Unapproved Braves vendors will still face arrest but maybe not jail, now quit your griping

The Cobb County Commission, having somewhat walked back plans to arrest anyone near the new Atlanta Braves stadium who offers parking spaces to Braves fans, is now backing away from restrictions on unapproved vendors around the stadium, too, saying they won’t necessarily face jail time:

Earlier this year, the county amended its anti-peddling ordinance to essentially grant an exemption for the Braves to control vending at the stadium and The Battery, a mixed-use development under construction next to SunTrust Park. It included what the county described as “standard misdemeanor language,” including fines and jail time for violators.

Following pushback, the county suspended the ordinance to remove references to specific penalties, effectively leaving the matter in the hands of the magistrate court.

Braves fans who want to buy peanuts for less than eight dollars, rejoice! Vendors will now be free to sell them to you and maybe escape jail time if they can talk a judge into a lesser penalty! That’ll be something to celebrate while running across the highway next year to watch the National League’s best last-place team.

Louisville arena bleeding even more public money than before, could go bankrupt

When we checked in on Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center three years ago, the University of Louisville was turning an annual $26.9 million profit on the arena, while the city of Louisville was losing $9.8 million a year. According to two researchers who testified before a state legislative committee last week, that’s changed now — in that the city is doing much, much worse:

Louisville entrepreneur Denis Frankenberger and J. Bruce Miller, senior partner in J. Bruce Miller Law Group of Louisville, told the Kentucky General Assembly’s joint Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee on Tuesday that the center lost more than $17 million in 2015 and is losing $1.4 million a month…

[Frankenberger] cited an initial [tax increment financing] revenue stream projected at about $4.5 million the facility opened actually came in at about $615,000. A second-year TIF revenue projection of $6.6 million came in at about $2.1 million…

“The University of Louisville makes $20 million a year on events,” Frankenberger told the committee. “It’s a taxpayer scam.”

A bit of context here: When the city built the arena for the state university for $339 million in 2010, the bonds were supposed to be paid off roughly evenly from city general fund money, luxury suites and arena advertising, and cash from that TIF district (i.e., any increased property taxes collected in the area right around the arena). The university, meanwhile, would collect almost all other revenues from the arena. With the TIF revenue falling short, the city now needs to come up with another way to pay off its share of the bonds (about $13 million a year) plus operating costs, or else let the place go bankrupt.

The good news is that this is mostly just a bookkeeping problem: The city vastly overestimated its future TIF revenue, so now needs to dip into one of its other pockets if it wants to keep up with its arena bond payments. The bad news is that this was going to be city money either way — since even according to the city’s own figures the TIF district was just cannibalizing property taxes that otherwise would have been paid elsewhere in the city, taxpayers were going to be on the hook for more than $200 million worth of bonds regardless. So now it’s just a question of how else to pay off the debt.

State legislators are now demanding that the city renegotiate its lease with the U of L, which sounds great except it’s not clear the city has any leverage to do so, which could result in the university saying, “Yeah, tough break about those TIFs, but we have a contract.” This was a horrible, horrible deal for Louisville residents in the first place, and the TIF shortfall is making that more obvious. But unless the threat of arena bankruptcy somehow gets the U of L to the bargaining table, it’s hard to see how this is much more than posturing.

Vegas needs the NFL or else tourists will go to Dallas, and other Raiders stadium arguments

The Nevada state legislature’s special session to discuss a $750-million-plus stadium subsidy to bring the Oakland Raiders to town kicks off today, which means it’s time for boosters of the plan to pull out all the stops in arguing that this not only is a reasonable amount of money to throw at two rich guys, but an absolute no-brainer. What do you got, stadium proponents?

Sisolak apparently said this back in early September (unless he said it again this weekend, which is possible), but the Las Vegas Review-Journal is reporting it as new news. Which is fine enough, because the notion that Las Vegas needs to be put on the tourist map is hilarious enough that it’s worth repeating as often as possible.

  • Brookings Mountain West (a joint project of the Brookings Institution and UNLV, which would get to use the new stadium for football games) directors Robert Lang and William Brown: “More than 42 million annual visitors also will notice what action Nevada’s leadership takes. Our core economy and the region’s standing as a global tourist and convention destination are in play.”

This seems to be a twist on Sisolak’s remarks, only implying that if Nevada doesn’t spend $750 million on a football stadium, tourists will stop visiting Vegas because they’ll think the state has bad leadership. Still reasonably hilarious!

Okay, starting to sense an agreed-upon message here: Sure, people are flocking to Las Vegas now, but if we don’t have a football stadium, they’ll have no reason not to go to Dallas instead! Why this would suddenly start happening now after decades of Dallas having a football stadium and Vegas not is anyone’s guess, but as “cold Omaha” statements go, it’s a vivid enough image, I suppose.

This is another common on-message point — McMillan makes it as well — so long as you don’t actually do the math on whether increased visitor spending on those things would be worth more than $750 million. (Spoiler: It wouldn’t.)

Anybody else?

This would give the members of my union more jobs while construction was underway — it’s narrow self-interest, but at least it’s true! We have a winner!

Not that any of these arguments are really expected to win the day on the basis of pure logic, economic or otherwise — rather, they’re intended to provide political cover for the state legislators who are going to have to explain in a few days why they approved giving three-quarters of a billion dollars in tax money to a wealthy casino owner and a not-quite-as-wealthy NFL team owner so they could build a stadium for private use. In modern political discourse, you don’t need to actually prove that the emperor has new clothes — you just need to make the case that reasonable people can disagree over the definition of nakedness.

Chargers “study” finds that spending money causes money to be spent, calls this success

The San Diego Chargers announced yesterday that a study by two local economists found that construction of their “convadium” plan, which would cost $1.15 billion in public money, would “increase regional output by a total of $2.1 billion, increase labor income by more than $800 million, and will have a value-added impact of $1.2 billion.” The study was paid for by the Chargers, but its authors insist (according to the Chargers) that they had “complete freedom to do our research over the summer months and to come to whatever conclusions we believed were warranted.”

Okay, so with at least one eyebrow raised, let’s click on that “Read a complete copy of the economic impact study” link, and we find … oh, look it’s a whole 13 pages of report! Two of which are renderings of the convadium, and the rest of which are, from what I can tell, just the result of plugging the cost of building the convadium into the Commerce Department’s RIMS II formula, and reading the numbers that were spit out. Nice work if you can get it!

A bit of explanation: RIMS II is mostly a set of multipliers, which take a certain kind of spending — construction, in this case, then operations of a football stadium after that — and tell you how much of an effect that’s ultimately likely to have as the money filters out into the local economy. So it could tell you that if a company spent another $1 million on hiring, that would increase to, say, $1.5 million worth of impact as those new hires went out and spent their paychecks at local stores, which would hire new employees in turn, etc.

What RIMS doesn’t tell you is what would happen if you didn’t spend the money. In this case, the city would still have a 4% lower hotel tax rate, which would presumably boost hotel stays somewhat by making San Diego more competitive against other places to go on vacation — or, if you want to look at it another way, the city would have the option of raising hotel taxes 4% to spend on something else that could then be plugged into the RIMS model. RIMS also can’t tell you what would happen to Chargers fan spending if the team were to leave (would they all drive up the coast to see them in L.A.? buy more Padres tickets instead? spend it on big-screen TVs?), so you’re comparing apples to a box of oranges that you haven’t even opened to count yet.

In short: Studies like these are almost entirely worthless for telling you whether a project is worth doing. Developers love RIMS II and its ilk, though, because if you put big enough numbers into them, they’ll spit out even bigger numbers, and big numbers look good! In the end, though, all it says is that if the public spends a billion dollars on a new football stadium and convention center expansion, that’s a billion dollars that somebody else will earn. You don’t need an advanced degree in economics to figure that out — though it sure helps when you’re trying to get hired to write a 13-page report that a sports developer can tout on its website.

Wizards’ $50m practice arena renderings are scenes from a post-apocalpytic nightmare

New renderings for the Washington Wizards practice facility (and Mystics home arena) to be built with at least $50 million in city money were released yesterday, and, I’m sorry, what?


The new arena will apparently be surrounded by a massive frozen pond, or maybe a thin coating of a liquid polymer. Fortunately, no one will be around to try to walk on it, since that could get ugly.


Is that a WNBA player? If so, why is she wearing so much makeup? What’s suspending the banner (?) in midair like that? And why on earth is there a film reel countdown projected (?) on a brick wall? What is it counting down to? Will there be any concession stands, or will the whole place just feel like an empty hotel lobby?


The most important part of any new development: lens flare.

new-dcpract-5Put it all together and you have … dear lord. At least the rest of human civilization appears to have been destroyed in whatever cataclysm turned the very ground into a shiny flat surface, so no one will be around to see this. When the aliens land, though, they’re going to be disappointed that there’s nowhere to buy any curly fries.

“Brooklyn Wars” excerpt: How the Nets arena changed Brooklyn

Hey, everybody, my new book The Brooklyn Wars is out today! (Yes, I know I said tomorrow, but I figured I’d give you all a chance to order it before tonight’s presidential debate numbs your mental capacities beyond the ability to read.) It’s a look at the ongoing transformation of Brooklyn, something that is not only inseparable from many of the issues we discuss here — public subsidies, skewed economic and political power, dunderheaded elected officials — but that involves two specific sports venue projects: There’s a long chapter on the Brooklyn Nets arena that spawned a boroughwide debate about development and eminent domain; and in the Coney Island chapter, the Brooklyn Cyclones stadium turns out to have been surprisingly (to me as well) pivotal to the reinvention of that famed beachfront neighborhood.

You’ll be seeing book excerpts popping up this week on a couple of major news websites, but I’ve saved a good bit just for Field of Schemes readers: a section on the aftermath of the construction of the Nets’ Barclays Center and the surrounding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park development, and what it did for — and to — the existing neighborhood. Enjoy, and if you’d like to read more, please buy the book!

On September 28, 2012, the Barclays Center arena opened its doors for the first time, for a concert by co-owner Jay-Z. Outside, concertgoers mingled with a few dozen protestors and various onlookers, including a Columbia University class on urban design. Inside, ticket buyers ogled the black-and-grey color scheme and three layers of luxury suites — two forming a vertical wall between the lower and upper decks, the other ensconced at floor level and dubbed “the Vault,” with a half-million-a-year price tag — while high-definition video boards flashed a pre-show message of gratitude: “Thank You Bruce Ratner.”

The building itself by then looked nothing like architect Frank Gehry’s original designs. The odd angles were gone, replaced by a perforated rust-colored steel façade designed by fill-in architects SHoP. (To prevent the rust from dripping on passersby on rainy days, the steel was “pre-weathered” in Indiana before installation; it ended up staining the sidewalks below with orange splotches regardless.) Its size had been trimmed as well, as part of a “value engineering” to cut costs during Ratner’s bond crisis, leading to a shape that fit fine for basketball, but not hockey, a condition that would lead to many obstructed views when Islanders owner Charles Wang chose to move his team in from Long Island anyway in 2015. A promised jogging path and public ice skating rink on its roof, floated as public benefits of the project, had faded away as well, replaced by a plain roof with the logo of naming-rights sponsor Barclays Bank on it, the better to be viewed from airplanes on the approach into La Guardia.

On event nights, the blocks around the arena were utterly transformed, as the surrounding streets swelled with traffic and the subways disgorged thousands of arriving fans wearing Nets shirts, Islanders jerseys, or rainbow-colored Barnum & Bailey circus hats, then reabsorbed them three hours later. (The arena developers had purposely built little parking to discourage car use; as Forest City Ratner senior vice president Jane Marshall explained at one community meeting during the planning process, “There’s a healthy fear that’s already there in potential attendees, and we’d like to encourage that.”)

For a sports arena, though, that’s a minority of the time. In its initial year, the Barclays Center was open for business about 200 nights, which is at the high end for most arenas. The other 165 days a year, plus most mornings and afternoons, it sat like a great beached robot whale at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush. An oblong video board tucked beneath its “oculus” — a kind of metal awning with a large hole in the middle, which was just as useful for protecting waiting fans from weather as it sounds — flashed promotions for upcoming events and for various building sponsors: the Daily News App, GEICO, Starbucks, Calvin Klein, Zappos, Bud Light. (Giant animated beer bottles hovering over Flatbush Avenue would normally require special city permission, but the state’s control of the site meant it could trump city billboard laws.)

The surrounding blocks, meanwhile, were an odd mix of the brand new and the remarkably unchanged. Across Flatbush from the new arena, a row of small shops had been converted into outlets of the Shake Shack upscale fast-food chain and the True Religion boutique clothing chain; other storefronts remained vacant, awaiting more revitalized uses. Across Pacific Street to the north, a PC Richard electronics store — itself put in place in the 1990s after a controversial deal to partially relocate a community garden that had been planted there during the previous decade, when the site was an underused parking lot — was fighting the state’s attempts to displace it via eminent domain for an office tower of unknown height. To the south, the former Triangle sporting goods store — named for the shape of its building, isolated on a tiny block bounded by Flatbush, 5th Avenue, and Dean Street — had been sold after ninety-six years in business for $4.1 million to a pair of real estate investors, but remained empty three years later, a wraparound cellphone ad covering its vacant windows.

South again across Dean, the owners of a Patsy’s pizzeria — a newly opened branch of the original East Harlem fixture that claims to be the first pizza place in the city to sell single slices — explained that the arena had been a great boon to their business, but they’d come to grab a slice of the greater Park Slope market as well. “Building a restaurant anywhere, if you have a quality product, you could be a back alley and people will come to you,” said Joe Juliano. “But it could take two-three years — and I don’t have two-three years to pay rent. So over here we have a captive audience across the street, and three nights a week we have the games. That really helps while you’re trying to pay the bills.” Not that capturing an arena audience that only arrives in three-hour bursts is easy, he explained: “You have 100 seats, they all want to be fed in one hour. Our pizza only takes a minute and a half to cook — that helps.” His partner, the Bensonhurst-born Anton Reja, put down his cigar to chime in: “Between this one, the corner, what’s happening over there, you got six thousand families coming into the neighborhood. But this is not working for everybody. People who are coming to see the game but going to eat, they don’t want to go four blocks away. They want to go fast.”

In fact, said Reja, while the arena was a nice bonus, his bottom line was reliant less on spillover from the arena than from the growing aura of Brooklyn as a whole. “I get a lot of locals, and then I get a lot of people who come in from Long Island, and from lots of different countries,” he said. “One night, in my restaurant, I had five tables, five different countries: New Zealand, Australia, France, Mexico. It was unbelievable. They came because of Patsy’s, maybe go to the games. And they’re just coming to see Brooklyn. Just coming to see Brooklyn!”

One block to the east, on a once-residential block of Dean Street now dominated by a police station, a fire station, and the arena’s hulking backside, the owners of Dubai Mini-Mart were finding themselves to be somewhat less of a destination. “The stadium went up, families moved out,” said Abdul Ibrahim, one of a group of cousins who opened the small grocery store in around 2005. Ibrahim, who grew up in part with his mother in Cleveland, in part with his father in East New York, said his family chose the site after the city renovated a small park nearby, building baseball and soccer fields that drew families to the block.

His main clientele, he related, still came from these families, plus police and firefighters at stations on the block, as well as workers at the arena and those erecting the pair of apartment towers that were being squeezed in on two of the arena’s sides. But even they couldn’t provide the same customer base as the now-vanished full-time residents. “Now groceries stand on the shelf. People just buy drinks sometimes,” said Ibrahim. “It’s not like when the neighborhood was a neighborhood.”

Smack up against the arena’s southern side, a bright-red 32-story tower was close to being finished, after years in the works; it had been held up when the contractors chosen to run Ratner’s new “modular” construction plant quit in a huff, saying there was no way to operate it without losing money hand over fist. (The modular technique, in which components of the building would be assembled off-site and then stacked like Legos, raised concerns about whether the project’s promised 17,000 construction jobs would ever materialize.) A couple of blocks to the east, a pair of housing towers — rebranded “Pacific Park, Brooklyn’s newest neighborhood” to avoid the taint of the Atlantic Yards name — were playing rapid catch-up, having broken ground with the aid of Chinese investors, attracted in part after Ratner sought financing via the federal government’s “EB-5” program, which doles out a fast track to green cards for foreign investors who provide low-interest loans to American development projects.

Once those buildings opened, Ibrahim would no doubt see an influx of new customers, but his landlord had warned him not to expect to be around to see much of it. “He told us he’s not going to renew our lease,” said Ibrahim. “We got to do the next four years, and then he’s going to push us out.”

Around the corner, the Slope Food Market had already shut down, shuttering after seventeen years on the spot. Its owner, who gave his name only as Khalid, had packed up and started over with a small luncheonette in the Department of Motor Vehicles building in Coney Island. “I took the store for three years, and the rent started going up high — five hundred dollars escalation every year,” he said there, while ringing up customers. An employee accidentally sold cigarettes to a minor, causing him to lose his Lotto and cigarette licenses for six months; after more losses and more rent increases, he chose to shut down. As for the arena, he said, its impact was almost unnoticeable: “Barclays Center, I tell you the truth, it has an advantage and a disadvantage. It improved the area, and made it look high-class. But as far as business impact, I would say it did not really make a big difference, because the only people we used to get from the Barclays Center were the employees coming into the deli to buy hot sandwiches.” The expansion of the Atlantic Avenue train station to bring more people to the arena, meanwhile, had meant fewer riders disembarking at the next stop, Bergen Street, which happened to be in front of his store. “We lost all the people coming into it. We didn’t see any people coming from the train.”

Two blocks away, the easternmost outpost of Pacific Park, a seventeen-story condo tower sheathed in grey fake brick, was going up on a double-sized superblock at the corner of Vanderbilt and Atlantic Avenues. Vanderbilt, long the main shopping drag of Prospect Heights, was now jammed tightly with new stores and restaurants, including Ample Hills, a homemade ice cream parlor that had soon expanded throughout the borough, and Empire Mayonnaise, an artisanal mayonnaise store that attracted media attention for its $8 jars of white truffle mayonnaise, though it had few visible walk-in clients. After Saturday Night Live lampooned them in a sketch about gentrifying Brooklyn, co-owner Elizabeth Valleau told Good magazine: “We got a whole bunch of new customers because of that skit, so we’re very happy about it.”

Valleau, who said the opening of the arena “had little to no effect on our business” — the location, she explained, had been selected mostly because it was near to her and her business partner’s homes — was somewhat less happy about being painted as a harbinger of neighborhood doom. “People are trying to politicize us, but ultimately we’re just a couple folks from the neighborhood who have a condiment business and we’re making it in the neighborhood instead of in a big warehouse out in New Jersey,” she told Good. Gentrification, she continued, had changed in Brooklyn in recent years, from being “more about new families and small businesses that actually cared about growing a future with the neighborhoods they moved into. [But now] we have these machine-style corporations eating up real estate and literally pushing people out of their homes and businesses the second a new community garden or cupcake shop appears.” Some change was inevitable, she indicated, but the city could be doing more to mitigate the impact. “What it is, is depressing.”

In a subsequent email interview, Valleau reiterated that her store should be seen as “a part of the community that could be pushed out by further gentrification, as opposed to a driver of it” — even at $8 a jar, apparently, mayonnaise sales could only pay so much in rents. (In fact, the storefront eventually closed in summer 2016, though its owners planned to relocate their wholesale mayonnaise business elsewhere.) “I understand how our business could seem frivolous from the outside, but that’s only if the viewer doesn’t realize that we manufacture every jar that we sell worldwide in a 300-square-foot space. There is nothing fancy happening here whatsoever.”

It was the typical New Brooklyn quandary: The minute you arrived in a new neighborhood, it was time to start looking over your shoulder for who was coming after you. Back at the mini-mart, Ibrahim noted that the process had taken a toll on his upstairs neighbors as well: In the past decade, his building’s landlord had already raised apartment rents from $900 a month to $3500 a month. “I’m not mad at him, because development is always good,” he insisted. “But I just feel bad because of the families that we lose. The people that live in the neighborhood, kids, that’s what I’m used to growing up. Not all these big skyrises that could have stayed in the city. But I guess you can never stop change.”

His business partner Ahmed Khtri was more cynical. “To run a business and establish a business, have it in a poor neighborhood,” he advised. “More secure, reliable people. You have it in a rich neighborhood, it comes out greed, and people who love money more than humanity.”

“If they want people to move out of the city, they should make a place for them,” said Ibrahim. “New New York, for the middle class and the broke.”

Print and electronic copies of The Brooklyn Wars (Second System Press, 2016) are available for purchase from brooklynwars.com.

Court rules St. Louis Rams PSL contracts still valid, could cost Kroenke $150m+ in payouts (UPDATE: probably not that much)

Well, ain’t that a kick in the head:

A federal judge in St. Louis ruled Wednesday that the Rams must refund deposits to some fans who purchased personal seat licenses during the franchise’s two decades in that city and offer others the opportunity to buy season tickets to games in Los Angeles.

I was dimly aware that St. Louis Rams PSL holders were suing over the season-ticket rights they’d purchased in perpetuity suddenly being worth nothing since there were no St. Louis Rams season tickets to buy anymore (see my brief note here), but I never thought they’d actually win. Nor, presumably, did Rams owner Stan Kroenke, because he is now seriously hosed, to a degree that we’ll attempt to figure out in a second.

First, a primer on PSLs: Initially created as a bonus for fans who bought inaugural Charlotte Hornets season tickets (not only do you get the tickets, but if you don’t want them anymore you can sell your spot on line to someone who does!), they quickly turned into a lucrative way for team owners to raise cash: Instead of first-come-first-serve tickets, offer fans the chance to buy the right to first dibs, with the carrot that they can then re-sell that right down the road to recoup at least some of what they laid out. In some cases with popular teams in cities with lots of fans with money to burn, it’s been lucrative indeed: The San Francisco 49ers managed to bring in more than $500 million from their PSL sales, which is a sizable chunk of change. And Kroenke has been hoping for similar revenue from PSL sales to help pay for his new $2.5-billion-ish stadium in L.A., though he can’t start selling them until next February as part of his relocation deal with the NFL.

So how much will this court decision, assuming it holds up on appeal, cost Kroenke? Of the 46,000 Rams PSL holders, there were two classes being represented — those whose PSLs were initially bought through a broker and those whose PSLs were bought directly from the team — and thanks to differences in the two contracts (whee lawyers!), each group now gets a slightly windfall: Broker purchasers get a refund of their PSL “deposit” (the judge declined to define what that means for now), while direct buyers get to actually transfer their PSL rights to the Rams’ new stadium. And while that may not sound so great — do any St. Louis Rams fans really want to fly to L.A. to see their former team play? — remember, the whole point of PSL rights is that they’re transferrable, so this is now a hugely valuable asset that they can sell, and more important, that Kroenke now can’t.

How much actual money would that cost Kroenke? Now we’re deep into speculation, since we don’t know how many direct vs. broker buyers there were, nor how much Kroenke was planning on selling L.A. PSLs for. Deadspin reported that the ruling will “likely cost the team millions of dollars in returned deposits and foregone profit,” but that’s almost certainly way too low: If there are 23,000 direct buyers and 23,000 broker buyers, say, then refunding 23,000 fans for their St. Louis purchases at $250 each would cost $5 million, while handing over free L.A. PSLs to another 23,000 fans could cost — let’s see, it’s a 70,000-seat stadium, so if Kroenke was shooting for $500 million in PSL sales, then scrapping 23,000 of those would lose him … $160 million, something like that, depending on which seats the judge says he has to set aside for St. Louis PSL holders?

It’s hardly a deal-breaker when you’re spending over $2 billion on a new facility, sure, but still, unexpected nine-digit losses are never fun. However all this turns out, it’s likely to be at least a moderate-sized headache for Kroenke and his accountants, as well as a cautionary tale for both teams writing up PSL contracts and fans buying them: Read the damn fine print, because it could end up being worth a hell of a lot of money.

UPDATES: As a couple of commenters have pointed out, the cost to Kroenke probably won’t be as much as I’d guesstimated: First off, more than 90% of the PSLs were sold by the broker, not the Rams, so that pushes most of the PSL holders into the less-lucrative “you get your deposit back” category. Second, the St. Louis PSLs were set to expire after the 2024 season (the Rams lawyers did something smart, anyway), so even for the L.A. PSLs Kroenke has to now pull off the market, he’ll get to resell them again in a few years. So we’re down in the $15-25 million cost range for Kroenke, which while it’s going to sting, is more of a rounding error for a guy playing in this spending stratosphere.

Utah Jazz spending $23m in tax breaks on really big sign reading “PIZZA,” apparently

The owners of the Utah Jazz, as you may recall, are launching a $125 million renovation of their privately owned arena with the help of $23 million in tax kickback subsidies that were approved with no public debate and for no damn reason (Salt Lake City got exactly nothing in exchange for its money), and now they’re releasing their first renderings of what they’ll be spending their cash on, and for some reason the first image is this: screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-7-36-05-amThat’s a whole lotta pizza concession stand! And it tells you that it’s selling pizza! And it’s sorta shaped like a pizza? And the guys making the pizza are definitely wearing chef’s hats, because you can’t put a price on that.

There are other photos in the Deseret News’ slideshow, and you know, the pizza one might actually be the most impressive. Jazz owner Gail Miller may be good at getting public subsidies in exchange for nothing, but she has some work to do on coming up with shiny vaportecture renderings to make taxpayers think they’re getting something for their money.

Here’s the Hornets’ new scoreboards, also my Brooklyn book is out in two weeks

Want to see $24 million worth of scoreboards (okay, all that money didn’t go to scoreboards, but some of it did) that the Charlotte Hornets built with public money? Here you go!

hornets-scoreboard-mk009750xx5642-3174-0-294And there’s a whole slideshow full of more of them here, though most of them aren’t very interesting.

In almost but quite entirely unrelated news, today my publisher Second System Press and I announced that my book The Brooklyn Wars will be available for purchase starting Tuesday, September 27. This is somewhat related because one-quarter of The Brooklyn Wars is dedicated to a recounting of the planning, construction, and aftermath of the Brooklyn Nets’ Barclays Center and its surrounding Atlantic Yards development project — any Field of Schemes readers who are members of the press and would like an electronic review copy right now, drop me an email and we’ll talk. Kickstarter funders, meanwhile, should check their email inboxes for immediate download codes. For everyone else, cool your jets for another 15 days.

Tax-free stadium bonds cost U.S. taxpayers $3.7B since 2000 for no damn reason, says study

It’s been public knowledge for decades that the federal government spends billions of dollars subsidizing private sports stadiums through tax-free bonds for no good reason: Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan tried (and failed) to address it in 1986 through the Tax Reform Act and again ten years later, Congress has held hearings about it where myself and others testified, and President Obama has proposed eliminating the tax-exempt bond loophole in his annual budget.

Still, that’s not the same as a major think tank actually itemizing the cost to U.S. taxpayers of allowing tax-exempt bonds to be used for sports facilities: $3.7 billion since 2000, according to a new Brookings Institution study (full PDF here).

All together, the federal government has subsidized newly constructed or majorly renovated professional sports stadiums to the tune of $3.2 billion federal taxpayer dollars since 2000. But because high-income bond holders receive a windfall gain for holding municipal bonds, the resulting loss in total revenue to the federal government is even larger at $3.7 billion.

Those two numbers require a little explanation. When a stadium or arena is built with tax-exempt bonds, the bondholders don’t pay taxes (duh) on the bond payments. That means that they’ll accept a lower interest rate, so stadium builders get to save money on construction financing — about $3.2 billion worth over the past 16 years. But stadium builders can’t precisely enough calibrate interest rates to extract all that savings for themselves, so bondholders end up getting part of the windfall as well — about $500 million since 2000.

That $3.7 billion number is a whopping big figure, but the Brookings report goes on to itemize the cost for every sports facility built in the U.S. since the turn of the millennium:

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-8-09-21-amSomebody at Brookings clearly understands how the media works, because a chart like this is crack for local journalists looking for a good news hook. Already this morning there have been stories in the Denver Post on the Broncos‘ federal subsidy (“shortchanged federal tax collectors by $54 million”), in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on that city’s three new venues (“The Penguins received the second biggest subsidy among National Hockey League teams, topped only by the New York Islanders at $122 million”), and in the San Diego Union-Tribune on the Padres‘ federal subsidy, and that’s just what Google alerted me to when I woke up.

Moreover, the study makes clear, these tax breaks have been provided for no real reason at all: Unlike local-level subsidies, which are dumb but at least if you squint can be seen as keeping the team in town or boosting the local economy a smidge or something, federal stadium subsidies don’t benefit the U.S. as a whole even one iota.

Decades of academic studies consistently find no discernible positive relationship between sports facilities and local economic development, income growth, or job creation. And local benefits aside, there is clearly no economic justification for federal subsidies for sports stadiums. Residents of, say, Wyoming, Maine, or Alaska have nothing to gain from the Washington-area football team’s decision to locate in Virginia, Maryland, or the District of Columbia.

Whether all this attention results in anything being done about the situation is another story: When Moynihan tried to pass a bill in the ’90s to rein in federal stadium subsidies, the New York Times reported that he’d been forced to “retreat under a hail of lobbying fire,” and matters aren’t likely to be much different today. (Obama’s budget plan to do the same thing never got seriously considered in Congress.) I’d like to say that maybe there’s a chance for change if the Democrats retake both houses of Congress in January — after all, their putative leader for the last eight years has declared that this is something that needs reform — but given sports leagues’ lobbying power with both parties, I’m not holding my breath. Still, drops of water turn a mill, right? Maybe one of these decades…