Friday roundup: Jacksonville mayor says “whatever Jaguars want” on stadium renovations, that’s it, I’m done, I can’t even finish this headline

Running late on the roundup this week — I just published two new articles on the wastefulness of film tax credits and New York’s probably fruitless attempts to fight off sea level rise, plus I have another major writing deadline today — so let’s get to it:

Indianapolis is considering upping its Pacers subsidies to a cool billion dollars

If you’ve been following the Twitters, you have probably already heard that Indiana’s Marion County Capital Improvement Board voted unanimously on Friday to approve a new lease and new subsidies for the Pacers. And what subsidies: Between cash for upgrading the Pacers’ arena and cash to cover the team’s year-to-year operating costs, Indianapolis-area taxpayers would be on the hook for an additional $777 million over the next 25 years. Coming on top of $384 million in public money that the Pacers owners have already received since 1999, this would bring the municipal region’s total spending to $1.161 billion — or almost as much as it would take to buy the team outright.

Facts have been flying fast and furious since Friday, so here’s what we know at present:

  • The new public expenditures would include $295 million to upgrade Bankers Life Fieldhouse, $362 million in operating subsidies (paid out in installments over 25 years), and $120 million on “technology upgrades” over the next ten years. Since some of that money won’t be paid out right now, we really should calculate it in terms of present value, which comes to around $600 million — making the total public expense just under $1 billion. A bargain! (And yes, I should really adjust that whole $1 billion into 2019 dollars or something, which would make the total slightly higher, but life is short and division is long.)
  • At $600 million for 25 years, the new subsidy would cost Indianapolis $24 million a year for the privilege of having the Pacers not threaten to leave town for another generation. That would blow the doors off the record for most lucrative lease extension per year, which I currently had scored as the Carolina Panthers‘ $14.6 million per year.
  • The deal isn’t final yet, as the Indiana state legislature hasn’t yet determined how to pay for all this. The state house approved a package of Pacers subsidies on Thursday (and also Indy Eleven subsidies, can’t leave them out), but the state senate still needs to vote on it.
  • The Pacers owners would have to pay a fee of “as much as $750 million,” according to the Indianapolis Star, if they wanted to break the lease and leave early. (That figure, interestingly, does not appear anywhere in either the CIB’s press release or its “fieldhouse agreement” PDF.) Of course, they’d also need to kick themselves in the head for giving up $14.5 million in annual operating subsidy checks, but the way Indiana elected officials like to hand out public dollars, it might not be the worst thing to restrict team owners from coming back for even more cash in a couple of decades — assuming that’s what this agreement would do, which we can’t tell until we’ve actually read it.
  • Local sportswriters are on the case justifying this massive public expense, noting that while “it doesn’t sit right” to give money to billionaires that could be spent on actual public needs, it’s nonetheless justified by the “financial” and “cultural” and “symbolic” and “most of all magnetic” benefits of keeping Pacers owner Herb Simon from moving the team, which he doesn’t want to do, but which he, you know, could.

In exchange for their boodle, the Pacers marketing department provided a whole mess of new vaportecture renderings, which include images of a couple touring the arena site while holding their adorable baby in the exact same position wherever they go, fans walking into mysterious glass walls, and people walking around on an ice skating rink in the snow while wearing street shoes and carrying identical handbags. If that’s not worth $600 million, I don’t know what is. 

Yes, Graceland actually threatened to move to Japan to get $194m in subsidies from Memphis

The Wall Street Journal ran an article on Sunday that began like this:

MEMPHIS, Tenn.—The Memphis City Council will vote this month to complete new tax breaks for Graceland to fund a $100 million expansion, a peace offering in a nearly two-year war that included threats of Elvis’s estate leaving his adopted hometown.

I don’t know precisely what the rest of the article says, because the Journal will only let me read it if I give them either $187.20 for a year’s subscription or $1 plus my credit card number so they can charge me $187.20 when I forget to cancel, neither of which is appealing. Fortunately, though, the uncopyrightable nature of information has led to lots of other news sites reporting on the Journal’s reporting, which means we can learn things like this for significantly less than $187.20:

“We had an offer ten days ago to move Graceland to Japan,” Joel Weinshanker, managing director of Elvis Presley Enterprises, said. “We had two offers to move to the Middle East and one [to move] to China. They offered us more profit than we could ever make in Memphis.”

It should go without saying — oh, I so hope it should go without saying — that Graceland is a place (“the place Elvis called home,” as Graceland’s own website touts it, complete with “the gardens where he found peace”), and you can’t move a place, though obviously you can move all the stuff that’s in the place. Whether people will still go visit the stuff if the stuff isn’t in the place is an open question, but apparently not one that Memphis wanted to consider too hard, because city officials approved giving Graceland several briefcases full of money in order not to go through with moving overseas.

How much money precisely? Slate reports that Graceland would get “a bigger cut of city and county property and sales tax revenues for a new expansion project,” and that the expansion project would cost $100 million, but that the new property tax kickbacks would “add up to between $194 million and $269 million in reduced taxes for Graceland.” And that the local economic development corporation president “stressed the expansion would not have happened without those incentives, and would be a net gain for the city and county on tax revenue alone.”

So to recap: A tourist attraction based around Elvis Presley’s home in Memphis threatened to move to a place that Elvis never lived, until the local government agreed to give them at least $194 million to pay for a $100 million expansion, which the local economic chief claims will leave the city and county turning a profit. 2019, people.


Friday roundup: Sacramento soccer subsidies, Fire could return to Chicago, and a giant mirrored basketball

Did I actually write a couple of days ago that this was looking like a slow news week? The stadium news gods clearly heard me, and when they make it rain news, they make it pour:

That lady from the Worcester baseball stadium rendering has found her way to the Halifax CFL stadium rendering

The Halifax CFL stadium renderings are out, and are they ever the bestest!

It’s little hard to see the images when they’re that tiny, so let’s blow up, oh, the top right one and:

This is amazing for several reasons, several of which have been spotted by the Halifax Examiner’s Tim Bousquet, who just last week wrote an item wonderfully titled “We are eagerly awaiting the ridiculous architectural renderings that are certain to accompany the stadium sales pitch,” and who yesterday tweeted:

I also love that the end zone just turns into a pedestrian plaza, the better for Halifax’s lone bike rider (his name is Steve) to ride right out onto the field during a game, and that all the fans in the stands are choosing to watch from the concessions concourse instead of taking seats, and that the stadium lights appear to be on in the middle of the day. But mostly I really love that Cab-Hailing Lady (or her friends know her, Linda) is living out her dream of visiting every imaginary sports stadium in North America. And hailing a cab there.

Meanwhile, Bousquet’s final comment reminds me of a very old strip from Tug McGraw’s (and some unnamed cartoonist’s and ghost writer’s, I’m sure) very old comic Scroogie, which I still have around for some reason:

You know what they say: Comic strips plus time equals architecture. Or something like that.

Friday roundup: Rays stalling on St. Pete stadium talks, Marlins tear out seats to please millennials, Raiders stadium maybe delayed or maybe not

Happy baseball season! Or not-so-happy baseball season, as Deadspin reminded us in two excellent articles this week, one on all the ways from bag-check fees to card-only transactions that teams are using to separate fans from even more of their money, the other on how fans were stuck on endless lines to get into stadium on opening day because of things like paperless ticketing apps that kept crashing. And on those cheery notes, the rest of the rest of the week’s news:

Philadelphia to get $50m arena just to watch people shoot at things on a computer screen

Comcast Spectacor, owners of the Philadelphia Flyers, plan to spend $50 million to build the nation’s first esports arena for their Fusion Overwatch team, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Also not actually the nation’s first esports arena, notes Motherboard, because there’s already the Esports Stadium Arlington in Texas, which wasn’t built from scratch but was constructed in a converted event space. Also really not actually the nation’s first esports arena, because the Fusion, along with all the other teams in the Overwatch league, currently play at Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles, which is basically a TV studio (and also “a crucible where champions become legends” but mostly a TV studio).

Also really really not actually the nation’s first esports arena, since Engadget reports it will “double as a venue for other live events,” so arguably it’s just a theater that will host Overwatch games, though I guess you could argue that Madison Square Garden is just a theater that hosts basketball and hockey games, too. The whatever-it-is will be built in the parking lot of the Flyers’ home arena, which Comcast Spectacor currently controls via a ground lease, which I haven’t been able to figure out how much the company pays in rent on in the amount of research time I have this morning, but even if it’s a sweetheart lease deal, it’s a sunk cost for taxpayers, so this arena won’t increase it.

Anyway, let’s get to the fun part, which is making fun of the Fusion arena renderings, armed with the newfound knowledge about greeblies and such that we learned yesterday:

So let’s see: We have a whole bunch of (or at least a couple dozen) fans headed into the arena wearing Fusion shirts, which, yep, checks out. One is wearing a jersey of a Fusion player named “Carpe,” which also checks out — here is his “player profile,” which, trigger warning if you’re not familiar with Overwatch, mostly consists of him shooting things with automatic weapons.

Beyond that, the strangest elements appear to be the fan in the foreground throwing their arms in the air for no particular reason — which is very much a Thing People In Sports Renderings Do — plus the couple who appear to already be done for the evening and are stumbling back away from the arena, unless they’re posing for a selfie being taken with a video camera?

Anyway, that image isn’t too entertaining — not even any fireworks! — so do we have any others?

Now we’re talking! Thundersticks! Luxury boxes! Spotlights illuminating nothing in particular! A person whose right hand appears to have actually mutated into a cell phone! I especially like how the renderers appear not to actually know what goes on in an esports arena, so the fans are all cheering wildly for what looks like a bunch of empty chairs behind a podium and a giant team photo. Or maybe they know damn well what goes on in an esports arena, but didn’t want to show people cheering on automatic weapons fire.

New Tottenham stadium’s terrible corner kick dimensions in video, and explained!

Tottenham Hotspur‘s new stadium finally opened yesterday with an under-18 match, leading to an outpouring of photo galleries and exuberant tweets about all the flashing lights. If you’re like me, though, what you really want to know is: What did it look like when players took corner kicks from the tiny amount of space in the corners?

The answer, it appears from a fan-shot video with terrible overdubbed music, is that players have to run down the touchline at an oblique angle to avoid falling backwards down a slope:

That’s pretty bad. How , and is only going to get worse if, say, you have a right-footed player taking the kick from the left corner. Which happened a bit later in the match:

That doesn’t look too bad from that angle, but it still appears that the player had to run uphill somewhat to kick the ball, which is clearly less than ideal.

All the press coverage of the stadium opening, which was uniformly positive, also provided some insight into the reasoning behind that crazy slope that starts just beyond the boundaries of the pitch:

The £1 billion stadium will seat 62,062 and also boasts the world’s first dividing, retractable football pitch, with a turf pitch underneath for NFL London Games, concerts and other events.

So the real field (the turf one) is under the grass pitch, which sits in a tray that will slide out under one end of the stadium for when they need to hold non-soccer events there, kind of like the Arizona Cardinals field that slides out to get sun. And as a result, soccer players who leave the pitch will tumble down a slope into the advertising barriers. I am not a soccer fan of that long a standing (I’ve only been seriously watching for less than ten years), but this seems like a really bad idea just so you can host the occasional Jacksonville Jaguars game, especially when you consider how much it must have added to the stadium cost, not to mention those construction delays. It all looked fine in the renderings!

My Deadspin guide to vaportecture got even better when some vaportecture designers showed up

I’ve written many times here about “vaportecture,” my term for the often-fanciful, sometimes-bizarre stadium and arena renderings that are rolled out when a sports team is looking to catch the eye of elected officials, voters, or journalists with pretty pictures featuring lots of fireworks and lens flare. On Friday, though, I got to put it all together in one place for the first time, with an essay in Deadspin where I presented some of vaportecture’s greatest hits (yes, the Washington NFL stadium moat features prominently), and even tried to draw some conclusions on why team owners seem so obsessed with pretty pictures even when they’re so often laughable (one, humans love visual information even if it makes no sense; two, it’s misdirection from the arguably more important questions of how it’ll be paid for and why it’s even worth doing in the first place).

Digging through the archives of surreal stadium renderings was lots of fun — I’m especially fond of the ones where the lens flare shows the sun in one part of the sky, while the shadows show it somewhere else — but the real fun began when the comments started to roll in. That’s because apparently a whole bunch of professional architectural renderers read Deadspin, and they were quick to chime in with some behind-the-scenes explanations of all those geometric impossibilities and oddly generic fans sprinkled about:

I’m an Architectural Draftsman. I work, primarily, in AutoCAD (2D drafting) and Revit (3D modeling and rendering specifically for the architectural field). I also spend an inordinate amount of time churning out renderings for various projects, which means I have a very contentious relationship with Photoshop.

All of the critiques about the images shown above are all valid and, for the most part, the things being critiqued were done intentionally. It all boils down to two very simple ideas: 1) The people these are geared towards don’t know enough to spot the mistakes, problems, or the big old middle fingers to physics AND 2) Shock & Awe..

1) I would say that a solid 95% of the time we deal with people who cannot or, at the very least, are not comfortable thinking in three dimensions. These people are generally barely capable of reading a 2D drawing so when you start pulling out sheets showing the various seating levels in a ballpark/stadium you see eyes glaze over or, in worst case scenarios, insecurities come to the fore. Generally people don’t like it when you demonstrate what they consider failings in front of other people. This is where the Shock & Awe comes into play.

2) We want the client to engage with the images we’re showing them, so they need to look slick and they need to look fancy. For the most part, empty buildings are neither of those two things which is why we draw from what you so kindly described as a, “Wacky People Clip Art package.” I, personally, have about 1,200-1,500 people (referred to as “entourage,” I didn’t make up the name) I can pull from to populate my renderings and even with all that I find myself needing to create my own on a regular basis. We also have to take into account what is essentially set dressing. This means we often times have to fill shelves, kitchens, bakeries, shops, etc… with all the stuff you’d normally expect to see in these kinds of places. When we do that we’re pulling from archives of 2D and 3D greeblies (non essential items).

Once we’ve generated the rendering, whether it’s from Revit or 3Ds Max, we inevitably end up have to do a lot of post processing. This usually means color correction, inserting 2D entourage or greeblies, shadow correction/creation, etc… Eventually resulting in the kinds of images you see above.

That all makes a tremendous amount of sense, especially to anyone who’s done graphics work on a deadline for a less-than-discerning client. (Another commenter whose father was an architect noted that one design a week used to be standard; now it’s more like four per day, leading to impacts on quality that journalists as well will be familiar with.) More important, though, it’s introduced the word “greeblies” to my vocabulary, where it will now be making regular appearances, I’m sure.

Over on Twitter, meanwhile, a Texas Rangers fan made an even more incredible observation:

If new posts are less frequent at this site in the future, it’s because I’ll now be dedicating all my free time to playing Where’s Waldo? with Mitch Moreland and Rangers stadium renderings. Also: Mitch Moreland and his wife got engaged on the field of an empty stadium while both wearing Mitch Moreland jerseys? Wouldn’t they have rather gone somewhere with air-conditioning?



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!