Friday roundup: If you’re watching TV sports in empty stadiums by summer, count yourself lucky

Michael Sorkin, who died yesterday of COVID-19, was a prolific architecture critic (and architect) and observer of the politics of public space, and so not a little influential in the development of my own writing. I’m sure I read some of Sorkin’s architecture criticism in the Village Voice, but he first came on my radar with his 1992 anthology “Variations on a Theme Park,” a terrific collection of essays discussing the ways that architects, urban planners, and major corporations were redesigning the world we live in to become a simulacrum of what people think they want from their environment, but packaged in a way to better make them safely saleable commodities. (I wish I’d gotten a chance to ask him what he thought of the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium, with its prefab walkable urban neighborhood with no real city attached to it.) In his “Variations on a Theme Park” essay on Disneyland and Disney World, he laid out the history of imagineered cities starting with the earliest World’s Fairs, up to the present day with Disney’s pioneering of “copyrighted urban environments” where photos cannot even be taken and published without prior approval of the Mouse — a restriction he got around by running as an illustration a photo of some clouds, and labeling it, “The sky above Disney World.”

I really hope this isn’t the beginning of a weekly feature on great people we’ve lost to this pandemic, though it seems pretty inevitable at this point. For now, on with the other stadium and arena news, though if you’re looking for a break from incessant coronavirus coverage, you won’t find it here:

Friday roundup: 49ers stadium squabble, Richmond nixes arena plan (for now), Mets’ $55m taxpayer-funded sofas off-limits to mere minor-leaguers because “status”

A glacier in Antarctica just lost a chunk of ice bigger than Seattle twice the size of Washington, D.C. nearly the size of Atlanta almost as big as Las Vegas a third the size of Dublin, maybe it’s time to quit driving an SUV? Or maybe it’s just time to focus on some more human-scale disasters that involve small groups of people enriching themselves to the detriment of humanity:

Friday roundup: Another Islanders arena delay, Wisconsin to wrap up Brewers stadium spending but not really, Italy wins (?) 2026 Olympics

My endorsement of Hmm Daily last month was so successful that this week the site announced it’s shutting down. I am now officially afraid to tell you people to give money to any other particular site, lest I bestow the kiss of death on them as well, but you should give money to someone you like, because journalism is in bad shape, with dire effects on, among other things, the public’s ability to hold elected officials accountable.

Speaking of which, here’s this week’s news about elected officials doing unaccountable things, and the rich dudes who want to keep it that way:

UPDATE: Just realized I forgot to link to my Deadspin article yesterday on Stuart Sternberg’s Tampontreal Ex-Rays threat, Richard Nixon, Kinder eggs, and bird evolution. And now I have done so, so go read it!

Los Angeles 2028 Olympic budget rises to $6.9 billion, likely to go much higher

The estimated cost of hosting the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles has risen from $5.3 billion to $6.9 billion, partly because of inflation when the city’s hosting was shifted from 2024 to 2028, partly because these damn things always go over budget.

The good news: Olympic organizers project more in revenues as well, so the games are still expected to break even. The less good news: Olympic games almost never do — though at least L.A. is reusing lots of facilities, such as hosting athletes in college dorms instead of building a new Olympic village, so it has a better shot at earning back its costs — and the city and state have committed themselves to cover any losses, as the International Olympic Committee demands of Olympic hosts.

And really, rising cost estimates nine years out from the actual Olympics are not what you have to worry about as a host city (or state). The worst of the overruns usually come in the final years and months, as organizers scramble to complete venues in time for the events, or pour money into extra security costs when it turns out hosting a major sporting event in the 21st century requires spending a lot of money on police. If the 2028 L.A. games really only cost $7 billion, everyone should be more or less fine; if they do, though, I will eat whatever hat I’m wearing in the future.

Calgary voters tell city to take its Olympic bid and stick it where the sun never rises

Well, well, well: Turns out after Calgary city officials rescued the city’s 2026 Olympics bid from the brink of death with a last-minute renegotiation with the Canadian federal government, city residents voted to send it right back to the grave yesterday, delivering a 56-44% verdict that the city should not offer to host the Games.

While technically the city council could still move ahead with the bid, since federal and provincial funding was contingent on a “yes” vote, that’s not going to happen:

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said “The people have spoken in big numbers, and have spoken clearly.”

When asked if the bid is dead, the Mayor said “Yeah, it’s very clear.”

With just seven months to go before the International Olympic Committee makes its decision on a 2026 host, this leaves only Stockholm and a joint bid by the Italian cities of Milan and Cortina in the running. And Stockholm’s new city government has declared itself opposed to using any public funding to build Olympic facilities or cover cost overruns, while the Italian national government has said it won’t contribute “one euro” to Milan-Cortina costs.

None of this is likely to turn out to be the long-awaited collective global middle finger to the IOC’s host city demands — either Stockholm or Milan-Cortina will likely figure out a way to host the 2026 Winter Games. But it is absolutely a sign that more and more cities are pushing back on the IOC’s insistence that host cities foot the bill for the Games — and cover any shortfall if they lose money, which they almost always do. It’s the reason why the IOC picked 2024 and 2028 Olympic hosts (Paris and Los Angeles) at the same time, and why the committee is constantly touting its promises to cut costs and reduce the number of white-elephant velodromes left scattered around the countryside in a Games’ wake. Push may not have come to shove just yet, but it seems to be heading there, and if it does it’ll make for some very interesting negotiations around the 2030 and 2032 Olympic bid races.

Calgary votes today on Olympics bid, as mayor says, “Hey, it’s not my money”

It’s nonbinding Olympic referendum day today in Calgary, and New York Times sportswriter Michael Powell marked the occasion by flying all the way to that city to write about what a boondoggle the Olympics are on a Canadian typewriter. Though he also got the time for a sit-down with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who shared a bit more of his thoughts on why he’s supporting the 2026 bid even though he generally pooh-poohs sports subsidies:

Mayor Nenshi said Calgary’s share would come in at a touch more than $400 million. The provincial Alberta government would fork over $700 million, and the federal government in Ottawa has promised a barrel of money, too.

“This is almost a tax rebate,” the mayor said.

Yep, it’s as suspected: Nenshi is for the Olympics because the vast majority of the money would come from the federal and provincial governments, so if he can land the Games and all of its associated infrastructure spending for just $400 million from his own budget, that’s a deal he’ll take. There’s a certain logic to it in an extremely parochial way, but really, “If my stupid colleagues in Ottawa are gonna blow a lot of taxpayer money on the Olympics, I want them to blow it in my town” is a disappointing position, to say the least, from a guy with a reputation for forward-thinking governance.

Powell also took advantage of those long Canadian nights to google Ernst & Young, who conducted the rosy study about a Calgary Olympics, and found this tidbit:

I nosed about afterward on the internet and noticed that Ernst & Young served as a richly compensated “exclusive provider” to the Rio Olympics. Previous Olympic cities, Ernst & Young noted in a news release, had seen arenas turn into white elephants. Not Rio, no no. “We have established sustainable postgame use for facilities” through a regimen of good governance and finance, the release said.

Two years later, Rio de Janeiro is stuck with a rumbling herd of white elephants, Olympic pools filled with rat feces, and a burned and collapsed velodrome and wrecked arenas.

At a bargain price of $400 million, who wouldn’t want that? Polls close at 8 pm Calgary time, and it’s likely to be close, so we may not know until morning whether Milan will win the 2026 Games by default.

Friday roundup: Election Day could have big consequences for Rays, Blue Jackets, Clippers

Happy last week before Election Day! Unsurprisingly, we lead off with a bunch of vote-related news:

  • Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld says he’s confident team execs will be able to meet a December 31 deadline for stadium funding without having to ask for an extension, even though right now there’s currently a $300 million funding gap. Frequent FoS commenter Scott Myers has theorized that the Rays ownership is hoping Hillsborough County voters will pass a 1% sales tax hike for transportation on Tuesday, which would free up other public money to pay for transportation improvements for a Rays stadium; that doesn’t seem like it’d provide $300 million, but every hundred million dollars counts, so everybody watch the ballot results carefully. (Which you should be doing anyway. And voting!)
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets owners, who have been criticized for being the main beneficiaries of a proposed 7% ticket tax in the city because their arena would get the lion’s share of the proceeds, surprised everybody this week by coming out against the tax, saying it “would materially harm our business.” Maybe this is reverse psychology to get residents to vote for the bill, since they’ll no longer think it’s a sop to the hockey team? Okay, probably not.
  • Madison Square Garden has given $700,000 to the campaign of the chief challenger to Inglewood Mayor James Butts in an effort to block plans for a new Los Angeles Clippers arena that could compete for concerts with MSG’s Forum, and the Clippers have fought back with $375,000 in spending to support Butts’ campaign. Poor grass.
  • In non-electoral news, the University of Connecticut is building a $45 million hockey arena on campus even though its team will continue to play most of its games in Hartford’s XL Center, just because its new NCAA conference requires an on-campus arena. (It also requires that the arena have at least 4,000 seats, but UConn got a waiver to only build 2,500 seats.) Since UConn is a public university, this technically means that public money will go into the project (though the university says it can pay for it from its own reserves), but mostly it’s bizarre to see an entire arena being built just to meet a technicality — what do you think the carbon footprint will be for this?
  • Transit experts are worried that the 2020 Olympics will overwhelm Tokyo’s already-crowded subway system, though they may not be anticipating how much the Olympics tend to cause anyone not interested in the Olympics to stay the hell out of town. The government has been encouraging local businesses to stagger work hours and open satellite offices to accommodate Games traffic, since “everybody call in sick for three weeks” would be anathema to Japanese work culture.
  • Opponents to Nashville SC‘s stadium plans are seeking a court injunction to block construction of a new expo center to replace the one that would be torn down to make way for the soccer stadium on the grounds that it would interfere with parking for a flea market, which is a first in my book.
  • Louisville is officially not bidding for an MLS franchise (yet), which unofficially makes it the only city in the whole U.S. of A. that isn’t. How is MLS ever going to meet its dream of a franchise for every individual person in North America if these keeps up?

That’s all for this week — go vote! And try to fight your way past the journalism extinction event to educate yourself about all those downballot races and initiatives and such, since as we cover here every week, they can have huge consequences.

Calgary Olympics public vote to go ahead after council narrowly fails to block it

The Calgary city council voted 8-7 yesterday to pull the city’s 2026 Olympic bid off of the November 13 ballot in the wake of controversy over who’ll foot the Games’ multi-billion-dollar bill — but as a ten-vote supermajority was required to pass the measure, the plebiscite will go ahead as scheduled.

And check out who cast one of the two deciding votes:

Yep, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, scourge of sports subsidies, voted to move ahead with plans to spend at least $2.325 billion in public money, and more likely $3 billion, and more likely than that upwards of $4 billion given how cost overruns usually go with these things, on hosting the 2026 Winter Games. Why, Mr. Nenshi, why?

“Over the next few days I will be trying to explain this deal to people, but I’m now at the point where I can actually say to people ‘this is a great deal we’ve negotiated’ and I’m encouraging people to vote yes.”’

Well, that’s unspecific but certainly enthusiastic. Presumably Nenshi’s argument is that Calgary’s share — $370 million under the new plan — is a good investment in exchange for the federal and provincial governments building more than $2 billion of stuff in Calgary. But while that’s certainly better for the city than where the deal stood over the weekend, city taxpayers are also provincial and federal taxpayers, and anyway is “Ha ha we’re sticking people in Moose Jaw and Thunder Bay with most of the bill, this’ll be great” really good public policy? And, for that matter, is spending even $370 million for a projected $200 million return a good idea? Plus, who’s going to pay those cost overruns?

Eight city councillors were concerned enough about these questions to vote no, including Evan Woolley, chair of the Olympic assessment committee, who told CBC News, “I personally will not support a deal that’s not in the best interests of Calgarians. We do not have the deal in front of us today.” The question now will be whether more Calgary voters share Nenshi’s excitement or Woolley’s qualms. If they do, then it should be smooth sailing once — sorry, what’s that?

Calgary 2026 highlighted one budget line that called for the city to purchase a contingency insurance policy, valued at $200 million, for $20 million of city funds. The organization said that will leverage $200 million matched by the federal government.

When questioned, however, it became clear there was no insurance policy identified as yet and if none could be found, Calgary 2026 just said it would find more cuts in their budget.

Friends, don’t let friends bid on the Olympics.

Calgary, Canada work out Olympic compromise but math doesn’t really work and council is still mad and luge fans are madder ARGH

Sorry to be late with the posting today, but I had a morning appointment and time got away from me and anyway Calgary and Alberta and the Canadian government have apparently settled their $430 million difference over paying for a 2026 Winter Olympics bid, meaning the plan will now go to a public vote on November 13 as previously scheduled.

How on earth did this happen, after just the night before everything seemed to be headed for the bid to be pulled amid a budget stalemate? Partly by some sleight of hand: The total projected bid cost is now just $2.875 billion, down from $3 billion, but given that the typical Olympics goes 156% over budget, both those numbers should be treated as fictitious anyway. As for who’ll pay for what share of that:

  • From the City of Calgary, $370 million in cash, plus another $20 million to cover a premium on a $200-million insurance policy against cost over-runs, for a total of $390 million.

  • From the City of Calgary and Government of Alberta, $150 million in pre-authorized improvements to Victoria Park and access to the Calgary Stampede grounds.

  • From the Government of Alberta, $700 million in cash.

  • From the Government of Canada, $1.423 billion, which matches the amounts committed to the core event costs by the province, city and Town of Canmore; also, $30 million in “leveraging initiatives” which the letter said are identified in the hosting plan.

So basically Calgary and Alberta put in an extra $170 million, the feds put in $47 million less, and the total public contribution ($2.69 billion) is nearly $200 million short of the actual total public cost. Numbers are fun!

The numbers work out better if the $200 million insurance plan is counted as a city expenditure toward the $2.875 billion cost. But if it’s part of the cost, it’s not for overruns — you’re really saying that the projected cost is now $2.675 billion, plus have an insurance policy for the next $200 million. Seriously, did somebody major in doubletalk here?

Furthermore, an insurance policy against $200 million in cost overruns doesn’t do much good if the overruns are more than $200 million — which, as noted above, they’re almost certain to be — so who covers any additional costs?

Interestingly, as of last night one important decisionmaker hadn’t officially signed onto the deal:

It was signed by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, federal Minister of Sport Kirsty Duncan and included a space for Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s signature.

Nenshi was “not available for comment” today according to several news outlets, and hasn’t tweeted in a while, so your guess is as good as mine what’s actually been agreed to and by whom. The city council is set to vote on a proposal to deep-six the Olympic bid entirely today, but presumably this announced agreement is set to forestall that, but councilmember still sounded unhappy about the new deal but they were being yelled at by angry luge fans NO SERIOUSLY ANGRY LUGE FANS and I need to go have a lie down right now. Let’s all tune in again tomorrow morning — morning, I promise this time — and see where the chips have fallen.

[UPDATE/CORRECTION: The $150 million Victoria Park money was actually already allocated, it’s just being newly counted as Olympic spending to qualify for matching funds. That’s good in that the city will just be on the hook for the $20 million in insurance premiums; it’s bad in that the only money actually committed to Olympic costs now comes to $2.325 billion, which is a lot less than the $3 billion originally projected. Basically, the feds seem to be dealing with the funding gap by saying, “Let’s shift $675 million from the ‘spending’ category to the ‘overrun’ category, and hope that we get lucky and it costs less than we expected!” This is not likely to go well.]

After Canada demands more Olympic money from Calgary, Mayor Nenshi threatens to pull 2026 bid

It’s Canada day here at Field of Schemes — no, not Canada Day, that was months ago, and we even missed Canadian Thanksgiving, but anyway — as in addition to the news from Halifax, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has threatened to withdraw his city’s bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics if the federal government doesn’t promise to cover more of the bill:

The letter was triggered by Friday’s Postmedia revelation that the federal cabinet had decided to fund up to $1.75 billion in 2026 dollars, but only if the province and city match the total.

“It is clear there has been a tremendous misunderstanding of the nature of the required funding amongst the three government partners and now we are in a position where we cannot show citizens how the required public contribution could be met,” Nenshi wrote.

Calgary and Alberta officials apparently thought they had an agreement in place where the city would put in $370 million, the province $700 million, and the federal government $1.75 billion plus any overruns. But it turns out the $1.75 billion is in 2026 dollars, which comes to more like $1.5 billion, and it’s contingent on the city and province matching that $1.5 billion, which is $430 million more than the two local governments had offered.

Negotiations are reportedly ongoing, but there isn’t much time left, as Nenshi said he needed a resolution by today or he’ll cancel a scheduled November 13 public vote on the plan. Polls have shown that the proposal is likely to pass, but Nenshi has previously reserved his right to pull out of the bid before or even after the public vote, so there could be much haggling yet to come. Which is good, because at $3 billion in public costs and a projected $200 million in new tax revenue, this sounds like a pretty awful deal, unless Calgary residents really think it’s worth $2.8 billion to have their lives turned upside down for three weeks in 2026 so people can come watch winter sports (doubtful, though Canadians do love their curling) or to put Calgary on the map as a tourist destination (um, maybe after global warming kicks in a few more degrees?).

We should find out more by end of day, or at least by Wednesday, when the Calgary council is set to meet to discuss the Olympic plan.