Raleigh commission warns $2B soccer plan could displace residents, council may still okay it

Plans for a $2 billion office/residential/hotel complex in Raleigh including a $180 million stadium for the USL’s North Carolina F.C. and the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage have been burbling along for more than a year now, as locals expressed concerns about the more than $300 million in city and county tax money that would be required over 30 years and also about encouraging gentrification and whether the city could afford any of this during a pandemic recession budget. Still, Steve Malik, the owner of the two soccer teams, and local developer John Kane got as far as a vote of Raleigh’s Planning Commission last night on rezoning the land, when things when unexpectedly awry, as the commission voted unanimously to deny the rezoning request because, man, I dunno, you try to parse all this:

“I find this whole thing disappointing because there is a general opportunity here for Raleigh, but you can’t do it at the expense of people,” said commissioner Jennifer Lampman.

“Maybe this is a really good thing, but it’s coming before things are in place to guide the growth to ensure that it is equitable. I worry by approving this now we will be signing off on the potential for disproportionally high and adverse transportation, environmental, economic and social impacts and there would primarily be bored by black communities,” said commissioner Nicole H. Bennett

“This rezoning application shows a vicious disregard for equity and fairness,” said commissioner Michele McIntosh.

The upshot — assuming WNCN-TV meant to type “borne,” not “bored” — seems to be that the planning commission is mostly worried that the project would price out residents of southeast Raleigh without consulting them first, a concern that has been raised in the past. And it’s a legit concern: Big development projects absolutely can, if not directly raise property values themselves, serve as a way to market a neighborhood as “revitalized,” which is the kind of thing that deep-pocketed newcomers like to hear, because less-well-heeled residents are unvital if not a little bit scary.

Still, we shouldn’t give short shrift to the concern that spending as much as $335 million in public money (mostly future property tax kickbacks, plus some other public cash) on a project based around a 20,000-seat stadium for one minor-league soccer team and one women’s soccer team — teams that currently average about 4,000 and 6,000 fans per game, respectively — is a little bit nutso. Malik has talked of wanting an MLS-ready stadium for Raleigh, but even though MLS seems determined to put a team in every city in North America, Charlotte is already getting an expansion team in 2022 with the help of public stadium upgrades, so a second North Carolina team probably isn’t going to be a priority anytime soon. (There was discussion earlier this year of downsizing the proposed stadium to 12,000 seats, but WNCN is saying 20,000 seats again, so either the developers are back to their original plan or the station’s proofreaders were asleep at the switch again.)

This whole mess will be dumped in the lap of the Raleigh city council for a public hearing next Tuesday, at which point lawmakers will decide whether to move ahead with the project or just torpedo the whole thing once and for all. Or at least until the developers inevitably return with a new plan, maybe one where they’ve paid to create some local pro-development groups? That’s how the pros do it.

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Friday roundup: Jacksonville council holds screaming match about Jaguars subsidy, Braves to charge county for fixing anything that wouldn’t fall out of stadium if you turned it over, plus Texas cricket wars!

I admit, there are some Fridays where I wake up and realize I have to do a news roundup and it just feels like a chore after a long week, and, reader, this was one of those Fridays. But then I looked in my inbox and there was a new Ruthie Baron “This Week In Scams” post for the first time in months, and now I am re-energized for the day ahead! Also despondent about how the fossil fuel industry is trying to catfish us all into thinking global warming isn’t real, but that’s the complex mix of emotions I have come to rely on “This Week In Scams” for.

And speaking of complex mixes of emotions, let’s get to this week’s remaining sports stadium and arena news:

  • Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on complaints that Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s $200 million development subsidy deal is being rushed through the city council: “What does that mean, it’s rushed? What does that mean? We are following the process we follow as a city. The administration has put forth legislation that includes the development of Lot J. The City Council will take their time and do their work. And then they’ll ultimately have to press a green button or a red button — a yes or a no.” Now I really want to know if the Jacksonville city council actually votes by pushing a green or red button, and if so what they do if a city councilmember has red-green color blindness, and oh hey, what happened at yesterday’s council hearing? “Finger-pointing, name-calling and what some members say was a big embarrassment for government”? Excellent, keep up the good work.
  • The Atlanta Braves owners have tapped their first $800,000 from their $70 million stadium repair fund, half of which is to be paid for by Cobb County, to pay for … okay, this Marietta Daily Journal article doesn’t say much about what it will pay for, except that one item is a new fence, and there was dispute over whether a fence counted as a repair (which the fund can be used for) or an improvement (which the team is supposed to cover). It also notes: “Mike Plant, president & CEO of Braves Development Company, described capital maintenance costs in 2013 by using the example of taking a building and turning it upside down. The items that would fall out of the building represent general maintenance, which is the responsibility of the Braves, while the items that do not fall out, such as pipes, elevators and concrete, fall under capital maintenance.” This raises all kinds of questions: Would elevators really not fall out of a stadium if you turned it upside down? What if furniture, for example, fell off the floor but landed on an interior ceiling? Would you have to shake the stadium first to see what was loose and just stuck on something? So many questions.
  • The Grand Prairie city council has approved spending $1.5 million to turn the defunct Texas AirHogs baseball stadium into a pro cricket stadium, which the Dallas Morning News reports “could cement North Texas as a top U.S. market for professional cricket.” (If this sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of nearby Allen, Texas, which thought about building a cricket stadium a couple of years ago but then thought better of it.) I went to a pro cricket match in the U.S. once, years ago, and there were maybe 100 people in the stands, and later the league apparently folded when none of the players showed up for a game, but surely this will go much better than that.
  • Angel City F.C. has announced it will be playing games at Banc of California Stadium, which made me look up first what league Angel City F.C. is in (an expansion team in the National Women’s Soccer League) and then what stadium named itself after Banc of California (the Los Angeles F.C. stadium that opened in 2018, I’m pretty sure at no public expense but you never know for sure with these things, and which is not supposed to be called Banc of California Stadium anymore since Banc of California bailed on its naming-rights contract in June) and then why Banc of California insists on spelling “Banc” that way (unclear, but if it was an attempt to put a clean new rebranding on the bank after its creation in a 2013 merger, that maybe didn’t go so well). So now, burdened with this knowledge, I feel obligated to share it — if nothing else, I suppose, it’s a nice little microcosm of life in the early Anthropocene, which may be of interest to future scholars if the cockroaches and microalgae can figure out how to read blogs.
  • The Richmond Times-Dispatch says that even if the Richmond Flying Squirrels get eliminated in baseball’s current round of minor-league defenestration, “Major League Baseball’s risk is our gain” if the city builds a new stadium that … something about “a multiuse strategy”? The editorial seems to come down to “Okay, the team may get vaporized, but we still want a new stadium, so full speed ahead!”, which is refreshing honesty, at least, maybe?
  • When I noted yesterday that the USL hands out new soccer franchises like candy, I neglected to mention that a lot of that candy quickly melts on the dashboard and disappears, so thanks to Tim Sullivan of the Louisville Courier Journal for recounting all the USL franchises that have folded over the years.
  • Six East Coast Hockey League teams are choosing to sit out the current season, and that’s bad news for Reading, home of the Reading Royals, according to Reading Downtown Improvement District chief Chuck Broad, who tells WFMZ-TV, “There is lots of spin-off, economic development, from a hockey game for restaurants and other businesses.” Yeah, probably not, and especially not during a time when hardly anyone would be eating at restaurants anyway because they’re germ-filled death traps, but why not give the local development director a platform to insist otherwise, he seems like a nice guy, right?
  • In related news, the mayor of Henderson, Nevada, says the new Henderson Silver Knights arena she’s helping build with at least $30 million in tax money is “a gamechanger” for downtown Henderson because “it’s nice to have locations where events can happen in our community.” This after she wrote a column for the Las Vegas Sun saying how great it will be for locals to be able to “attend a variety of events that create the vibrancy for which our city is known” — a vibrancy that apparently Henderson was able to pull off despite not having any locations where events can happen, because that’s just the kind of place Henderson is.
  • In also related news, the vice president of sales and marketing at New Beginnings Window and Door says that the Hudson Valley Renegades becoming a New York Yankees farm team could be great for his business (which, again, is selling windows and doors) because “the eyeballs are going to be there” for advertising his windows and doors to people driving up from New York City who might want to pick up some windows and doors to take home with them, okay, I have no idea what he’s talking about, seriously, can’t anybody at any remaining extant newspapers ask a followup question?
  • And in all-too-related news, here’s an entire WTSP article about the new hotel Tampa will have ready for February’s Super Bowl that never even mentions the possibility that nobody will be able to stay in hotels for the Super Bowl because Covid is rampaging across the state. Journalism had a good run.
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Friday roundup: I, for one, support our new dancing robot overlords

Happy Friday, everybody! Let’s see what’s going on:

While I’m sorely tempted to stop right there, we do have some other news this week to cover, so let’s continue:

  • Oak View Group, the operator of the New York Islanders‘ new Belmont Park arena currently under construction for a planned opening next year, is reportedly interested in taking over operations of the Nassau Coliseum as well, according to Newsday “sources.” I mean, so would I if the price were right, and given that current operator Mikhail Prokhorov is $2 million behind in rent and threatened with eviction, OVG probably thinks it can get a good deal here, but still it’s hard to see this as anything other than throwing a few pennies at shutting down a rival so as not to risk any competitors making a go of it.
  • Kennesaw State University economist J.C. Bradbury has looked at the impact of the new Atlanta Braves stadium that “was intended to serve as an anchor for further economic development in the suburban business district of Cumberland that would ripple throughout the county,” and found that local commercial property values actually went down relative to similar properties elsewhere in the Atlanta metro area. Bradbury theorizes that businesses may not want to locate near all the traffic congestion of a sports stadium, or be scared off by the tax surcharges put in place to help fund the $300 million public cost. “This finding is consistent with the vast literature on the economic impact of sports venues and events,” concludes Bradbury, which is economistese for “We told you so, over and over and over again, but you wouldn’t listen.”
  • Restaurant owners in Edmonton are so desperate for business that one declared himself “super-excited” at the prospect that visiting NHL teams might place some takeout orders, and the Edmonton Journal sports section is so desperate for hockey news that it ran a whole article about it. Wait, that was in the business section? These are not glorious times for journalism.
  • The National Women’s Soccer League used a forgivable loan from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program to help pay players when its season shut down, which sounds like (and is) a subsidy but is also exactly how the PPP is supposed to work: covering salaries to keep people from being laid off during a pandemic, thus keeping the economy from collapsing even more than it is otherwise. Sure, it would have been nice if the program hadn’t run out of money before most businesses could access it, but given that the maximum player salary in the NWSL is $50,000 a year, it’s hard to complain too much about them being less deserving than anyone else.
  • The way the PPP was not supposed to work was for companies to hold onto employees and then lay them off as soon as they’d certified for the forgivable loans, but that’s what New Era did in Buffalo, and now Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is so mad that he’s refusing to call the Buffalo Bills stadium by its New Era-branded name, which will totally show them.
  • Lots of NFL teams are planning for reduced capacities at games this fall, while the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is preparing for his players to “all get sick, that’s for sure.” And that’s the state of the NFL in a nutshell right now.
  • Hawaii can’t spend $350 million on replacing Aloha Stadium with a new stadium and redeveloping the area around it because somebody made a typo in the legislation and wrote 99-year leases instead of 65-year leases, everybody laugh and point!
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Friday roundup: Dolphins owner seeks Formula One tax break, Tacoma okays soccer subsidies, plus vaportecture from around the globe!

Happy coronavirus panic week! What with stadiums in Europe being closed to fans and stadium workers in the U.S. testing positive for the virus, it’s tough to think of much right now other than what song to wash your hands to for 20 seconds (this is my personal preference). But long after we’re done with our self-quarantines, the consequences of sports venue spending will live on, so to the week’s news we go:

  • Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is seeking a sales-tax exemption for tickets to Formula One racing events at his stadium, saying that without it, Miami might not get a Grand Prix. The tax break is expected to cost the state between $1.5 million and $2 million per event, but Formula One officials say each race would generate an economic impact of more than $400 million, and what possible reason would they have to lie about a thing like that?
  • The Tacoma city council voted 8-1 on Monday to approve spending on a $60 million, 5,000-seat stadium for the Reign F.C. women’s pro soccer team. According to a letter of intent approved by the council, the city will provide $15 million, while the city parks agency will provide $7.5 million more, with perhaps another $20 million to come from federal tax credits for investing in low-income communities. The parks body still has to vote on the plan on Monday as well; given that Metro Parks commissioner Aaron Pointer — who is also a former Houston Astro and a brother of the Pointer Sisters — said he doesn’t see “really any benefits at all” for the city or its parks, it’s fair to say that the vote there will be more contentious than the one in the city council.
  • Brett Johnson, the developer behind a proposed $400 million development in Pawtucket centered around a pro soccer stadium, says he has lots of investors eager to parks their capital gains in his project tax-free under the Trump administration’s Opportunity Zone program, but it might take a while to work out all the details because reasons. But, he added, “My confidence is very high,” and confidence is what it’s all about, right?
  • Nashville’s Save Our Fairgrounds has filed for a court injunction to stop work on a new Nashville S.C. stadium, on the grounds that no redevelopment of the state fairgrounds can take place without a public voter referendum. This brings the total number of lawsuits against the project to … umpteen? I’m gonna go with umpteen.
  • There’s now an official lawsuit against the Anaheim city council for voting on a Los Angeles Angels stadium land sale without sufficient public meetings. The People’s Homeless Task Force is charging that holding most of the sale talks in private violated the state’s Brown Act on transparency; the city’s lawyers responded that “there could be a myriad of reasons” why the council was able to vote on the sale at a single meeting in December despite never discussing it in public before that, though they didn’t suggest any specific reasons.
  • Wondering what vaportecture looks like outside of North America? Here’s an article on Watford F.C.‘s proposed new stadium, though if you aren’t an Athletic subscriber you’ll be stuck with just the one image, though given that it’s an image of Watford fans stumbling zombie-like into the stadium out of what appears to be an open field, really what more do you need?
  • There are some new renderings of the St. Louis MLS team‘s proposed stadium, and once again they mostly feature people crossing the street, not anything having to do with watching soccer. Are the clip art images of people throwing their hands in the air for no reason temporarily out of stock or something?
  • Here are photos of a 31-year-old arena being demolished, because America.
  • The Minnesota Vikings‘ four-year-old stadium needs $21 million in new paneling on its exterior, because the old paneling was leaking. At least the stadium’s construction contractors will be footing the bill, but it’s still an important reminder that “state of the art” isn’t necessarily better than “outmoded,” especially when it comes to new and unproven designs.
  • And speaking of COVID-19, here’s an article on how travel restrictions thanks to the new coronavirus will cost the European tourism industry more than $1 billion per month, without wondering what else Europeans (and erstwhile travelers to Europe from other continents) will do with the money they’re saving on plane tickets and hotel rooms. Where’s my article on how pandemics are a boost to the hand sanitizer and canned soup industries?
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Friday roundup: Stadium trends, phantom soccer arenas, and the inevitable narwhal uprising

Welcome to the first weekly news roundup of the fourth decade during which this site has been in operation — unless you’re one of those people — which is kind of scary and depressing! I know I didn’t expect in 1998 that there would still be a need for Field of Schemes in 2020, but no one likes to give up a good grift when they see one, and for the last few decades nobody’s been able to make rich people in the U.S. give up much of anything, so here we are.

Seeing as I don’t want to even think about whether we’ll still be having this conversation in 2030, let’s get right to the news:

  • In the midst of a long New York Times article about how cool the new Golden State Warriors arena is, because the future, Temple University economist Michael Leeds asserts that it’s an example of “a trend since the Great Recession that, with some notable exceptions, cities have been much less willing to open up a pocketbook and fund a stadium or arena.” While “some notable exceptions” is a large caveat, I’m still not convinced that cities were all that much less willing in the Teens than the Aughts to cough up sports venue money — in California, sure, but then what of Nevada and Arlington and Georgia and Milwaukee and Indianapolis? I’ve emailed Leeds to ask for his data, but really what the world needs is a fresh dose of updated Judith Grant Long spreadsheets.
  • Major League Baseball says its plan to stop providing players to 42 minor-league franchises is not actually a plan to “eliminate any club,” and it’s minor-league owners’ fault if they insist on going bankrupt instead of pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps and joining unaffiliated leagues. Also, this latest missive was apparently prompted by objections by Sen. Richard Blumenthal to the elimination of the Connecticut Tigers, who are in the process of being rebranded as the Norwich Sea Unicorns, and now all I can think about is: What’s a sea unicorn? Is it just a narwhal? Is Norwich now on the Arctic Ocean? What ship is the sea unicorn the captain of that earned it its captain’s hat, and how is it going to fire that harpoon-bat with its flippers? And at what? Is it a whale that has turned against its own kind? Or is it turning against humanity in revenge for our destruction of its habitat? Maybe MLB is just trying to protect us from the animal uprising, which if so they really should have mentioned it earlier in their statement.
  • The owners of the San Diego Sockers, which are an indoor soccer team, implying that there must still be indoor soccer leagues of some sort, are looking at building a 5,000- to 8,000-seat arena in Oceanside, which would cost dunno and be funded by ¯_(ツ)_/¯, but which team execs swear would be more affordable than paying rent at their current arena in San Diego and arranging schedules for their 12 home games a year. I can’t see anything that could possibly go wrong with this business plan!
  • Remember that $60 million soccer stadium for the NWSL Seattle Reign and USL Tacoma Defiance that was proposed for Tacoma last July, with negotiations expected to be completed by the end of the summer? The Tacoma News Tribune does, and notes that such details as how it would be paid for “all still remains to be seen,” though city sales tax money and hotel tax money could be on the table. This is clearly going to require more renderings.
  • English League Two soccer club (that’s the fourth division in English soccer, for English soccer reasons you either already understand or don’t want to know about) Forest Green Rovers are planning to build an all-wood stadium that will supposedly be “the greenest football stadium in the world,” but even if the timber is “sustainably-sourced,” wouldn’t it have less carbon impact to leave both the trees and the oil to fuel the construction equipment in the ground and keep on playing at this place that is just 14 years old? The narwhals are not going to be happy about this at all.
  • Should Syracuse build an esports arena? A gaming industry exec is given op-ed space to say: maybe!
  • How can anybody say that sports stadiums don’t create an economic spinoff effect when local residents can charge $10 a car to let people park on their lawns? That’s it, I take back everything I’ve said the last 22 years.
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Tacoma plans $59.5m soccer stadium for NWSL and USL teams, with public’s share TBD

Yesterday a journalist asked me about the boom in new soccer stadiums, and replied that it was a function of a bunch of things, including MLS’s propensity to hand out new franchises like candy in exchange for new soccer-only facilities, as well as the fact that soccer stadiums tend to be relatively cheap as sports venues go. I wish that he’d waited a day to call me now, because:

The Tacoma City Council reviewed a feasibility study of a new $300 million soccer complex in Tacoma on Tuesday.

The project, called the Heidelberg Sports Complex, would be publicly and privately financed, a joint venture between the City of Tacoma, the Metro Parks department, and the Soccer Club of Tacoma (which includes the Reign FC and Tacoma Defiance).

Now, that $300 million is for a soccer stadium plus “eight recreational fields, shops, and 520 units of housing”; the actual stadium cost is listed at a somewhat more manageable $59.5 million, though it’s not immediately clear if that includes all the land and infrastructure that will be required for the stadium or not. In any event, this would all be for the Reign of the NWSL (that’s the women’s pro league) and the Defiance of the USL (that’s the top men’s minor league below MLS). The public’s share of the cost — and, one hopes, of any resulting revenues — won’t be revealed until the soccer team owners and public officials complete negotiations on the plan, which is expected to take place over the next month or two.

Tacoma officials did release a feasibility study on Tuesday, which I’m still going through, but aside from some requisite stadium renderings — featuring daytime fireworks, of course — and another rendering of, for some reason, Mount Rainier, there doesn’t appear to be a ton of useful detail in them. But I’m sure they were presented in a professional clear plastic binder, and that’s all that really matters.

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