Wichita may spend way more than $75m on stadium development, but local news has no interest in telling you

The Wichita city council passed its 2%-sales-tax-surcharge district yesterday, in an “emergency declaration” to allow the tax to kick in starting in April, when the new Wind Surge Triple-A baseball stadium it will help fund is set to open. Show of hands, Wichita news outlets, which among you explained why it was an emergency, what the projected $13 million in tax revenue over 22 years will fund, or what would have happened if the tax district hadn’t passed?

  • KWCH-TV: “Mayor Jeff Longwell said it was necessary to pass the 2% sales tax this year. ‘So we can start collecting that tax to potentially use what its intended for which was described today to pay off various different bonds the ballpark, the amenities that are going to be down there,’ he said. Longwell’s last day in office as mayor is next Monday.” No help there, though the non-bylined story certainly implies that the “emergency” was that the mayor wanted to get this done before ending his lame-duck term.
  • KFDI-FM: “The revenue generated from the district will be used to help with the design and construction of the stadium, utilities, parking and improvements along the river corridor, as well as surrounding development on the west bank.” Except the stadium has already been designed and will be almost done with construction by April, so what’s the rush, KFDI reporter George Lawson?
  • Wichita Eagle: “Money from the sales tax hike and the increase in property taxes generated by the new development will be split between the city government and the private-sector developers. The city will get the first $10 million to help offset the cost of the new $75 million ball park. The developers will get the next $30 million to help pay for their project costs. Anything above that $40 million will be split 50-50 between the city and the developers.” So some of the money (from both sales taxes and property taxes) will go to pay for stadium costs, and the rest to subsidize surrounding development — that’s actually potentially a lot more than just the $75 million in stadium subsidies that’s previously been discussed, but it’s hard to tell without projections of how much tax revenue is at stake here, which Eagle reporters Dion Lefler and Chance Swaim don’t provide.

You know, I do my best here to report on and analyze these deals from my apartment in Brooklyn, but ultimately I’m reliant on journalists in local communities to do the initial reporting, since I don’t have the time and resources to do the legwork on basic facts of a stadium plan. In this case, I actually called and emailed the Wichita city council’s press liaison, plus emailed a city councilmember who is a friend of a FoS reader — neither has gotten any response so far, so I’m in the dark as you are on this. (We do know that the stadium is getting $40 million in STAR bonds — essentially sales tax increment financing, where any increase in state sales-tax revenue in the area gets kicked back to the stadium rather than going to public coffers — but the sales-tax surcharge is on top of that.)

Many journalists tend to shy away from running stories that say “Here’s what elected officials claim, but we don’t know if it’s true,” either because they fear it would make them look unduly skeptical or because they don’t take the time to ask the right questions or because they are afraid of challenging assertions that no one else is — but, you know, those are all things that are literally their job. When they don’t do it, we’re left with “Wichita is taking a bunch of tax money, we’re not sure how much, and giving it to somebody for something,” which is not a great way to hold elected officials accountable. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many ways to hold journalists accountable, other than publicly shaming them, so: Hey, Wichita newspeople, you can’t journalism your way out of a paper bag! That’ll show ’em.

Wichita council to vote on giving $8m in sales tax surcharges to Wind Surge because reasons

The Wichita city council is set to vote today on creating a “Community Improvement District” with a 2% sales tax surcharge that would go towards paying for a new stadium for the Triple-A Wind Surge, home of the hideous mutant fly-horse chimera, and … frankly, I’m confused. The sales tax surcharge district has been described as part of the funding plan for the $77 million project (along with kicking back new sales and property taxes around the stadium) at least since last March, and the stadium is set to open in April, so what exactly happens if the council votes down the plan? Does the city need to come up with another funding stream? Do the Wind Surge owners threaten to dismantle the stadium and sell it for parts? Or is this just another case of a city seeking to subsidy a project that would happen with or without the subsidy?

I’ve reached out to the Wichita city council to ask what the deal is, but haven’t heard back. In the meantime, this is what we do know: The sales tax surcharge is expected to raise $13 million over 22 years, according to city officials, which would be a present value of around $8 million, less if most of the new sales tax revenue would come further down the road, which is likely. And the money would not only help pay for the stadium but somehow also “help pay for new growth nearby,” according to, uh, Eli the TV Guy, though he didn’t specify how. The Wichita Business Journal reports that the sales tax surcharge money would be “used for the design and construction of the stadium utilities, parking and other improvements related to the stadium, river corridor improvements and surrounding development on the west bank,” but that still doesn’t explain how the stadium itself will then be paid for, or what happens if the tax district isn’t approved.

More news if and when I get more information, I guess. But this is yet another example of the terrible state of journalism today: Wichita has a daily newspaper, a business newspaper, and multiple TV stations reporting on this story, and yet still Wichitans are getting next to no information about where their tax money is going or why. Stenography journalism has always been a blight upon the news world, but budget cutbacks are its oxygen — when you only have a handful of reporters and editors forced to cover everything under the sun, it’s way too tempting to say, “Enh, just write down what the city press release says, find one person on the street who likes it and one who doesn’t, and move on to the next story.”

Even the World Bank gets this, but for some reason they haven’t been interested in funding quality journalism in Wichita, so instead it’s left to you and me to shame the local news outlets into doing a better job. Is it working yet?

Friday roundup: Developers pay locals $25 each to hold pro-arena signs, a smoking and farting winged horse team logo, and do you even need a third thing after those two?

It’s been another week of pretty bad news, topped off by a private equity firm somehow buying the entirety of .org domains, meaning every nonprofit website will now have to be licensed from an entity whose sole mission is to squeeze as much money from them as possible. The stadium and arena news, by contrast, isn’t all terrible, so maybe it qualifies as cheery? You be the judge:

  • The Richmond city council voted Tuesday to put off a decision on a $1.5 billion downtown development that would include a new arena (public cost: $350 million), after a contentious hearing where both supporters and opponents held signs espousing their opinions. Or espousing somebody’s opinions, anyway: Some locals holding “yes” signs later reported that the project’s developers paid them $25 a pop to do so. City council president Michelle Mosby replied that if anything people were just reimbursed gas money, which 1) only makes sense if everyone there drove their own car and had to travel like 250 miles round trip to get to the hearing and 2) isn’t really any less corrosive of democracy anyway.
  • If you’ve been wondering how Inter Miami plans to build a temporary 18,000-seat stadium in Fort Lauderdale (later to be turned into a practice field) between now and March and figured it would have to involve throwing up a bunch of cheap metal bleachers, now there’s video of construction workers doing exactly that. Also laying down the sod for the field, which I thought usually takes place after the stadium is more or less built, but I guess if they can build the stadium without treading on the field, no harm in doing so now. This all raises questions of whether the stadium will feel excessively crappy, and if not why more soccer teams can’t just build cheap quickie stadiums like this without the need for public money; I guess we’ll know the answer by springtime one way or another.
  • When the state of Minnesota agreed to pay for the Vikings‘ new stadium with cigarette revenue after electronic pulltab gambling money didn’t come in as expected, it still kept collecting the gambling cash; and now that e-pulltabs (which are just lottery tickets, only on a tablet) have taken off, there’s debate over what to do with the cash that the state is collecting, about $5 million this year but projected to rise to $51 million by 2023. The Vikings owners want the money used to pay off their stadium debt early, while some lawmakers would like to use the revenue to fund other projects or reduce taxes on charitable gambling institutions now that it’s no longer needed — all are valid options, but it’s important to remember that the state already paid for most of the stadium, this is just arguing over what to do with the zombie tax that was left over after the financing plan was changed. (It would also be nice to know if e-pulltab gambling has cannibalized revenues from other gambling options, thus making this less of a windfall, but modern journalists have no time for such trivialities.)
  • The city of Wichita is spending $77 million (plus free land) on a Triple-A baseball stadium to steal the Baby Cakes from New Orleans, and have been rewarded with the Wichita Wind Surge, a name that’s supposed to reference the city’s aviation history or something but actually means “storm surge,” which isn’t a thing that they have in landlocked Kansas? It also features a logo that looks like a horse and a fly got caught in a transporter accident, which the team’s designer explained with “The nice thing about Pegasus, however, to me, was the fact that it’s got a horse in there.” A local designer responded with a sketch of a winged horse smoking a cigarette, drinking a beer, and farting, which by all accounts is much more popular with Wichitans. (The sketch is, I mean, though I’d love to see a poll asking Wichitans, “Which do you prefer, the name Wichita Wind Surge or farting?”)
  • San Diego State University’s plan to buy the city’s old football stadium and its surrounding land for $87.7 million has hit some “speed bumps,” namely that city economists have determined that the price could be below the land’s market value and $10 million of the sale price would have to be set aside for infrastructure improvements for the university’s development. “There’s also the matter of the $1-per-month lease that, as proposed, may not adequately protect the city from expenses or legal risk,” notes the San Diego Union-Tribune. Given all these uncertainties, the city’s independent budget analyst called SDSU’s proposed March 27 deadline “very challenging,” not that that’s stopped city councils before.
  • Saskatoon has enough room under its debt limit to finance either a new central library or a new sports arena, and regardless of what you think of how badly Saskatooners need a new library, it’s still a pretty strong example of how opportunity costs work.
  • The Phoenix Suns‘ new practice facility being built with the help of public money will include a golf simulator for players, because of course it will.
  • Speaking of Phoenix, the Arizona Republic has revealed what the Diamondbacks owners want in a new stadium; the original article is paywalled, but for once Ballpark Digest‘s propensity for just straight-up paraphrasing other sites’ reporting comes in handy, revealing that team owners want a 36,000-  to 42,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof and surrounded by a 45- to 70-acre mixed-use development and a 5,000-seat concert venue and good public transit and full control of naming-rights revenue and public cost-sharing on ballpark repairs. And a pony.
  • Will Raiders football hike your home value?” asks the Nevada Current, apparently because “Is the moon made of green cheese?” had already been taken.
  • And last but certainly not least, your weekly vaportecture roundup: The New Orleans Saints‘ $450 million renovation of the Superdome (two-thirds paid for by taxpayers) will include field-level open-air end zone spaces where fans have ample room enjoy rendered people’s propensity for flinging their arms in the air! The new Halifax Schooners stadium designs lack the woman hailing a cab and players playing two different sports at once from previous renderings, but do seem to still allow fans to just wander onto the field if they want! It should come as no surprise to anyone that even Chuck D can do a better job of drawing than this.

Friday roundup: $278 million in public bonds demanded for pro lacrosse stadium, and … honestly, let’s just leave it there, nothing can top that

We have many newses this week:

  • The owners of the Chesapeake Bayhawks are proposing that Anne Arundel County, Maryland provide $278 million in county bonds and free land for a 10,000-seat … lacrosse stadium, really? I know lacrosse is unaccountably popular in Maryland, but that still seems pretty remarkable. (Some of the money would go to build retail and hotel space that the Bayhawks would own, which doesn’t actually make this better. The team owners have previously said they’d pay off the bonds over time, which does if they’d actually make the county whole, but there would still be lost property taxes and tax-exempt bond subsidies and that free land to account for.) The Bayhawks currently play at the Naval Academy’s lacrosse stadium in Annapolis, which was last renovated in 2004; team owner Brendan Kelly seems to consider this a crisis, saying, “I would ask the question: Do you want to fix the problem? Or are we going to kick the can down the road further.” There is a lacrosse team that does not have its own state-of-the-art lacrosse stadium, people. Won’t anyone think of the lacrosse children?
  • Here’s a thing New York Yankees president Randy Levine said this week about NYC F.C.‘s soccer stadium plans: “We are in active negotiations to get a new stadium here in New York. We hope to have an announcement this year.” That was enough to set off a string of self-admittedly overly hopeful soccer blog posts, so it’s worth remembering that 1) the latest NYC F.C. plan has all sorts of problems, and wasn’t even proposed by NYC F.C. but by a private developer; 2) saying overly hopeful things is literally team presidents’ job. No doubt Levine & Co. hope to have something more to report ASAP, but hope and $2.75 will get you a ride on the 4 train to get to an NYC F.C. match at Yankee Stadium.
  • If you’re jonesing for demolition porn of excavators going at arena seats, Oak View Group has you covered with a new video of reconstruction work at Seattle’s KeyArena. They’re keeping the roof, though, which will be good news for all your vintage roof fans.
  • Here’s a column by the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Patrick Reusse about how the Minnesota Twins‘ stadium has been a good deal for taxpayers because in addition to spending $350 million on the stadium, the county spent $23 million each on libraries and youth sports projects using leftover money from the same sales tax hike. Reusse is memorable around these parts for writing an extraordinary column in 2012 taking back his support for Vikings stadium subsidies after they’d been approved, writing, “We in the Twin Cities sports media were so amped up over getting a new stadium for the Vikings and thus maintaining them as a subject to write and talk about that not much time was spent looking at the financial realities”; maybe he should just put a large “REMINDER: NO GETTING AMPED” post-it note on his computer monitor that he can consult before future columns?
  • Mexico City will tomorrow see the opening of Mexico’s most expensive baseball stadium, a $175 million, 20,000-seat new home for the Diablos Rojos del México. That’s nearly triple what it was originally projected to cost and with an opening date two years behind schedule, but it’s still a pittance compared to U.S. stadiums (albeit for a much smaller seating capacity) and I can’t find any evidence of public subsidies in news reports, at least.
  • The Wichita city council has approved giving the owners of the relocated New Orleans Baby Cakes four acres of land to develop at a price of $1 an acre, along with $77 million in tax money for a new stadium, despite public criticism that this is an unconscionable giveaway. Councilmember James Clendenin defended the deal on the grounds that “normally when we have developers come from out of town, they want millions upon millions upon millions of dollars in incentives,” and I guess this is just millions upon millions, so shut yer yaps, wouldja?
  • Derek Jeter says Miami Marlins attendance was so terrible last year in his first season of ownership because really it was always this terrible, but former owner Jeffrey Loria lied about how many tickets he sold. This is maybe the most Marlins sentence ever written.
  • Hey, that Sydney, Australia rugby stadium that the New South Wales state government started tearing down last week to make way for a $729 million replacement? Turns out a 2016 study found it could have been upgraded to meet safety standards for as little as $18 million. Whoopsie!

Friday roundup: Flames arena questions, Braves funny math, and more vaportecture renderings and videos of suite chairs than you can shake a stick at

I swear they keep making these Fridays closer and closer together:

  • Canadian economists have lots of questions about who’s going to pay for a new Calgary Flames arena, which is as should be because the city council won’t say yet how it will be paid for. And we apparently won’t know more for a while, because first the council needs to figure out who’ll be on the negotiating committee with the Flames, and it’s not even scheduled to meet until next month. I can’t be the only one thinking, “Excellent, lots of time for somebody to leak the details to the press before everything gets negotiated,” can I? Deadspin has a tips line, just saying!
  • The Atlanta Braves brought in $442 million in revenue last year, for a profit of $92 million, but blamed the team’s debt payments on their new stadium in Cobb County for not leaving enough left over to spend big on free agents. After public subsidies, the Braves owners are on the hook for less than $20 million a year in construction debt payments, plus $6 million a year in rent, so, um, yeah.
  • The latest Texas Rangers stadium renderings make the seats in the top decks look just as crappy as in the previous renderings, there are still clip-art fans with translucent heads, and the roof is open in all of them even though the whole point of the new stadium is to have air-conditioning, which won’t work if the roof is open. At least we finally get to see how fans will get to that deck suspended in midair in left field — via a brick-colonnaded walkway, of course — so we no longer have to worry about Rangers fans having to purchase jetpacks to get to their terrible seats.
  • And still more renderings, these of a USL stadium a would-be team owner wants to build in Fort Lauderdale on the site of Lockhart Stadium, the same site David Beckham has targeted as a training site for his Inter Miami MLS team. Are there spotlights pointing pointlessly into the sky? You bet! Is this, regardless of whether the USL stadium stands a chance of getting built, yet another reason to laugh at Beckham over how he can’t catch a break? Don’t you know it!
  • Here’s a video of what the chairs and shelving will look like at the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium. And here’s a picture of what the place settings will look like in the luxury suites at the new Golden State Warriors arena, but it’s just a still photo — come on, Ben Golliver, it’s 2019, don’t you know people want to see furniture in video form?
  • New York Islanders owner Jon Ledecky insists that the team’s proposed Belmont Park arena is still “on track for the 2021-22 season,” but what else is he gonna say?
  • Winnipeg will provide a total of $16.6 million in tax breaks and other operating subsidies this year to the Jets, Blue Bombers, Goldeyes, and Manitoba Moose, and bonus points to any non-Canadian who can name what sport each of those teams play. Economic Development Winnipeg CEO Dayna Spiring claimed that the public will make its money back — no, not through the taxes the teams won’t get breaks on, that’s a Wichita thing to say. Rather, Spiring said the public will earn its money back on exposure, via the value of Winnipeg’s name appearing on hockey broadcasts. Somebody please alert this Twitter account.
  • Tottenham Hotspur stadium opening update: still maybe early April! Also, it may be called Nike Stadium, or maybe not.
  • Wichita announced it planned to double down on its $75 million expense for a new minor-league baseball stadium for the relocated New Orleans Baby Cakes Triple-A franchise by also selling land around the stadium to the team owners for $1 an acre, with the mayor saying the city would make money on the $38.5 million in taxes the new development would pay over the next 20 years. This is still not how taxes work, but Wichita has since said it was putting off the land sale after Wichitans griped about the stealth subsidy, so I won’t belabor the point. For now.
  • And finally, NBA commissioner Adam Silver want to make watching basketball at home more like being at the game, via “technology.” Wait, isn’t one main problem pro sports is facing that fewer and fewer people want to go to games because it’s just as pleasant and cheaper to watch games at home on their giant hi-def TVs? I mean, no complaints here if Silver really wants to replicate the smell of Madison Square Garden in my living room, but it seems a bit, I dunno, against their business model? Unless maybe this will be some kind of premium feature you only get by subscribing to their streaming service that will be described as “Netflix for basketball,” yeah, that’s probably it.

Friday roundup: A farewell to Baby Cakes, and other stadium news

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a week since a week ago — but then, looking at all the stadium news packed up like cordwood, it’s actually not: