Friday roundup: If you’re watching TV sports in empty stadiums by summer, count yourself lucky

Michael Sorkin, who died yesterday of COVID-19, was a prolific architecture critic (and architect) and observer of the politics of public space, and so not a little influential in the development of my own writing. I’m sure I read some of Sorkin’s architecture criticism in the Village Voice, but he first came on my radar with his 1992 anthology “Variations on a Theme Park,” a terrific collection of essays discussing the ways that architects, urban planners, and major corporations were redesigning the world we live in to become a simulacrum of what people think they want from their environment, but packaged in a way to better make them safely saleable commodities. (I wish I’d gotten a chance to ask him what he thought of the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium, with its prefab walkable urban neighborhood with no real city attached to it.) In his “Variations on a Theme Park” essay on Disneyland and Disney World, he laid out the history of imagineered cities starting with the earliest World’s Fairs, up to the present day with Disney’s pioneering of “copyrighted urban environments” where photos cannot even be taken and published without prior approval of the Mouse — a restriction he got around by running as an illustration a photo of some clouds, and labeling it, “The sky above Disney World.”

I really hope this isn’t the beginning of a weekly feature on great people we’ve lost to this pandemic, though it seems pretty inevitable at this point. For now, on with the other stadium and arena news, though if you’re looking for a break from incessant coronavirus coverage, you won’t find it here:

Friday roundup: More Carolina Panthers stadium demands, D-Backs explain Vancouver move threat, and giant soccer robots

Good morning, and thank you for taking a break from your coronavirus panic reading to patronize Field of Schemes. Please wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, and we can begin:

Worcester adds $20m more in tax money to baseball stadium because it forgot how gravity works

The Worcester Red Sox stadium project has always been on the pricey side as minor-league baseball stadiums go, both in terms of projected construction cost ($90 million) and projected public subsidy (around $100 million — yep, the builders were set to get more in tax kickbacks and infrastructure funds than they actually spent on construction — so news that it’s facing significant cost overruns is not really what anyone needed to hear:

Construction costs for Polar Park have increased by $9.5 million over initial estimates, while costs to acquire the properties needed for the ballpark, relocate businesses and prepare the site for development have run roughly $20 million more than what was anticipated.

That has prompted city officials to negotiate changes to the agreements with the ballclub that will be playing at Polar Park starting in 2021 and for the private development that will be built as part of the overall $240 million redevelopment of the Kelley Square/Canal District area.

These “negotiated changes” are that the team will cover the $9.5 million in increased construction costs, while the city will cover the $20 million in added land acquisition and site prep costs. Part of the team’s costs (according to the city manager’s report that starts on page 59 here) will be covered by a doubling of the 50-cent ticket fee that was planned for WooSox games; the city’s costs will be funded by increasing the size of the tax increment financing district where future rises in property tax revenues will be siphoned off and used to pay for land acquisition costs.

Worcester city manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. told the Worcester Telegram that the stadium “will continue to pay for itself” and that no “existing” taxpayer money will be diverted to pay for it, which is a clever bit of wordplay to get around the fact that $20 million in future tax money that would have gone to the city will now instead go to site prep costs — and if tax revenues don’t rise as much as expected, Worcester will absolutely have to dip into existing funds to cover the shortfall.

The best part of all this, though, is Augustus’s explanation for why the city’s site costs have risen so much:

“Due to a number of unknown factors, particularly related to business relocation costs, and the need for a more complicated retaining wall system resulting from the steep grade of the site, those costs total $20.69 million,” Augustus said.

I’m sorry, did you say “the steep grade of the site”? You mean despite years of planning, nobody noticed until now that the site is on a hill, and that when you cut into a hill you need to build retaining walls to keep the hill from falling on your new stadium? Clearly this was an unknown and unforeseeable factor, and not an example of lowballing projected costs so that local elected officials (and one economist, though not most) could think it was a better deal!

The vaportecture artists just aren’t even trying anymore, man

We’ve been over a lot of bad stadium renderings on this site — stadiums with two sports being played at once, stadiums with people walking on snow-covered ice rinks in street shoes, stadiums where fans stare at trees. But this latest from the Worcester Red Sox (previous home of the tree starer), just come on:

What… what is even happening here? At first glance, it looks like the WooSox are proposing a stadium where all of the seating is in the outfield, the better to protect fans from the horrific sight of 30-foot-tall toddlers rampaging across the infield. Or it’s possible that’s some kind of baseball-field-themed play park out in the outfield behind the scoreboard — this image suggests maybe that’s the case — but even so, the people walking on it are wildly out of scale, even with each other, and also there appears to be nothing stopping them from just tumbling onto the real field in the background. I’m also not sure what purpose those frosted-glass turnstiles are supposed to serve, or what happened to the feet (or eyes, nose, and mouth) of that poor woman in the foreground. It’s like someone was left in the rendering room with a bunch of Colorforms and no supervision, and then the results were sent directly to the press.

Then there’s this, which MassLive helpfully captioned “Polar Park will offer a berm seating location the left centerfield”:

From the other images, I’m guessing that’s supposed to be a grassy slope with the outfield wall at the bottom, a wall that’s made up of some kind of blue rocks topped with a divider from Atari Adventure.

Of course, it’s always possible that the MassLive caption editors are trolling us, when you consider that this image is captioned “The Summit Street Fair located in Polar Park will offer year-round and nightly activities for patrons visiting the area in Worcester”:

Look, we all know that renderers are overworked by clients with no particular interest in quality control, so I’m willing to cut them some slack here. But why on earth did MassLive choose to run all of these horrific images, under the uncritical (if possibly trolly, everything starts to look possibly sarcastic if you stare at it long enough) headline “New Polar Park details include a heart-shaped clock, smiley foul poles and year-round nightlife”? (Yes, I didn’t even get to the smiley-face-topped foul poles.) Is this the dystopian future we now live in, where everyone just sighs and does whatever the money people ask for, while hoping that readers will be smart enough to laugh instead of taking it seriously? Do they even care if people take it seriously, so long as the checks clear? I think we may finally have arrived at that Hobbesian grift of all against all that we’ve been waiting for, people.

Friday roundup: Raleigh MLS project funding, Islanders’ train station costs, Flames arena talks are all ???

Happy Friday! If you’ve been wondering if Scott McCaughey’s excellent new album of songs written while in a hospital room recovering from a stroke can drown out the sound of poorly timed jackhammering by the gas company right outside your window, I’m here to report: Not nearly well enough!

Typing really loud so you can hear me over the din:

  • Raleigh residents are concerned that a development project centered on a new soccer stadium could price them out of living in the city. Also, there isn’t actually enough Wake County tax money available to pay for the project’s proposed $390 million public cost. And Raleigh doesn’t have an MLS team, or the promise of one. Other than that, this is going swimmingly.
  • Newsday has contradicted Long Island Business News’s report that New York state will pay “most” of the cost of a new $300 million train station for an Islanders arena at Belmont Park, saying that the actual cost is only $100 million and developers will pay most of it. Unnamed source fight!
  • Calgary city councillor Jeff Davison, who is spearheading behind-closed-doors talks with the Flames owners over a new arena, says, “We do not have a deal today, and when we will have one and if we will have one is totally up in the air. But what we can tell the public today is that discussions are productive but they’re not complete. We can’t give an exact date as to when we’ll be back with any information [but] I’m confident if we do bring a plan back, that the public will support it.” Pretty sure that translates as “Still talking, ask again later.”
  • Noah Pransky has been on a writing tear about the Tampa Bay Rays mess this week, including a review of an article he wrote in July 2009 predicting much of what has since come to pass and an analysis of how hotel-tax money that Tampa officials say can’t be spent for things like policing or libraries really can, because they could be used to free up general-fund money that’s currently spent on tourism-related expenses. “Where’s the study on best uses for that new money?” writes Pransky at Florida Politics. “How about just a best-use conversation, held out in the sunshine?” Crazy talk!
  • Speaking of tax money that could be spent on other things, Cuyahoga County is considering a 1% hotel tax hike to free up $4.6 million a year to spend on its convention center and sports venues, which in present value comes to about $70 million. (The Cleveland Plain Dealer article on this is entirely about how the bed tax hike would affect the hotel industry, because of course it is.)
  • “Could an NFL Stadium [for the Buffalo Bills] be Built on an Abandoned Coke Plant Property?” asks Erie News Now, boldly toying with Betteridge’s Law.
  • Worcester will break ground next Thursday on its new heavily subsidized Triple-A Red Sox stadium set to open at the beginning of the 2021 season, which, uh, isn’t a lot of time. They’d better hope that the climate crisis means a less stormy winter construction season in New England, which, uh, isn’t likely.

Friday roundup: Wild get $55m to extend lease, A’s seek to buy into Coliseum land, Calgary will own Flames arena (maybe, whatever that means)

Friday! Let’s see what else has been happening this week:

  • The owners of the Minnesota Wild have extended their lease for ten years, through 2035, in exchange for cutting their rent from $9 million a year to just over $3.5 million. That may sound like a $55 million gift (or an $88 million gift — the Pioneer Press wasn’t clear about whether the rent reduction starts now or in 2026), but St. Paul officials say it won’t cost the city any money, because they renegotiated the public arena bonds so that they can be paid off over a longer time. No, I don’t get it either, this is just what the newspaper says the unnamed city officials said, go ask them.
  • The Oakland A’s owners have a tentative agreement to buy Alameda County’s half of the Oakland Coliseum site for $85 million. (The public landowners previously turned down a purchase offer of $167 million when it looked like the Raiders might stay put there, and other indicators put the market value of the site in the same range, so the price looks reasonable, at least.) No, that doesn’t mean the A’s owners will necessarily build a stadium there — they say Howard Terminal is still their first choice for that — but they could, or they could just build other development there, or they could be prohibited from building anything, given that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has been complaining that the county selling its stake without consulting the city, which owns the other half, could be illegal. Check back again in about a month, when the deal is supposed to be finalized, maybe.
  • Calgary councillor Jeff Davison, the main proponent of a new arena for the Flames, says that “the City of Calgary will own” any arena, which could mean, well, anything really: Will the city own just the deed, or the revenues from the build as well? Who will control non-hockey events? Who will pay maintenance? Will the building pay property taxes? Rent? The Calgary Herald says that “an official with the Flames said there was ‘nothing to report’ when asked for comment,” so we’re flying blind here, at least until Davison drops some more hints about what he thinks is going to be approved, if he even knows what will be approved and isn’t just trying to boost his plan’s prospects by talking it up in the press. Stenography journalism is hard!
  • Eastern Illinois University is looking at building an esports arena in a second-floor classroom, and now I really don’t get why Comcast Spectacor needs to spend $50 million to build one in Philadelphia.
  • This week in vaportecture: One of the ghostly figures projected to attend Worcester Red Sox games has now wandered onto the imaginary field’s imaginary second base and is celebrating an imaginary double; the F.C. Cincinnati stadium will now feature a “grand staircase” that is supposed to echo the Spanish Steps in Rome and the front steps of the New York Public Library, which are 174 steps and (roughly, I can’t find a count online) 25 steps respectively, whereas these look like they’ll be seven steps max, but okay; and the Tampa Bay Rays stadium in Tampa that will never be built has finally turned around its field so the giant gap in the grandstand isn’t behind home plate but is now in center field, which is more reasonable but, remember, not going to be built anyway, so never mind.
  • And speaking of Tampa, newly elected mayor Jane Castor has declared, “I will do what I can to have the Rays move to Tampa.” Rays owner Stuart Sternberg can’t move anywhere until 2027 without the permission of St. Petersburg, and the term Castor was just elected to expires in 2023, so good luck with that one, mayor.

Friday roundup: NYCFC turf woes, Quebec’s NHL snub, and why people who live near stadiums can’t have nice things

And in less vaportectury news:

  • NYC F.C. is having turf problems again, as large chunks of the temporary sod covering New Yankee Stadium’s dirt infield were peeling up at their home match last Saturday. There’s still been no announced progress on the latest stadium plan proposed last summer (which wasn’t even proposed by the team, but by a private developer), and I honestly won’t be surprised if there never is, though Yankees president Randy Levine did say recently that he “hopes” to have a soccer stadium announcement this year sometime, so there’s that.
  • Deadspin ran a long article on why Quebec City keeps getting snubbed for an NHL franchise, and the short answer appears to be: It’s a small city, the Canadian dollar is weak, Gary Bettman loves trying to expand hockey into unlikely U.S. markets, and Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson hates prospective Quebec Nordiques owner Pierre Karl Péladeau, for reasons having to do with everything from arena competition to Anglophone-Francophone beef. Say it with me now: Building arenas on spec is a no good, very bad idea.
  • The Cleveland Cavaliers arena has an even more terrible new name than the two terrible names that preceded it. “I know that sometimes [with] change, you get a little resistance and people say, ‘Why are they changing it?’ and ‘How’s that name going to work?'” team owner Dan Gilbert told NBA.com. The answers, if you were wondering, are “Dan Gilbert is trying to promote a different one of his allegedly fraudulent loan service programs” and “nobody’s going to even remember the new name, and will probably just call it ‘the arena’ or something.”
  • Inglewood residents are afraid that the new Los Angeles Rams stadium will price them out of their neighborhood; the good news for them is that all economic evidence is that the stadium probably won’t do much to accelerate gentrification, while the bad news is that gentrification is probably coming for them stadium or not. The it-could-be-worse news is that Inglewood residents are still better off than Cincinnati residents who, after F.C. Cincinnati‘s owners promised no one would be displaced for their new stadium, went around buying up buildings around the new stadium and forcing residents to relocate, because that’s not technically “for” the new stadium, right?
  • Worcester still hasn’t gotten around to buying up all the property for the Triple-A Red Sox‘ new stadium set to open in 2021, and with construction set to begin in July, this could be setting the stage for the city to either have to overpay for the land or have to engage in a protracted eminent domain proceeding that could delay the stadium’s opening. It’s probably too soon to be anticipating another minor-league baseball road team, but who am I kidding, it’s never too soon to look forward to that.

Friday roundup: Suns referendum campaign fails, Panthers owner floats roof, Inter Miami and Raiders both still need temporary homes

The stadium news does not care if I am having a busy week, it just keeps happening! And I am, as always, here to catch it in a bucket and dump it out for you:

Friday roundup: Terrible concerts, new Yankees garage costs, and why Phoenix’s ex-mayor is glad he didn’t build a Cardinals stadium

Welcome to the first-ever weekly stadium news roundup to kick off with a review of a terrible Ed Sheeran concert:

  • The Minnesota Vikings‘ $1 billion stadium still sounds like crap for concerts, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune in its review of an Ed Sheeran show last Saturday: “Anytime Sheeran slapped out a beatnik-funky drum beat on his guitar and put it on repeat, such as ‘New Man’ or the pre-encore finale ‘Sing,’ it sounded hopelessly mucky and un-funky, sort of like a kitchen-sink garbage disposal trying to clear out gallons of half-dried concrete.” Time for Zygi Wilf to demand a new one yet? Only 28 years to go on their lease!
  • Speaking of concerts, CBC News has a chart of top touring acts that have skipped Saskatoon while playing in other cities in recent years — ostensibly because Saskatoon’s arena is too old (30 years! even older than Ed Sheeran!) and too far out of the center of town and has too antiquated a rigging system — but mostly it’s a reminder of how many arena acts are on their last legs: Paul McCartney and Barbra Streisand and Black Sabbath all played other Canadian cities but not Saskatoon? How will the city ever prepare for the future! (Also, Saskatoon’s bigger problem might just be that it’s Canada’s 19th-largest city — I bet Paul and Barbra didn’t play Lubbock, Texas, either, which is about the same population.)
  • The Miami Dolphins stadium’s revenues were up 39.7% last year, and expenses were only up 31%, so guess owner Stephen Ross’s $350 million renovation is paying off (though a large chunk of that was actually paid for by Miami-Dade County and by the NFL). It makes it all the more puzzling why the county handed over additional subsidies last summer that could be worth as much as $57.5 million, but actually, since the stadium renovations were already done and paid for by then, it would be puzzling even if Ross were losing money on the thing. Florida, man.
  • Here’s a fun Guardian article on what makes a good soccer stadium. Not sure there’s one takeaway other than “Design them to be good places to watch the match with seats close to the action, and try to make them fit into their immediate surroundings,” but that’s more than most U.S. stadium designers do, anyway.
  • Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores still want an MLS expansion team in Detroit, and while they’ve determined that removing the Lions stadium’s fixed roof and building a retractable one like MLS asked would be prohibitively expensive, they have offered to spend $95 million on a training field and other soccer fields throughout the city, though Crain’s Detroit notes that it’s “unclear” if that spending “would use any public funding.” If it would, this will be an interesting test in how badly MLS wants its teams to play in soccer-friendly outdoor stadiums, and how much it just wants new owners who’ve shown they can extract cash from their local municipalities.
  • Hey, check it out, it’s an NPR report on how Worcester, Massachusetts has been undergoing a boom in development and influx of new residents thanks to its cheap rents compared to nearby Boston, to the point where some locals are worried that they’ll be priced out. Is it too late for Worcester to take back that $100 million it’s spending on a Red Sox Triple-A stadium that was supposed to be needed to put the city on the map?
  • Who says that new stadiums don’t transform the areas around them? Why, the SkinnyFats restaurant near the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium just added a new craft beer tap room! That’s gotta be worth $750 million.
  • The deal for the new New York Yankees stadium included new parking lots that were mostly to be paid for by a nonprofit shell corporation that was to own them and collect parking revenues, but now that it turns out nobody wants to pay $45 to park for Yankees games when there are plenty of cheaper parking options plus multiple subway and commuter rail lines nearby, the company is $100 million in default on rent and taxes to the city, with no real hopes of ever paying it back. I should probably add this to the “city costs” section of my Yankee Stadium subsidy spreadsheet, but I don’t have time this morning, so just mentally note that city taxpayers have now put up almost $800 million toward a stadium that was sold as involving “no public subsidies,” with state and federal subsidies putting the total taxpayer bill at nearly $1.3 billion.
  • Former Phoenix mayor Skip Rimsza says one of his proudest accomplishments is not building a downtown stadium for the Arizona Cardinals, since instead the city got to use the land to build a biomedical campus that provides way more jobs and economic activity than a football stadium. Opportunity cost in action! I’d love to write an article on all the things that cities didn’t get to build because they focused on erecting new sports facilities, but sadly my Einstein-Rosen Bridge portal is on the fritz.

Terrible Worcester stadium deal gets appropriately terrible renderings

We have new renderings of the Worcester Red Sox stadium set to open in 2021! Let’s see what one of the largest minor-league baseball stadium subsidies in history will get for the Paris of the 80s:

I’ve always assumed that people in architectural renderings come from some sort of clip art, but if so, the ones here appear to have been imported from the Wacky Poses collection. We have the kids in oversized t-shirts putting on shower caps, the woman hailing a cab on an empty street, the woman intently staring down a tree, the man with a beard down to his navel, the two guys not at all suspiciously wearing long overcoats when everyone else is dressed in shorts, and so, so much more! Really, you could make a good “Find the X things wrong with this picture” puzzle out of this image, except the answer would be “everything.” (Why are so many of the people subtly translucent, anyway?)

The stadium will have a diner! This is, I guess, one of those touches that’s supposed to show it will be a year-round economic catalyst, and not just a giant building that’s closed almost 300 days a year. I especially like how the renderers chose to add a big dorky pointer labeling the diner, rather than the way easier solution of making the diner signage say “Diner” instead of “Signage.”

They really want you to see that diner. It will, apparently, be filled with a toxic gas that will repel all potential customers and keep them at a safe distance, which is probably a good idea seeing that the customers will all be gray, featureless ghosts. (But not translucent! Only living, breathing people are translucent in WooSox world!)

WE GET IT THERE’S A DINER OKAY

Finally, the first image where we can see the inside of the stadium. Aside from being weirdly asymmetrical — is it modeled after Fenway Park, maybe, with its short porch in left and terrible right-field corner seats? — it has a rather large upper deck for a 10,000-seat Triple-A stadium. That’s not at all a bad thing, not is the fact that the upper deck appears to be cantilevered well over the lower-deck seats, but I am puzzled by what’s holding it up, since there are no columns underneath it and nothing behind it to serve as a counterweight.This image makes it ever more clear: That upper deck is just suspended off of the front of the concourse behind it by some mysterious force. Hey everybody, we may have found the location of the universe’s missing dark energy! And who can put a price on unlocking one of the fundamental puzzles of the universe?