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?

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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.

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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?

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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…

It’s not just Sheldon Adelson’s paper running crappy articles on the Raiders stadium plan

I, along with pretty much everyone else, have been extremely critical of the Las Vegas Review-Journal for its coverage of the $950 million Raiders stadium subsidy proposal being pursued by the paper’s owner, Sands casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. But as I always try to point out, there’s plenty of bad journalism out there being committed by news outlets that don’t have an overt conflict of interest, and today it’s the Las Vegas Sun’s turn. Here’s the lede on today’s Sun story on whether Nevada will call a special session to vote on the stadium subsidy:

It’s that time of year again: The only thing standing between Nevada and what many would see as an economic-development win is a legislative deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

In 2014, it was Tesla. In 2015, Faraday. This year, an NFL stadium.

That’s bad, for starters, because of the way it contorts itself to paint a Raiders stadium (plus the equally problematic Tesla and Faraday subsidy deals) as a big win that’s being held up by legislative red tape. (“What many would see,” seriously?) But it’s also bad because the article contains a bunch of interesting information about what’s going on behind the special-session talks, all of which it buries:

  • “Sands executives have said they’ve been in touch with lawmakers daily — sometimes two or three times a day — in an effort to woo their approval of [a special session this month].” That’s a crazy amount of lobbying, and would seem to demand asking legislators if they’ve really been getting daily calls from Adelson’s people,  investigations of how much Adelson is spending on lobbyists, and so on. None of that appears in the article, which is mostly he-said-she-said stuff running down who seems to be leaning towards or against approving the special session.
  • “There’s also concern about the impact voting for the stadium could have on the outcome of the election itself. Republican Assemblyman Ira Hansen, who is running unopposed in his race in Northern Nevada, pointed to a recent KTNV/Rasmussen Poll that showed 55 percent of Clark County voters oppose pledging up to $500 million in public funds to the stadium. ‘The polls I’ve seen in Southern Nevada are about 50-50,’ Hansen said. ‘Politically, this could hurt somebody running for re-election.'” Does Hansen have access to some other polls, or does he really think that 55%-35% opposition is “about 50-50”?
  • And way down at the bottom of the story: “A two-thirds vote in both houses would be needed to raise the room tax, so 42 legislators need to be on board. If that doesn’t happen, Plan B is to punt the decision to the Clark County Commission. Legislators could pursue a permissive vote, which would only need a simple majority, and pass the tax-increase vote along to the seven-member county commission, which would need to pass it with a two-thirds majority.” So if the legislature can’t get a two-thirds majority, it can punt it to the county, which only needs five commissioners to say “yes” to make this happen? Where do the county commissioners stand on this? Sorry, story’s over, check back tomorrow.

I don’t mean to pick on the author of the Sun story too much (though she should be picked on some), since she was probably just assigned to get the temperature of the state legislature, not to actually write a story explaining the more important details of what’s going on. Still, that none of her bosses read this and said, “Nice first draft, now flesh it out by answering some of the questions that it raises” is a pretty depressing indictment of the state of journalism today.

Stadium openings in Minnesota, Miami offer ear-splitting noise, fears of Zika and hurricanes

It’s almost football season, which means it’s time for the debut of new and/or newly renovated stadiums. In Minnesota, the Vikings‘ new $1.1 billion dome (nearly all of it funded with public money) opened for a preseason game on Sunday, and it was really really loud in there:

But several Vikings players compared its volume favorably to the Metrodome after a preseason game, and initial acoustic readings topped out at 114 decibels during the 23-10 win over the San Diego Chargers.

That’s up from 105 decibels at a soccer match the week before, and about the same as the team averaged at the old Metrodome. So not out of the ordinary, but still, that’s way louder than the average stadium, and potentially ear-damaging, says WCCO:

U.S. Bank Stadium could be the loudest stadium Minnesota has ever seen. The Minnesota Vikings website says the roof on U.S. Bank Stadium features more “acoustically reflective material” and “should make the stadium louder” than the Metrodome.

A local radio station measured the sound during the soccer match at U.S. Bank Stadium reaching over 105 decibels. HealthPartners says that is ten times louder than the volume at an average NFL stadium.

Dr. Geddes says any sound over 85 decibels can damage tiny cells inside the ear. Even if your ears stop ringing after a loud event, you could have problems down the line.

“It’s not necessarily that you go home with permanent hearing loss after one-time visit, but over an extended period you may have noise-induced hearing loss,” Dr. Geddes said.

Dr. Geddes says it’s important to wear ear plugs during loud games.

I can’t tell from the coverage whether this was loud crowd noise or loud amplified music and such. But either way: It’s loud, which is what the Vikings intended, so wear protection.

And speaking of protection, the Miami Dolphins unveil their $350 million stadium renovations on Thursday (most of privately funded by owner Stephen Ross, though he’s still trying to get more public money retroactively), and have spent the runup busily spraying everything in sight for Zika-carrying mosquitoes, and hoping they don’t get hit by a hurricane.

If anyone here went to the Vikings game or goes to the Dolphins game and has any less apocalyptic reviews, please share them in comments.

As Raiders unveil stadium pics, reporters told to ask subsidy questions, keep answers secret (UPDATED)

I have a big stack of news items that I’m going to be playing catchup with all week, but I’m still on the road one more day, so that infodump will need to wait till Tuesday at the earliest. Instead, here’s the latest rendering released by the Oakland Raiders ownership of a possible new stadium in Las Vegas: raiders-vegas-stadium-frontAs stadium watchers and journalists alike immediately noticed, this bears a striking resemblance to the stadium that the Raiders and San Diego Chargers were going to build in Carson, California:
raiders-carson-rendering-08-26-16There’s even the return of the giant Al Davis eternal flame that was originally proposed for Carson, then scrapped because it was just so stupid:

raiders-stadium-vegas-flameWhy cut-and-paste old designs into a new site, especially when you don’t even know which Vegas site it might be? Momentum, duh: This enables Raiders owner Mark Davis and his investment partners Sheldon Adelson and Majestic Realty to make it feel like this thing is going to get built, look, we have pictures of it, rather than having the Nevada public’s main image be of a pile of burning money. It’s the same reason why Davis filed for the trademark “Las Vegas Raiders” and released new stadium spending estimates stressing his own share of costs, even if they were misleading (he’s still failing to mention the roughly $250 million in tax increment kickbacks that Majestic has insisted are necessary for the project) and failed basic math (of a now-$1.9 billion total cost, the state would kick in $750 million in hotel-tax revenues and the private developers would put up $1.25 billion, which wait, what?).

If this stadium does happen, those almost certainly won’t be the final spending numbers, and these almost certainly won’t be what the stadium looks like. But it’s a lot easier to make a deal look like a fait accompli when you have hard numbers and actual drawings, even if those are just things you made up knowing you’ll change them later. It’s the clear plastic binder all over again.

And all this is aided and abetted, meanwhile, by having one of the stadium developers own the biggest newspaper in town, which allows for media manipulation like this jaw-dropping one revealed by Ralston Reports:

Reporters for Sheldon Adelson’s newspaper have been told to ask candidates if they support public money for the stadium proposed by the Las Vegas Sands chairman but that the Las Vegas Review-Journal will not actually publish the answers.

This astonishing request was made in a memo two weeks ago from Assistant City Editor Don Ham:

All of you who are handling state Senate, state Assembly and Clark County Commission races for the tab should make sure to ask this very timely question of the candidates. This question is NOT going to be added to the question asked of candidates for the online election package, though. Should public money, in the form of room taxes, be used to build a proposed stadium in Las Vegas. Why or why not? Any questions, see me. Thanks.

The leading theory here is that Adelson, who owns the Review-Journal, is intent on using the paper’s reporters to gather intelligence on where candidates stand on his stadium subsidy proposal, without actually using any of that information to, you know, inform readers. This would be far from the worst abuse of power by Adelson involving his newspaper holdings, but only because he’s set the bar so very high.

UPDATE: The Review-Journal’s managing editor writes in to say that the stadium questions were too for publication, just for publication in a different part of the paper. I’ll add further updates if I can ferret out whose interpretation of events makes a damn bit of sense.

White Sox stadium actually getting even worse name than “U.S. Cellular Field”

Aw, jeez:

U.S. Cellular Field will change its name to Guaranteed Rate Field, the White Sox announced Wednesday afternoon.

The White Sox and Guaranteed Rate, a national mortgage lender, have signed 13-year naming rights deal, according to the Sox. But the name could last even longer — the Sox have an option of extending the deal past 2030.

There is nothing to say about this other than to make jokes. And the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal has already won that contest:

More seriously: You know, there’s nothing requiring any of us normal people (or even us abnormal people who are journalists) from using the corporate-assigned name for a stadium — we can still call it U.S. Cellular Field, or New Comiskey Park, or my preference, “the White Sox’ stadium” all we want. Which is no doubt why resold naming rights go for discount rates: Business owners know that there are plenty of other options for what to call the place, so they’re willing to pay less to slap their name on it. Which is also why you see so many smaller companies putting their name on used stadiums — American Airlines doesn’t need that kind of attention, but Monster Cables, sure.

Speaking of which, the White Sox and Guaranteed Rate didn’t reveal how much the new naming rights deal was for. I’m going with “not nearly enough to be worth the ridicule.”