Things We’re Still Thinking About Department:
So … is the Viking ship sinking into the parking lot? Being eaten by a whale? Carefully preserved inside a steel-and-glass museum that looks nothing like a Viking ship? Modern architecture confuses me.
Hey, it’s another “longform” article mulling over stadium subsidies! This time it’s in the Atlantic, headlined, “Is There a Better Way to Build a Stadium?” An excellent question, albeit one that raises suspicions of Betteridge’s Law being at work here, but let’s see what author Alana Semuels has to say:
It has become widely accepted that publicly-financed sports stadiums are a bad deal for cities.
Well, yeah. The only example given here is the St. Louis Rams deal, which was indeed bad but is by no means definitive, but subsidies are long and online attention spans are short, so let’s move on to the nut graf:
What’s different in the case of Milwaukee? Either a whole lot, or nothing, depending on who you ask.
Oh, lord, this isn’t going to be a he-said-she-said “there are opinions on both sides” article, is it?
Next up is a quote from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on the Bucks deal (“we think this is a good, solid move as a good steward of the taxpayers’ money here in Wisconsin”), then a counter from economist Victor Matheson (“There is a fairly big deal of hypocrisy going on particularly in Milwaukee Bucks case”), plus a cite of studies showing bad returns on public spending on stadiums and arenas. Then a confusing discussion of tax-exempt bonds (“Public financing for stadiums came about as Congress tried to limit deals that allowed private entities to profit from tax-exempt bonds,” wait, what?), then “it’s possible that the Bucks, and other teams, have learned something from the public antipathy towards public financing of arenas.” Learned how?
The team isn’t just using public funds to build an arena for itself; it is also pledging to build a seven-story parking structure alongside the arena with mixed-use retail on the ground floor and an apartment complex on the eastern side. It has hired a design team for a block of entertainment, retail, and commercial spaces, and hopes to begin building that area next year, according to spokesman Jake Suski. The team is also the master developer for the entire 27-acre development, which may someday include bars, restaurants, a public plaza, and eventually office space, multifamily housing, and a hotel.
Yeah, that’s not new at all — team owners have been building ancillary development next to sports venues for so long that I’ve already come up with and abandoned a nickname for them. (“Kitchen-sink plans,” because they throw in everything but — you can see why I abandoned it.) Then there’s lots of back and forth about whether this can work out well (conclusion: maybe), and finally a Milwaukee law professor saying, “I remain a skeptic.” And FIN.
This isn’t even an example of Betteridge’s Law so much as an example of an article that sets out to answer a question, then throws up its hands halfway through, because hell, people disagree on the answer. Admittedly, one side is the people who stand to reap a fortune in subsidies — more than $500 million, a figure that is not even hinted at in the Atlantic article, which apparently either doesn’t consider tax breaks to be subsidies or just takes Walker’s word on how much the subsidies are worth — and the other is just about every economist and independent investigator on earth, but hey, who are we as journalists to say who’s right? One thing’s for certain: No one knows.
It’s that time again: My biannual appeal for you, the faithful Field of Schemes readers, to kick some money in towards letting me take the time each morning to scour the stadium-and-arena-shenanigans world and bring it to you on a platter of snark. In exchange, you get not only the warm feeling that you are allowing me to continue to cover these issues without worrying about how it’s taking time away from paying the electric bill, but you will also receive various rewards for your generosity:
Mini-Supporters ($25 for a year) get a Field of Schemes Supporter button, a reprint of the original zine article that launched Joanna and I to research and write our book, and both the original series of FoS stadium cards plus a new series that I’ll be designing this summer using the latest tragic hilarity from the stadium world. (If I can get good photos, the Texas Rangers’ stadium-that-may-be-torn-down-after-22-years-because-it-lacks-air-conditioning is a must.)
Half-Year Supporters ($50 for six months) get everything above, plus six months of ad space in the fieldofschemes.com right banner section (I’ll design an ad for you if you don’t have an image in mind), plus a PDF copy of my upcoming book, The Brooklyn Wars, once it’s available in September. (It’s not all about stadium deals, but stadiums are far more integral to Brooklyn’s transformation, and in less expected ways, than I realized when I first started writing the book two summers ago.)
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Speaking of sports venues that may not be ready on time, that Rio Olympics velodrome, man:
Tecnosolo, the construction company in charge of the velodrome, declared bankruptcy on Monday, causing the city of Rio de Janeiro to cancel its contract and hand it over to a different construction firm. The city government has said that construction is 88 percent complete, which is probably an optimistic estimate, given the flood of bad press they’ve been under for the entirety of 2016.
The Olympics start in ten weeks, so this is pretty much officially a crisis. That is, assuming the Olympics don’t get moved somewhere else or delayed thanks to Zika virus or Brazil’s political crisis, which lots of people think would be a good idea but isn’t going to happen — the Olympics must go on, even if athletes are afraid to show up or have to race their bikes in the street.
The Texas Rangers owners and the city of Arlington unveiled their proposal for a new retractable-roofed stadium on Friday, sketching in some more of the details that had been left out of that morning’s leak:
That tells us a lot more than we knew Friday morning, but there are still a bunch of unanswered questions:
But hey, there’s still time to work all that out in the next 24 hours before the council vote, right?
Here, just look at some renderings of what the final stadium design almost certainly won’t look like, instead of worrying about all that. It’s what the Rangers owners surely want you to do:
Ever since Kansas City opened the Sprint Center in 2007, it didn’t need a second arena with no sports team that was failing to pay back its construction costs. But now the city seems to have found a potential reuse for Kemper Arena, former home of the Kansas City Kings and Kansas City Scouts:
The repurposing plan Kansas City officials have chosen to pursue would span the original arena floor with a second level, adding enough new floor space for seven high school-sized athletic courts. Those would be in addition to four courts that could be positioned on the existing arena floor…
If all the needed financing details fall into place, developer Steve Foutch said, the facility could be redeveloped by the end of 2017 at an estimated cost of $25 million to $30 million.
Hey, first-class youth sports facility paid for by a private developer, and getting the city out from paying $1 million in maintenance on the place? What’s not to like? Building a second arena floor in mid-air is a bit weird and bound to present engineering challenges, but at least the taxpayer cost is limited—
None of this is a done deal unless state and federal authorities agree that Kemper Arena is worthy of placement on the National Register of Historic Places. That step is necessary to apply for historic tax credits that could cover more than one-third of the redevelopment costs.
Okay, so federal taxpayers would have to put up about $10 million to preserve a 42-year-old arena that’s “historic” mostly because its roof caved in once, but that’s still not so bad—
Foutch said Monday that he is in the middle of negotiations with the city but expects to acquire the property for a “nominal” amount, given that reusing Kemper would save the city the cost of demolition.
Give the developers the arena for nothing? And presumably let them keep all the proceeds from running it? That’s a bit more dubious, but at least then the city would collect property—
Another part of the needed financing plan involves Foutch getting approval for property tax abatement. Foutch said he will seek 100 percent abatement for 10 years through the city’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority.
You are trying to make me hate this deal, Kansas City! Knock it off! Sigh.
It’s time again for the Florida legislature to vote on the dumbest sports subsidies ever, wherein the state gets to hand out money from sales taxes to any sports organization that asks, to pay for venue upgrades they’re doing anyway, just because Florida, man. This year’s three candidates are the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Miami Dolphins, and Daytona International Speedway, which are set to receive a total of $210 million over 30 years (about $100 million in present value); the state Department of Economic Opportunity insists that Florida taxpayers will get a return on their investment via increased economic activity, though given that the work is already underway (in the speedway’s case, actually completed) whether or not the team owners get the money, it’s hard to see how this could be true.
It’s all mind-numbingly idiotic, and should be laughed out of the legislature in a sane world. Instead, naturally, we have legislators only thinking it’s a bad idea because Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria ripped them off once:
“I personally have an issue where taxpayer money is being used to fund billionaires,” [House Economic Development & Tourism Chairman Rep. Frank] Artiles said. “If [Marlins owner Jeffrey] Loria actually tries to sell the Miami Marlins, he has a major windfall on the back of taxpayers.”
That Loria, he just ruined it for everybody.
Looks like the world’s most expensive high school football stadium won’t be the world’s most expensive anymore, or even the most expensive in the Dallas area, after voters in McKinney approved a $220 million bond measure that includes $63 million for a 12,000-seat high school football stadium.
Superintendent Rick McDaniel let out a sigh of relief as the vote “for” results rolled in.
“We’re visionaries,” he said of district leaders. “And we believe we have a vision for McKinney ISD that will propel us forward for a long time.”
Me, I’m not so sure I’d be willing to bet that high school football will still be a thing for “a long time,” but this is Texas, so maybe football will still be a popular regional sport there long after it’s banned everywhere else. (I mean, it’s Texas, so of course it will.) At least hopefully this one won’t have to be shut down for a year and a half after it develops giant cracks, because that’s so 2014.
Renderings! From a freaky angle, with actual cars in the parking lot!
Here in the U.S., we’re used to sports team owners justifying public stadium subsidies as a boon to taxpayers because they will create umpteen billion dollars in economic activity or whatnot, usually backed up by studies of dubious parentage. In the case of West Ham United owner David Gold, though, stung by criticism that his lease on London’s former Olympic stadium will cost the public so much in maintenance and operations that it could eat up any rent he’ll pay, he has a somewhat different argument:
“We built a stadium that was built by a number of very arrogant people that had no foresight for the future. They built a ridiculous stadium but we have made the best of it.
“It’s just ill-informed judgments and opinions. I get that. Sometimes a newspaper will pick out and its headline will be: ‘Taxpayer paying for the flags and the goalposts.’ What a fantastic headline. It gives everybody a misinformation. It sends out the wrong information that they believe the taxpayer is paying for everything and they get nothing in exchange.
“That’s ridiculous. The taxpayer is going to make a profit. It wouldn’t make a profit if you tore down the stadium and put it into a 25,000-seater, would it? Come on, how many people are going to watch the world championship hop, skip and jump?”
What Gold seems to be saying here is that London was dumb enough to spend £701 million (a little over $1 billion) on a stadium that would only be used for three weeks, so hey, at least West Ham is letting them earn something back on it. As lessons in sunk costs go, I still prefer this one — but apparently the kids today need all the help with this that they can get.
It’s a bit of a slow news day, so thank goodness the Milwaukee Bucks have come through with some new interior arena renderings for us to peruse while we wait for the last dregs of the week to run out:
I don’t know exactly what’s going on with that creepy dark club with the glowy rings on the ceiling — supposedly it gives fans views of both the court and the city, though given that in real life there would be more than ten people in it at any one time, more likely it will mostly provide a view of those TV screens as you crane your neck to see the score while waiting on line for overpriced food. The “corner sponsor tower” next to it, meanwhile, is even more mysterious — presumably it should have a big sponsor logo on it, but instead it’s just three levels of blank void with more of those geometric patterns on the ceilings. The interior of the levels doesn’t appear to be raked at all, so only the people at the front railing (there is a railing, right?) will be able to see the game, from a great distance, while everyone behind them will be … dancing? Enjoying presentations from the corporate sponsor of their choosing? What the heck does any of this have to do with basketball, exactly?