever happen. (There’s video of the Des Moines council hearing, I see, but I don’t have time to watch it all right now to see if it includes any more details.) In the meantime, here’s a rendering of some sad people walking around the outside of the Pawtucket stadium because they can’t afford a ticket, or maybe don’t like soccer, or maybe decided to leave in the middle of the match because it was so boring, I mean seriously, half the fans are choosing to stand at an outward-facing railing and stare into the distance rather than watch the game … which is actually pretty much how I felt at the last low-level U.S. pro soccer match I went to, so points for realism!

 

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Des Moines could spend $45m on tax kickbacks for minor-league soccer stadium

With the explosive growth of pro soccer leagues in the United States has come an explosive growth in new soccer stadium demands, and the latest city to be hit is Des Moines, home to the Des Moines Menace of the semi-pro USL League 2 (the fourth tier of pro soccer) but hoping to move up to USL Championship (the second tier). And where in most of the world the team would need to earn promotion by winning games, in the U.S. there’s an easy shortcut: spend a bunch of tax money to build a soccer stadium and surrounding development complex.

Pro Iowa, a campaign to bring profession soccer to Iowa, along with the real estate arm of Krause Group and the city of Des Moines, plan to use sales and hotel-motel taxes generated from the Iowa Reinvestment Act to help pay for the $535 million project that would include 29 separate projects.

There’s lots of gibberish about “activated plaza space” and “heritage festivals,” but mostly what you need to know is that the Iowa Reinvestment Act allows cities to create special districts where hotel/motel and sales taxes are kicked back to developers to fund the cost of new construction. (Yep, that’s a TIF.) Des Moines city officials aren’t yet revealing exactly how much tax money would be siphoned off and given to the stadium developers, but the Des Moines Register reports that “early discussions” were in the $40-45 million range; deputy city manager Matt Anderson told the paper that “we are still working on the final amount, but it will be much less than $45 million.” (The total cost of a stadium was previously reported at around $60 million.)

The Des Moines city council is set to discuss the project on Monday, at which point maybe we’ll have more details. For now, here’s a rendering of people standing in a combined pedestrian plaza and parking lot — does that make it a woonerf? I’m calling it a woonerf until somebody tells me otherwise:

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Friday roundup: Lotsa soccer news, and oh yeah, saving the world

Happy global climate strike day! As kids (and their adults) take to the streets today, it’s important to keep in mind two not-contradictory-though-they-may-seem-so things: We are seriously screwed even if we act now, but there’s still a lot we can do to keep ourselves from being even more seriously screwed. (And by “we” here I mostly mean governments, because it’s almost impossible for individuals alone to significantly impact carbon emissions just by shutting off lights and avoiding air travel, not that those aren’t important things to do, too.)

Anyway, enough about the fate of humanity, let’s talk about sports venues (and not even about the carbon footprints of building new ones and flying teams from city to city, which would be a whole other article):

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