The Wichita city council passed its 2%-sales-tax-surcharge district yesterday, in an “emergency declaration” to allow the tax to kick in starting in April, when the new Wind Surge Triple-A baseball stadium it will help fund is set to open. Show of hands, Wichita news outlets, which among you explained why it was an emergency, what the projected $13 million in tax revenue over 22 years will fund, or what would have happened if the tax district hadn’t passed?
KWCH-TV: “Mayor Jeff Longwell said it was necessary to pass the 2% sales tax this year. ‘So we can start collecting that tax to potentially use what its intended for which was described today to pay off various different bonds the ballpark, the amenities that are going to be down there,’ he said. Longwell’s last day in office as mayor is next Monday.” No help there, though the non-bylined story certainly implies that the “emergency” was that the mayor wanted to get this done before ending his lame-duck term.
KFDI-FM: “The revenue generated from the district will be used to help with the design and construction of the stadium, utilities, parking and improvements along the river corridor, as well as surrounding development on the west bank.” Except the stadium has already been designed and will be almost done with construction by April, so what’s the rush, KFDI reporter George Lawson?
Wichita Eagle: “Money from the sales tax hike and the increase in property taxes generated by the new development will be split between the city government and the private-sector developers. The city will get the first $10 million to help offset the cost of the new $75 million ball park. The developers will get the next $30 million to help pay for their project costs. Anything above that $40 million will be split 50-50 between the city and the developers.” So some of the money (from both sales taxes and property taxes) will go to pay for stadium costs, and the rest to subsidize surrounding development — that’s actually potentially a lot more than just the $75 million in stadium subsidies that’s previously been discussed, but it’s hard to tell without projections of how much tax revenue is at stake here, which Eagle reporters Dion Lefler and Chance Swaim don’t provide.
You know, I do my best here to report on and analyze these deals from my apartment in Brooklyn, but ultimately I’m reliant on journalists in local communities to do the initial reporting, since I don’t have the time and resources to do the legwork on basic facts of a stadium plan. In this case, I actually called and emailed the Wichita city council’s press liaison, plus emailed a city councilmember who is a friend of a FoS reader — neither has gotten any response so far, so I’m in the dark as you are on this. (We do know that the stadium is getting $40 million in STAR bonds — essentially sales tax increment financing, where any increase in state sales-tax revenue in the area gets kicked back to the stadium rather than going to public coffers — but the sales-tax surcharge is on top of that.)
Many journalists tend to shy away from running stories that say “Here’s what elected officials claim, but we don’t know if it’s true,” either because they fear it would make them look unduly skeptical or because they don’t take the time to ask the right questions or because they are afraid of challenging assertions that no one else is — but, you know, those are all things that are literally their job. When they don’t do it, we’re left with “Wichita is taking a bunch of tax money, we’re not sure how much, and giving it to somebody for something,” which is not a great way to hold elected officials accountable. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many ways to hold journalists accountable, other than publicly shaming them, so: Hey, Wichita newspeople, you can’t journalism your way out of a paper bag! That’ll show ’em.
It’s the last weekly news roundup of another year, and another decade, and while I’m not going to do a full 2010s In Review article like some sites, I think it’s fair to say that the big story of the last decade is that we’re pretty much still where we were ten years ago: There’s billions of public dollars being spent each year on new private sports stadiums and arenas, and lots of citizen opposition, but that opposition usually isn’t enough to overcome team owners’ lobbying power or the various ploys that they use to justify demanding tax dollars for their projects — it’s an economic benefit, the team will have to move without it, it’s really about the development that goes along with it, you know the drill. There are certainly some positive signs where teams have paid their own way (or more of their own way) in the face of elected officials holding firm on subsidies, but it’s such extremely incremental progress that it’s almost hard to measure — I was about to say it’s a “glacial” pace, but with glaciers moving really fast these days, maybe it’s time to retire that word.
In any case, thanks to all FoS readers for your generous support this year, monetary and otherwise, and let’s get to the week’s remaining news:
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson backpedaled somewhat on opposition to giving $30 million in state tax credits to a new St. Louis MLS stadium, saying he supports the project but “We were asked to make a decision in, like, 10 days on $30 million, and that’s just not the way I do business” and “we need to make sure it’s a good deal for the state of Missouri.” It’s hard to tell from Parson’s statements whether this is genuine reconsideration or just trying to show he’s willing to talk (so long as he isn’t taken to the cleaners), but given that from the sound of things the team is moving ahead with the project with or without the tax credits, one hopes he’ll take a real long look at exactly what the state would be getting for its $30 million.
Soccer site The Outfield has dug up some year-old renderings of a proposed NYC F.C. stadium in the Bronx, which make clear how it would require closing a major street that serves as access from an off-ramp off the nearby Major Deegan Expressway. More interestingly, the site also dug up emails indicating that city development officials have been continuing to meet with consultants and the like around the plan, so maybe it’s not entirely dead after all, despite no apparent action since it was first revealed in July 2018.
The Los Angeles Chargers‘ problem of having many fans rooting for the opposing team has gotten so bad that their quarterback is complaining that they can’t hear signals from their coaches, adding, “being someone who remembers what it used to be like at home games it’s pretty bad.”
It’s D-Day for the Los Angeles Angels stadium sale plan, with the Anaheim city council set to hold its potentially one and only hearing on the matter today starting at 2 pm Pacific time. I’ll meet you back here then with this window open, but until then there’s lots of news:
California state assemblymember Tom Daly and state senator Tom Umberg have written an open letter to Anaheim calling for the vote to be postponed, noting, “Without knowing the final terms and conditions of the eventual sale, including the role the City will play in shaping the development of the land, how can the taxpayers of Anaheim know if the proposed sale achieves the maximum financial value for the City?” and laying out a bunch of as-yet-unanswered questions about the deal, including how the sale price was arrived at, how any deductions for building “community benefits” will be calculated, and how any decision can be reached when key details of the proposed development on the site won’t be finalized for months yet? Daly, you’ll recall, is a former Anaheim mayor who joined with another former Anaheim mayor, Tom Tait, to write an op-ed this week opposing the deal, which raises some important issues, like what’s with all these California politicians named Tom? And which is the best nickname now for the opposition, Band of Toms or Tom Tom Club? Just what we needed, more unanswered questions!
The owners of St. Louis’s expansion MLS franchise aren’t commenting on Gov. Mike Parson’s decision to withhold $30 million of requested state tax credits for the team’s stadium project, though they are going ahead with requesting highway ramp closures in February so that construction can begin. Does this mean they’re giving up on the $30 million tax subsidy, meaning it was never necessary to begin with to get the stadium project done? Or that they’re planning to work behind the scenes to get their money from somewhere, and see no point in making a public stink about it? Or maybe they’re just content to sit back and let local sports columnists call the governor “a teammate you can’t count on” and hope that shames him into changing his mind.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor says when she first heard about the idea of the Tampa Bay Rays building new stadiums in both Montreal and Florida and splitting the season between them, she thought “that makes no sense” but now feels “let them explore it. It’s something new.” This is both not a ringing endorsement of the plan while also clearly an attempt to tell Rays owner Stuart Sternberg that she’s open to discussing a new stadium on whatever terms he likes, which coming from someone who showed up at a Rays playoff game in October wearing a team jersey and saying she both wants to help build Sternberg a stadium and also not spend any city money on a new stadium is right on brand in terms of trying to be all things to all people.
And speaking of Charlotte, Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper may be in line to get $110 million worth of public money to revamp his current football stadium for soccer, but that doesn’t mean he’s giving up on his ultimate goal of “an improved” version of Tottenham Stadium with its retractable field to switch between American football and soccer. Something tells me he’s not planning to agree to a lease extension in exchange for that $110 million, or that being his final ask for public money.
The Texas Rangers have released new renderings of proposed office buildings actually within their old stadium, raising a couple of important questions: Could the XFL’s Dallas Renegades still play there, if there’s still an XFL by then? And also, if that’s the new Rangers stadium depicted in the background, why isn’t it on fire?
There can be a weirdly recursive snake-eating-its-own-tail aspect to this site at times: Because I’m reporting here on stadium deals, mostly via other outlets’ reports on breaking news, and yet also I’m often interviewed by these same outlets as an expert on these deals, it’s not uncommon for me to report on articles that use me as a source. Such is the case today, where I talked to a reporter yesterday about the Los Angeles Angels stadium deal, and am waiting for the resulting article to go up — but thanks to some nonsense about the Earth being round and it being earlier in California than New York, I’m still waiting.
So instead, here’s the latest news that I gleaned from that conversation, and one other with a different source: The Anaheim city council has scheduled a hearing for December 17, at which it will presumably finally give the public (and its own members) a look at the full plan to sell Angel Stadium and its surrounding parking lots to Angels owner Arte Moreno for $325 million or maybe less if he takes deductions for building parks and affordable housing. Then it has scheduled a final vote for December 20 — meaning there will be all of three days to look over the plans in any detail more than the three-page marketing brochure that the city has posted on its website.
This is, and I’m pretty sure I used this word in my interview, bonkers: There’s simply no way to accurately vet a $325 million land sale with this many moving parts in just 72 hours. Plus, apparently some elements of the deal won’t be resolved until after the vote — which as we’ve seen before is a great way to set yourself up for unexpected costs.
The obvious solution is to wait: The Angels’ lease is now back in place through 2029 after a council vote in January (which the council didn’t even realize it was voting on), so there’s no reason not to take the time to actually read the damn plan, not to mention cross all the t’s in it. Instead, though, the council seems set to rush through the process, either because they don’t understand how contracts and leases work or because they do all too well and are just trying to limit time for anyone to take a look at the inner workings of this deal. Either way, it’s the direct opposite of due diligence — something else you’ll probably see me quoted elsewhere as saying, any minute now.
Getting a late start today, so let’s just pretend I had something witty and informative to say in this intro paragraph and get on with the weekly news roundup:
The city of St. Louis has officially requested $30 million in state tax credits for the planned $250 million stadium for its expansion MLS team, on top of $21 million from three special taxing districts that will go to the team — all stuff we pretty much knew back in August, but now the paperwork is all being done. Anyway, the state credits are expected to be voted on a week from Tuesday, so if you want to yell at your local elected officials about this, get on the ball!
Noah Frank of WTOP has taken a long look at what MLB’s minor-league contraction plan will mean for teams and cities on the chopping block, and it’s not pretty: The Frederick Keys owners are “gobsmacked” to be on the hit list after leading the Carolina League in attendance in 2019, while the Erie SeaWolves got $12 million in stadium improvements last year and the Binghamton Rumble Ponies $5.1 million, and both could see their teams vaporized after 2020. Frank also notes (citing J.J. Cooper of Baseball America, who was the first to uncover this plan) that MLB’s claims that it spends $500 million annually on minor league players is more than a bit disingenuous, since that includes $416.5 million a year in draft bonuses and international signing bonuses that would continue under any contraction plan — the players who’d be cut would be the cheap ones at the end of the draft, so really MLB would only save chump change in this deal.
Add New York Congressional Rep. Max Rose (whose district includes the targeted Staten Island Yankees) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (whose state includes the targeted Connecticut Tigers) to the list of elected officials griping about the minor-league contraction plan, not that it’ll do much good unless it threatens MLB’s antitrust exemption. (Rose has a say on that, Lamont none at all.)
A $200 million highway project to make it easier to drive to the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium won’t have its first piece open until 2021, a year after the stadium opens, and won’t be complete until 2024. Meanwhile, if you’re thinking, “Wait, Nevada is spending $200 million on highway improvements on top of $750 million for the stadium?”, rest assured that the Las Vegas Review-Journal says, “The project was in the works even before the Raiders’ relocation to Las Vegas was whispered about, and it does not create any additional fiscal impact on the state Department of Transportation. But the timeline was accelerated once the $2 billion stadium, near I-15 and Russell Road, became a reality.” And spending money now doesn’t cost any more than spending money later, right? (Also, guess Nevada doesn’t have any laws about trying to reduce the number of cars on roads, huh?)
It’s rare that we get a report of how much it costs for local government to provide emergency services for a sports venue (something that would normally be paid for by property taxes, except that most stadiums and arenas don’t pay property taxes thanks to being publicly owned), so it’s interesting to see that the Palm Springs fire and police departments say they’ll need nearly $20 million in new equipment and $3.6 million a year in operating costs to cover services for the city’s planned minor-league hockey arena — sure, it’s their own estimates and they have an incentive to ask for as much as possible, but still it’s probably within an order of magnitude of reality.
Here’s a Forbes unpaid contributor article about stadium innovations of 2019 that starts by claiming that private sports venue funding causes “ticket and associated prices” to climb, hurting fans. This is completely wrong in terms of both empirical data and economic theory — does anyone really think that owners with subsidized stadiums pull back on raising ticket prices as much as the market will bear, just because they already have someone else footing their construction tab? — and so I stopped reading there, but if you want to plod ahead to the end, it’s your funeral.
Running late after staying up reading that damn Rams/Chargers article, so going to have to rush through the week’s remaining news a bit. I’m sure you all will add the requisite snarky remarks in comments:
Forbes’ Mike Ozanian reports that three unnamed sources have told him New York Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon haven’t coughed up any money yet toward the new Long Island arena they’re building in partnership with the Islanders owners, which Ozanian calls “unusual” and I call so very, very Mets.
After an outcry from local politicians, the New York Yankees, MLB, and Nike have reached an agreement allowing independent stores around the Yankees’ stadium to keep selling team merchandise, so I guess either local pressure can work or this was a pointless restriction to begin with or both.
This week in vaportecture: New renderings of a renovated Phoenix Suns arena include a humongous video board, lots of spaces crowded with clip-art people instead of being empty in “before” photos, and, as commenter NotMyGlendale points out, a guy with three arms.
We have new renderings for the proposed Oakland A’s stadium at Howard Terminal, and they look slightly less doofy than the old renderings, or at least somewhat less angular. Odds that any ballpark will look remotely like this if a Howard Terminal stadium is ever built: two infinities to one. Odds that a Howard Terminal stadium is ever built: Somewhat better, but I still wouldn’t hold your breath.
The Calgary city council put off a vote on a term sheet for a new Flames arena on Tuesday, after a marathon meeting that the public was barred from. They’ll be meeting in private again on Monday, and still plan not to tell anyone what the deal looks like until they’ve negotiated it with the Flames owners, which Calgary residents are not super happy about.
Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer still really really wants a new arena of his own by 2024, and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times show that he met with Inglewood Mayor James Butts as early as June 2016 to try to get Madison Square Garden to give up its lease on his preferred arena site before they found out he wanted to build an arena there. This is mostly of interest if you like gawking at warring sports billionaires, but if you do you’re in luck, because the battle seems likely to continue for a long time yet.
The Miami Marlins are turning the former site of their Red Grooms home run sculpture in center field into a “three-tier millennial park” with $10 standing-room tickets, because apparently millennials are broke and hate sitting down? They’ve gotta try something, I guess, and this did help get them a long Miami Herald article about their “rebranding” efforts, so sure, millennial park it is.
Building a football stadium for a college football team and hoping to fill it up with lots of Bruce Springsteen concerts turns out, shockingly, not to have been such a great idea. UConn’s Rentschler Field loses money most years, and hasn’t hosted a major concert since 2007, with the director of the agency that runs it griping, “The summers are generally slow, the springs are generally muddy, and the falls are UConn’s.” And nobody built lots of new development around a stadium that hosts only nine events a year, likewise shockingly. It still could have been worse, though: Hartford could have spent even more money on landing the New England Patriots.
Speaking of failed sports developments, the new Detroit Red Wings arena district is “shaping up to be a giant swath of blacktop,” reports Deadline Detroit, which also revealed that the city has failed to penalize the team’s owners for missing development deadlines, and has held out the possibility of more public subsidies if he ever does build anything around the arena. At least the Ilitches are finally paying for the extra police needed to work NHL games, though, so that’s something.
Here is an article that cites “an economic development expert” as saying that hosting a Super Bowl could be worth $1 billion in “economic activity” to Las Vegas, saying he based this on the results of last year’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis. Actual increased tax receipts for Minneapolis during the game: $2.4 million. It took me 30 seconds to research this, but apparently the Las Vegas Review-Journal is too high and mighty to use Google. Do not reward them with your clicks.
Today is the deadline for an agreement on a new Ottawa Senators arena at the downtown LeBreton Flats site, but — spoilers! — it ain’t gonna happen:
The National Capital Commission announced Wednesday morning that mediation talks led by retired judge Warren Winkler couldn’t reach a settlement in a dispute among partners of RendezVous LeBreton, a consortium that has spent four years and more than $4 million in planning work.
To recap: Last fall Senators owner Eugene Melnyk sued his erstwhile development partners because he was upset they were also planning on building other development elsewhere; since then the two sides have been in mediation, with the deadline eventually extended until today. Those talks went nowhere, though, and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is hopping mad, or at least Canadian mad:
“I said earlier today one of the frustrations I think in this partnership was Eugene Melnyk (and) the very fact that during the NHL outdoor (game at TD Place in Ottawa in 2017), or just before that, was musing about not even going downtown,” said Watson, who also is a non-voting member of the NCC board.
“I was pretty livid with him back then. I said ‘Wait a minute. You’re putting a lot of time, effort and money into this process and you come out and just muse off the top of your head, ‘Well, I’m not interested in moving downtown.’
“The whole purpose was because you wanted to move the arena downtown because there’s no walk-up traffic in Kanata (home of the Senators’ current arena, the Canadian Tire Centre). You need that kind of walk-up traffic and transit connections to make the arena successful like all arenas in North America are in the downtown core.”
“This is really about a proud moment for our city, a historic moment for our city,” City Councilor Candy Mero-Carlson said, before giving the council a pat on the back for pushing for the ballpark plan in the first place last year. “We should really take a bow here.”
An excellent start! Can anyone top that?
“My support is a resounding yes,” Councilor Gary Rosen said, adding he considers surrounding development that’s expected to accompany the stadium critical to how it’ll help the city not only break even on its investment but reap new revenue, according to city projections.
“You can’t beat that,” Rosen said. “The stadium will pay for itself.”
Even the economist you hired to devise the stadium deal doesn’t think that’s how it will work! (And he thinks that this “point has come across really well,” which he might want to now reassess.)
“We’re not going to stop doing other important things we already are doing, including education,” [City Manager Edward] Augustus said. “I see this project as an opportunity to help pay for those other projects. I see this as an opportunity for us to keep growing the pie.”
It is always possible that Worcester will be the exception to the rule, and so much new development will pour in strictly as a result of the stadium that it will create a windfall of new tax money — and even that that new tax money won’t immediately need to be spent on new schools and other services for all the people living in that new development but not paying property taxes to the general fund because that money was spent on the stadium. But I think I’ll be setting a Google Calendar reminder for five years from now called “Point and laugh at Worcester city officials,” just in case.
The Rhode Island legislature approved a funding plan for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium on the eve of its final session of the year Friday night, with the state house voting it in 53-13 in the morning, and the state senate following suit a little after 10 p.m. by a 26-6 margin. This would seem to finalize the $38 million in state and city subsidies that the team owners have been seeking to replace 76-year-old McCoy Stadium — except that the team owners still haven’t committed to accepting it:
The team released a noncommittal statement after the vote Friday night.
“We saw this proposed legislation for the first time only this morning, so it would be premature to comment further without having studied its terms and ramifications,” the team said. “We will continue to work with the city of Pawtucket to see if this new proposal is feasible, viable, and permissible.”
Who says no to $38 million? Someone seeking $48 million, certainly, but that doesn’t appear to be quite what’s going on here, since the PawSox owners already okayed a $38 million contribution previously. One possibility is that they’re concerned they could end up on the hook for more than the $45 million they were willing to put in (with the help of naming rights money and any other new stadium revenues, of course, since they’d get all those and the city and state would get squat), as a Senate Fiscal Office analysis projected that capping the public’s commitment to repay the stadium bonds could result in higher interest rates that would increase the total borrowing cost by $55 million to $87 million, which ain’t chicken feed.
Still, let’s not let the fact that Larry Lucchino & Friends think this is a crappy deal for them lull us into a false sense of security that this isn’t also, and much more certainly, a crappy deal for the Rhode Island public. State and city taxpayers are about to be forced to draw a circle of indeterminate size around a PawSox stadium site, and agree to hand over all property taxes from inside the circle to the team’s owners; if that doesn’t come to $38 million, the city development authority will have to find a way of making up the shortfall. And all this only because the team owners keep making vague threats to move to a city that hasn’t revealed publicly any offer at all in the way of stadium subsidies. And all over the objection of local residents who appear to overwhelmingly oppose the plan, just because in eastern states like Rhode Island, elected officials can broker stadium deals like this without fear of citizens staging a voter referendum to overrule them.