People love living near stadiums, says paper devoted to saying people love living places

The New York Times real estate section chimes in on stadiums today, which is great news, because it means we can explore the bastion of weirdness that is the New York Times real estate section. First off, let’s hit the checklist: Does the article boast of a hot new neighborhood or neighborhoods that savvy buyers should be aware of? Check!

Once considered neighborhoods to avoid, property around many of Europe’s great soccer stadiums is growing more popular these days, as cities grow more expensive and teams build new facilities. Home buyers are finding bargains near stadiums and developers see opportunities to create new urban communities.

Does it do so by exclusively quoting realtors, developers, and happy residents of these areas? You bet it does: five realtors, one developer, and two residents. Does it describe the featured neighborhoods of having some nebulous trendiness that can’t be measured, only felt? Of course!

“There is a buzz about the place,” Mr. Spooner said. “People come here to have a good time.”

And most of all, does it eventually undermine its own premise with counterevidence, but bury that way at the end of the article so that readers (and the headline writer) can ignore it? You betcha! First it notes that “prices are often lower than in other neighborhoods” (which is noted as an attraction, but is also an indication that living near a stadium isn’t actually seen as that desirable), then the whole premise comes crashing down when the scene shifts to Barcelona and Rome:

Barcelonians are fanatical for Barça, but they are not necessarily eager to live near Camp Nou, the team’s stadium, said Joan Canela, of the Engel & Völkers Barcelona office.

“None of our clients demand to be near the stadium,” he said. The stadium “hurts value, because it is an area that becomes very crowded when there is a match, is complicated to park and the neighbors may have problems to access to their homes,” Mr. Canela said…

Barbara Maravalli, 42, rents a three-bedroom apartment with her husband and two children about half a mile from [Rome’s] Stadio Olimpico. “It played absolutely no role in my choice,” she said. “I wanted to be close to the center and surrounded by green areas.”

On game days there are “crazy” traffic jams in the area, Ms. Maravelli said. Her 20-minute drive to work can take an hour if she does not plan carefully. “I would rather they move the stadium, but I love this area so much that I would keep on staying here,” she said.

Add it all up, and you have: A bunch of realtors trying to sell or rent apartments around some of Europe’s big soccer stadiums say they’re a great deal; as for actual residents, some like being near stadiums, some don’t. That’s not actually a story at all, but in Times Real Estate land, it’s more than enough to warrant a headline like “Stadium Neighborhoods Are Becoming Magnets for Home Seekers,” which who knows, might even help stoke interest in those areas, as a Times R.E. mention has been known to do. It happened to Bushwickit’ll happen to you!

 

Michigan residents’ $300m for Red Wings arena buying slightly closer seats, plus lasers

This week’s Sports Illustrated has a long profile of the Detroit Red Wings‘ under-construction new arena, which almost entirely consists of quotes from team execs and the arena’s designers, so take with a huge grain of salt. It does include a few tea leaves we can try to read, though, so let’s get to it:

The design starts with putting fans as close to the ice as possible. “We brought in our general manager, Ken Holland, to find which was the most intimidating place we play,” Tom Wilson, CEO of team and arena owner Olympia Entertainment, tells SI.com. “Without question it is Montreal. There is no light. No open concourses. Just a sea of red jerseys screaming at you in French. We went there to see it and, my gosh, they are on top of you.”

George Heinlein, HOK Sports principal, tells SI.com that they designed Little Caesars with Montreal’s Bell Centre’s vertical rise, but with added legroom. “It is about the steepness of the seating bowl,” Heinlein says. “But also the proximity of those fans to the rink.”

This is garbage: Since a hockey arena’s seating starts, by definition, at the edge of the rink, the only way to get fans (in the first deck, at least) closer to the ice is to reduce legroom. This is a tradeoff, obviously — less legroom is bad for the people sitting in those seats, but good for the fans sitting in the rows behind them — but unless HOK has reinvented geometry, they can’t accomplish both at once.

While Detroit’s current Joe Louis Arena has about 40% of seats in the lower bowl, Little Caesars flips the script, putting about 10,500 of the total 19,600 seats in the lower bowl, but with the last row in Little Caesars still able to fit within the last row of Joe Louis.

“More seats in the lower bowl” is actually HOK dogma at this point, apparently because team owners think they can charge more for a seat in the last row of a lower bowl than for a seat in the front row of an upper bowl, though they might be equally good for seeing the game. The last row being no farther from the ice than in the old arena is more promising, if that’s indeed what “fit within the last row of Joe Louis” means.

The baddest bowl eliminates the trendy concept of opening up the concourses to the rink. Instead of creating sightlines through the entire venue, the Red Wings wanted to focus on creating noise, eliminating any holes where noise or energy could escape. “We don’t want to blow out concourses, we want to contain all the energy in the seating bowl,” Heinlein says. “It is a throwback in that regard.”

This sounds like marketing gibberish — “we’re eliminating this thing that everyone has been claiming is one of the best things about new sports venues, and claiming it’s ‘throwback’ and trendy for not being trendy” — and it is, but it’s also potentially kind of cool. One staple of stadium and arena design the last couple of decades has been a large gap between decks, so that fans in concession areas can see the game while waiting on line for food. If you’ve ever been at one of these buildings, though, you know that this usually means “see maybe one corner of the game, or more likely a thin strip of the crowd that is watching the game, while peering around everyone standing around the concourse,” which is entirely useless, especially since there are typically TV monitors everywhere showing you the actual game.

Getting rid of that gap, though, enables the designers to move the entire deck above maybe 10-20 feet down and forward, which is a huge benefit to the people actually sitting in those seats, and could help explain that “worst seat is no worse than in Joe Louis” claim. I’m tentatively optimistic, anyway.

Connecting the interior of Little Caesars with the Via and surrounding neighborhood by blurring the entry plaza concourse with the external streets of the district, Wilson says the space offers diversity and will encourage fans to return over and over to experience new spaces. “The Via is a very active space,” Wilson says. “We want to change the way people come to games. Come at 6 (p.m.), have your choice of sports bars, a market house, a spaghetti house and have a full evening. At the end of the game, there are tons of experiences to still have and discover.”

In other words, the Via (a glassed-in concessions concourse that is meant to feel like it’s “outdoors”) is a cross between traditional concessions areas and an outdoor space controlled by the team like Eutaw Street at Camden Yards or Yawkey Way at Fenway Park. Nothing new, in other words — it’s just team-controlled restaurant space by another name.

Using a 12-laser projection system, the Red Wings can animate the arena, projecting full motion video and images on the arena’s “forward-thinking” metal-panel skin all the way through the Via. “There is nothing like it in Vegas, Disney or Times Square,” Wilson says. “It is an immersive sort of experience that everybody is going to enjoy.”

Dear lord, that sounds awful. Unless you like the stimulation overload of Vegas and Times Square, which I guess lots of people do, but if I count among “everybody,” I expect I’ll be able to personally disprove that last statement.

And that’s more than enough time to spend on a team PR statement. Let’s close with a reminder of the $300 million in public money this is costing Michigan residents, since SI somehow forgot to mention it.

Broncos stadium name contract goes up for auction, no one bids even one dollar

Man, I hate when I get all excited about a news story and then it turns out to be a big ball of nothing. That appears to be the case with Friday’s news that the naming rights to the Denver Broncos stadium had gone up for sale, and nobody even bothered to bid:

The stadium in Denver is called Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, named after the eponymous sporting goods retailer in 2011. However, Sports Authority filed for bankruptcy in March and put the naming rights up for sale as part of a court-supervised auction.

No bidders for the rights came forward at an auction of the retailer’s assets held this week, Matt Sugar, the director of stadium affairs at the Metropolitan Football Stadium District, which is the owner of the stadium, said on Friday. Discussions are underway about launching a new auction for the naming rights.

Wow, really, nobody? I’ve argued before that naming rights for existing stadiums aren’t worth much, in part because after a couple of name changes everybody just gives up and calls it whatever it was called in the first place — and with “Mile High” stuck there in the name, that gives fans a great option to ignore whatever new corporate moniker got slapped on ahead of it. But you’d think somebody — some publicity-desperate tech startup, Peeple, anybody — would throw a token $1 at the bankruptcy auction, no?

Except then there’s this:

The contract for the naming rights up for grabs extends until 2021, and comes with a $3.6 million payment obligation due Aug. 1.

And there’s the catch: Sports Authority isn’t really auctioning off the rights to the Broncos stadium name — it’s auctioning off its contract to put a name on the Broncos stadium. And since the stadium name is almost certainly worth less than the $6 million a year the company agreed to pay back in 2011, the rights to take on those payments probably have a negative value, which is why nobody bothered to bid.

The more likely scenario now is that no one bids for the rights, Sports Authority misses that August 1 payment, and the Denver Metropolitan Football Stadium District gets to re-sell the rights to the highest bidder, of which there will no doubt be some, even if they won’t be offering $6 million a year. The Broncos and the district split the proceeds from naming rights, so Sports Authority’s bankruptcy could end up costing both the team owners and the public some money — though not as much as the naming-rights deal cost Sports Authority, since the move may have helped push the company into bankruptcy. You think maybe everyone might have thought this through better in the first place?

Report: Economists, team owners disagree on whether stadium subsidies are a good thing

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.

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Rio velodrome might not be ready in time for Olympics, feel free to panic if bike racing is your thing

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.

Rangers stadium to cost Arlington taxpayers at least $500m, many questions remain unanswered

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:

  • The stadium would now cost $1 billion, with Arlington taxpayers’ share at $500 million. No idea why the price tag is $100 million higher than it was on Friday morning, though the conspiracy-minded will note that even if the actual cost estimate is the same, upping the target price means the Rangers owners’ responsibility to pay for all cost overruns won’t kick in as soon now.
  • For the Rangers owners’ share, they would get to use personal seat license fees plus parking and ticket tax money, which would pay off bonds sold by the city — meaning if PSL sales fell short, say, the city could end up on the hook for more than $500 million. This, you’ll recall, was the initial concern with the San Francisco 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, and though that worked out okay in the end when the PSLs sold out, it’s still an added risk for Arlington.
  • The public’s base $500 million will come from the 0.5% sales tax surcharge, 2% hotel tax surcharge, and 5% car rental tax surcharge currently being used to pay off the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium, which the Dallas Star-Telegram calls “no new taxes.” Except that the Cowboys stadium was set to be paid off in 2021, at which point those taxes could either have been eliminated or redirected toward something else — so really this is a new extension of existing taxes for as much as an additional 30 years.
  • The Rangers will continue to pay the same $2 million a year rent to the city that they pay on their current stadium.
  • The city council will vote on a stadium agreement tomorrow — apparently Texas doesn’t believe in things like public hearings — and if approved, the project will then go before voters in November, something that the Dallas Morning News entirely left out of its ten-point rundown of the proposal, which stated the stadium plans entirely in the simple future tense (“It will be open by April 2021”). Way to go, writers on the fait accompli beat.
  • While most of the existing Globe Life Park would be torn down to make way for parking lots (the new stadium would be built on existing parking lots), there could be attempts to save “parts of the facade and other historic features” at the ballpark, which is younger than all but one player on the Rangers’ current roster.

That tells us a lot more than we knew Friday morning, but there are still a bunch of unanswered questions:

  • Nobody knows how the first few years of construction bond payments will be paid off, since the taxes involved still need to keep being used for Cowboys stadium debt through 2021.
  • Will the Rangers owners pay any property taxes on the place? Who will pay maintenance and operations costs? Will Arlington get any share at all of stadium revenues like naming rights, or will the public have to pay off its share entirely from tax revenue while the Rangers get to use actual stadium income for theirs?
  • What do Arlington residents think of the deal? (The Star-Telegram ran an article headlined “What fans, Arlington officials are saying” but then apparently forgot to interview any actual fans, since the only quotes (aside from one local sports bar owner) were from current and former elected officials who supported the deal.)

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:

Rangers renderingRangers3

K.C. mulls plan to redo Kemper Arena with private money, plus free land and tax breaks and (mumble mumble)

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.

Florida to again consider $100m in sports tax kickbacks for projects already being built regardless

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.