Friday roundup: Climate-doomed sports cities, a $500m video-game arena, and tax breaks to allay pirate fears

Happy Friday, everyone! If you’ve been thinking, Gee, what with vaccines rolling out and the end of the pandemic maybe finally imaginable, I could really use some other global catastrophe to experience existential panic about, Defector and I have you covered with an article about which U.S. sports cities are most likely the first to be made uninhabitable by climate change. No spoilers here, but suffice to say that if you’ve been holding out the last 64 years for the return of the Rochester Royals to the NBA, this might be your lucky century.

And in the newsier news:

  • Pittsburgh Penguins owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux were among the slew of developers and landholders who successfully lobbied the Trump administration last year to redraw Census maps to expand Opportunity Zones, earning who the hell knows how much money in tax breaks as a result. This may sound like a blatant cash grab that isn’t available to normal people who don’t have lobbyists on payroll, but just wait until you hear about the St. Croix hemp farmer who says that without tax breaks he would have trouble finding investors in the U.S. Virgin Islands because “people have ideas of pirates and all this sort of thing,” and then think about how little he probably paid for his land there after telling the seller, “I dunno, man, it’s probably infested with pirates,” and then you’ll know for sure.
  • The owner of two separate Toronto esports teams (one an Overwatch team and one a Call of Duty team, if you think I’m going to dignify them with boldface team names you’re nuts) has announced plans for a 7,000-seat venue to host them, at a cost of $500 million. Wut? I mean, it will also be able to host concerts (its designer called it neither “a sports arena nor an opera house” but “a new typology that straddles the two,” which he got “new” right, anyway), but still, half a billion dollars for a 7,000-seat theater with lots of big screens? Also, the developers already announced this last July, just without the $500 million price tag, so good job, guys, if you leaked the large number now just to get attention, as it’s working. No word yet on whether they’d want public money or tax breaks or anything for this, but you have to think they’d be crazy to spend all their own money on this.
  • Add the Pensacola Blue Wahoos to the list of minor-league baseball teams trying to use the downsizing of the minors to shake down cities for stadium improvements. Sure, it’s only $2 million, but it’s also only to secure a ten-year lease extension, which means they can demand more money in 2031 … if Florida is still above sea level by then. (Oop, damn, the spoiler thing again, sorry.)
  • The Oakland A’s owners may have won their lawsuit to fast-track any environmental challenges to their proposed Howard Terminal stadium (which, by the way, is in an area likely to be among the first to be inundated by sea level rise — oops, I said no spoilers), but lawsuits can be appealed! There, I just saved you $52 a year on an Athletic subscription.
  • I’ve been only marginally following Everton F.C.‘s plans for a new £500 million stadium on the Liverpool waterfront — holding 52,000 people, eat that, Overwatch barons — but there are some mostly dull new renderings out. Also the team’s owners are claiming that moving from one part of town to another will add £1 billion to the local economy, which just goes to show that even when all they’re asking for is a city loan that they’ll repay with interest, sports team owners can’t stop going to the “money will rain like manna from heaven” page in the stadium playbook.
  • The Columbus Crew have fresh renderings out of their new stadium, and do they include people throwing their hands in the air and gesturing wildly to things they want to buy at a bar to show how excited they are to be at a soccer match and ignoring the game so they can sit indoors with a bunch of other uniformly young and attractive people? You bet they do!

The year in vaportecture: The future is green and attacked by birds and spiders

It’s that time of the season again, when we look back on the year just past and count all the dead stacked up like cordwood and the life we missed out on thanks to — no, no, it’s time to look at silly pictures of sports venues and what underpaid renderers tried to pass off as the future of sports spectating! After a year in which actual sports spectating was largely reduced to robot fans and the occasional small groups of drunk people not wearing masks in states that decided to just say “fuck it, let’s sell some tickets,” what has that done to the visions of sports dancing in designers’ heads? Let’s take a gander:

The Columbus Crew celebrated getting $98 million in stadium subsidies by releasing some fresh vaportecture of what the resulting stadium would look like. It featured strange drink rails and giant soccer balls suspended in midair, fans throwing their hands in the air for no reason (as one does), and one shot of the stadium seemingly under attack by a flock of birds that, I must remind you, some human person put in the image on purpose:

So I didn’t notice this the first time around, but the stippled pattern on the roof of the stadium (which doesn’t seem to be shaped in a way to maximize coverage of the fans beneath, but never mind that just for now) actually looks a lot like a flock of birds, so maybe the real birds have been attracted by decoys? Or maybe part of the plan for the stadium is that actual birds will provide a structural element, in some kind of futuristic melded artificial-natural ecosystem? Maybe the players themselves will be replaced by birds, to save on payroll? So many questions.

Soon after this, ArchDaily, which is one of a seemingly endless number of websites dedicated to the wet dreams of starchitects and the people who for some reason idolize them, just straight-up ran a bunch of unrelated vaportecture images from around the world with no context, then declared this “the future of sports architecture.” A lot of them seemed to involve plants, or stadiums hidden under plants, or pretending to be plants:

Apparently the future is going to be mostly about plants, either because we’ll have learned that plants are key to preventing climate change or because we’ll have killed them all with climate change and will be busy erecting monuments to what they used to look like in the Before Times. (No, not those Before Times, the other Before Times.)

The Kansas City Royals owners haven’t formally demanded a new stadium yet, preferring to let downtown development interests do the dirty work for them. And early in the year, a local architecture firm released images of what they would build in downtown K.C., if only someone gave them a few hundred million dollars to pursue their dream:

That doesn’t look like much of anything in particular: an inclined donut with a donut-shaped roof sitting atop it, though the trees growing 50 feet up off the ground are a nice touch, lending it that all-important air of greenness without having to specifically address how much extra steel would be needed to support all those root systems. Front and center, though, is the real star of the show, our old friend Cab-Hailing Purse Woman, who had been previously sighted outside Worcester’s new baseball stadium and standing on a blank void in Halifax while athletes played various sports at the same time nearby. (She even brought her friend from Halifax, Taking A Picture Of The Sky In Green Shirt Lady!) Clearly somebody’s focus groups have shown that while people may like to go to sporting events to throw their arms in the air wildly and watch fireworks during the daytime, the real attraction is getting to hail cabs, and seeing that in action creates a subliminal reaction that is guaranteed to separate voters from their money.

A few months later, Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno released renderings of his own new stadium development he’ll be building with the aid of $350 million in discounted land, and look who he invited to the party:

Somebody stuck a (badly deformed) foam #1 finger on her hand, but I would recognize that purse anywhere! Too bad she’s trying to hail a cab, or possibly exult that the Angels are #1 (pro tip: the Angels are not #1) to a bunch of people speeding away from her in a bike lane, but she gets points for trying! (Moreno’s people also included some green roofs, though with all the trees depicted as safely on the ground, this honestly feels like the old future.)

New Mexico United, not to be dissuaded by not knowing where it would build a stadium or how much it would cost or who would pay for it, released images of a soccer venue dominated by a giant Muffler Man robot and what appears to be a giant spider on its roof:

On the inside of these vaporstadiums, meanwhile, things don’t get much less weird. Some people, like in this Nashville S.C. stadium rendering, throw their hands in the air in excitement even though they can’t even seen the match from where they’re standing:

Others, as in this Hartford arena rendering, just go on their laptops and ignore the game entirely, or rather one basketball game and one hockey game, since even the arena’s internal video feed director can’t imagine that many people will be interested in watching the Wolf Pack when there’s a basketball game on somewhere:

And some fans watch a sport that is played by people lovingly depicted by a watercolor artist as 20-foot-tall homunculi:

And then, courtesy of Phoenix Rising F.C., there was, uh, this:

Finally, we have what is hands-down the worst stadium detail of the year, or maybe of all of recorded human history. Once again from that set of Royals stadium renderings:

Yep, it’s a clip-art fan holding up a handmade sign (check how the second line of text doesn’t even line up, they clearly used Letraset) reading “HEY CDC KC HAS THE FEVER.” In the year 2020. Sure, it was January 2020, but even then Covid was enough of a known entity that I cracked a joke about it at the time, so really, WTF? Even if the renderer was just trying to distract us from the fact that the base coaches had been raptured out of existence and taken the protective netting with them, this seems in extremely bad taste — but then, unveiling images of people packed in like sardines enjoying sporting events at stadiums requiring massive infusions of public cash during a pandemic that has put the world’s economy on hold and left millions of people and businesses at risk of eviction or bankruptcy is in extremely bad taste to start with, so maybe this is truly the most 2020 vaportecture image of them all.

Hartford unveils $100m arena upgrade so fans can ignore the game in comfort

The city of Hartford is taking advantage of pandemic downtime to move ahead with $100 million in state-funded renovations to its arena, something that would otherwise require interruptions to … the minor-league hockey Hartford Wolf Pack, I guess some concerts, whatever else they use the place for these days. The 45-year-old arena was previously described by its director as “out of its prime” and “tired,” and today we get a bunch of rendering showing how untired it will be with $100 million thrown at it:

Okay, this is some kind of dining area, I think? At least, that looks like a steam table of some kind off to the right, though one without any actual food on it. The woman in the shiny new Adidas appears to be taking a photo of it, because in the future, Instagramming empty plates will be a way to, I dunno, express solidarity with climate famine victims or something?

And this is … a cafe? The two identical bearded servers look to be pouring coffee, anyway. Not that anyone is drinking coffee, or doing much of anything else, other than using laptops and talking on their phones, while both hockey and basketball games play on ignored screens in the background.

This is a “bunker suite,” which would be built below the lower seating level. (You can glimpse the actual arena bowl at the top of those stairs to the right.) There would be a seating area for four to eight people outside the suite, while everyone else could sit on a sofa and watch on TV, or maybe in a comfy chair arranged so they couldn’t see the TV at all, in case the game is too painful to watch.

The Hartford Courant says the goal of all this is to “bring spectators closer to the action,” but if there’s one common theme, it’s that none of the renderings actually show people being able to see the action at all, or even paying the slightest attention to it. The reasonable conclusion is that the state of Connecticut has decided that the way to get people to go to more sporting events and concerts is to make doing so as much like sitting at home or watching at a bar as possible — which is definitely not an uncommon strategy, but does seem a little weird given that watching at home or at a bar doesn’t require shelling out for a ticket. We’ll see how it goes, I guess — the state will need to bring in several million dollars more a year to recoup its $100 million expense, so Connecticut sports fans had better be ready to drink a whole lot of invisible coffee.

Nashville SC envisions army of identically dressed clones going to its new stadium, feel the excitement!

I’m guessing everyone could use something lighthearted about now, so fortunately Nashville S.C. has released a new video of what its new stadium will look like, and it is a nightmarish uncanny valley of shambling Sims set to generic triumphant music:

Some of that goes by awful quick, so let’s stop and take a closer look at some screengrabs:

Normally stadium renderers like to depict fan wearing jerseys of players who will be long-retired by the time the stadium opens, but Nashville S.C. is an expansion team, so here they appear to have outfitted everyone in near-identical team-colored form-fitting long-sleeve t-shirts. Which makes a bit more sense when you realize that while the renderers have selected a carefully multicultural mix of fan-bots (though probably not the 38% of actual Nashville residents who are Black or Latinx), they are all the same age and body type, as if the stadium were being built on one of those Star Trek planets where everyone is young and jacked, plus they’ve even cured baldness.

Next is a super-fast flyby of the stadium interior. Let’s freeze the frame and see what that packed crowd is actually doing:

Okay, that’s not at all disturbing. About the most positive interpretation I can provide is all hail the blue and yellow smoke gods, which honestly isn’t very positive at all, so instead let’s focus on how the video board informing fans that they are watching “SOCCER” is dazzling enough to be visible right through an American flag, and in fact through part of the flagpole as well.

Fans throwing their hands in the air is, of course, renderingese for excitement!!!, so it’s important to show them doing so in every possible situation, whether it’s in an enclosed club where they can’t even see the pitch thanks to fans outside standing in their way:

Or even in an entirely enclosed club where no one can see the match at all:

Though maybe that one fan-bot is actually cheering the American football game that’s displayed on one of the video screens, for the benefit of people who paid to go to a soccer game so they could sit in a simulated airport lounge and watch the Titans on TV.

Or, fans can always take a break from the game and watch a guy strum a single chord on an open-stringed acoustic guitar, the only thing he can manage what with his left hand busy holding up his instrument after he forgot to bring a guitar strap:

The team also released some new still frame renderings, which are … less disturbing? Differently disturbing?

I’m concerned what kind of argument led the identically dressed redheads to be not speaking to each other, but at least there’s a wider variety of dress styles here. Look, at the far left there’s even a woman wearing a tank top and shorts! Did anyone else dress that way for the game?

Okay, there’s … the exact same woman. In the exact same position. Maybe she’s a statue? That would explain why she’s dressed for midsummer when the guy she’s talking to/trying to flee is wearing a heavy jacket, and another guy nearby is wearing a down vest. Lousy Smarch weather!

We know by now why all these knee-slappers end up hidden in the Where’s Waldo? universe of stadium vaportecture: Renderers are generally on a short clock and relying on a limited supply of “entourage” (clip-art fans) to excite their sports team clients whose attention to detail isn’t all that great, so it becomes more about the overall feel of the crowd on a quick flyby than the actual specifics. Which admittedly calls into question why anyone should take any of these renderings seriously when they’re just about Shock & Awe, but presumably team execs are thinking — such that they’re thinking anything — that these images will speak directly to some lizard-brain sense of “oooh, that looks fun!” even if the details go hilariously awry. Maybe next time they can sneak in Batman, and see if anyone will even notice.

Friday roundup: Coyotes late with arena rent, Winnipeg move non-threats, and good old gondolas, nothing beats gondolas!

If you missed me — and a whole lot of other people you’ve likely read about here, including economist Victor Matheson and former Anaheim mayor Tom Tait — breaking down the Los Angeles Angels stadium deal in an enormous Zoom panel last night, you can still check it out on the Voice of OC’s Facebook page. I didn’t bother to carefully curate the books on the shelves behind me, as one does, so have fun checking out which novels I read 20 years ago!

And on to the news, which remains unrelentingly newsy:

Friday roundup: San Diego gets arena developer (and vaportecture), horses play piano, and other stories

Happy Sebtembler! Things were a little quiet for much of the summer, what with the entire world shut down and it seeming like a bad time for rich dudes to ask for hundreds of millions of dollars for their new buildings, but as Josh Harris has shown, nothing lasts forever. Except rich dudes asking for hundreds of millions of dollars for their new buildings, that will go on until the world actually ends, which is at least a few more decades away.

Anyhoo, here are some other things that happened this week in the world of stadium-grubbing:

  • San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has chosen a team led by Brookfield Properties and ASM Global to build a new arena and associated development, with the arena to be paid for by building more housing units, somehow? Is housing that profitable that it can spin off hundreds of millions of dollars in extra revenue to pay for a new arena? If so, shouldn’t the city just be charging more for the right to build all this super-lucrative housing? This all sounds suspiciously reminiscent of the Los Angeles Angels land deal, except no one in San Diego politics or journalism seems interested in investigating how the money will actually work, so I’m clearly going to have to do some more digging and report back. In the meantime, jam everything but the kitchen sink into your sports venue deals, kids, it’s the best way to make sure sports reporters get bored by the financial details and wander off!
  • Let’s also not let the moment pass without commenting on San Diego’s new arena vaportecture, which mostly features … people shopping? People wearing, I guess those are San Diego Gulls t-shirts, some with the logo on the front and some on the back, depending on whether the shopper in question is walking toward or away from the camera. Do you think they coordinated that somehow? Also the Ostro Brasserie appears to be a branch of a restaurant in New Zealand, Ungar’s is a wholesaler of packaged pizza bagels, and Migdal is an Israeli insurance company. This is a really weird mall!
  • Sacramento is short on tax revenue to pay off bonds on its Kings arena and convention center, but honestly that’s just another way of saying that it spent a bunch of money that it didn’t need to and now the chickens are coming home to roost when “don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of tax money” isn’t working out so well. Would it be any better if the city had spent the same money on the arena and then received enough tax revenue to pay it off but couldn’t then use that money for other needed things? Please submit your persuasive essays in comments.
  • Big arenas are joining with smaller music venues in support of the RESTART Act, which would extend the Paycheck Protection Program to help companies pay their furloughed workers, and also provide Small Business Administration loans that would be forgivable for the amount of any losses that venues had in 2020. That doesn’t seem too terrible — music venues are indeed getting creamed by the shutdown, and will likely be among the last things to reopen — but at the same time, there are lots of funny things you can do with your books to show “losses,” so this is worth keeping at least one eye on, especially given that no one in power seems much interested in doing so.
  • I haven’t actually been able to get myself to finish reading this item about the Philadelphia 76ers arena subsidy plan, because I can’t get past its opening line: “Josh Harris is like a horse trying to play the piano… he hits every wrong note.” Is that really what a horse trying to play the piano would do, though? Wouldn’t it fall over from trying to stand on its two hind legs? Shatter the keys with its hooves? Now I can’t think of anything other than how horrifying for all concerned it would be to watch a horse trying to play the piano — pass the RESTART Act now, or we may never see such a sight again!
  • I wanna read this new book on the perils of sports fandom, and not just because I’m in it!

Have a good long weekend, everybody, if that’s still a concept that means anything, and see you back here on Tuesday refreshed and ready to go.

Tennessee Smokies owner looking for “public-private partnership” to build new stadium in Knoxville, here we go

All this talk of Covid infection control protocols is fun to pass the time, but I know you’re all wondering: When are some rich dudes going to resume the real national pastime of grubbing for taxpayer dollars to build sports stadiums? And today you shall wait no longer, because Randy Boyd, multimillionaire invisible dog fence baron, failed gubernatorial candidate, University of Tennessee president, and Tennessee Smokies owner, has asked the city of Knoxville to build him a new stadium. The basics:

  • The Smokies currently play in Kodak, about 15 miles east of Knoxville, having moved there from the city when a new stadium was built for them by Sevier County in 2000.
  • Their lease expires in March 2025, but Boyd can leave early if he buys out the remaining years, which would cost him either around $10 million or $300,000 a year, depending on which news source you believe.
  • Boyd spent $6 million in 2016 to buy seven acres of land in Knoxville that he hopes to use for a stadium.
  • Knoxville Chief Economic and Community Development Officer Stephanie Welch says the city is exploring funding options, and is “excited about exploring the opportunity with other partners” and seeking a “public-private partnership”; this translates as “Boyd doesn’t wanna pay for all of it, so we’re trying to find some local business suckers to split the cost with the city.” There’s also talk of a “mixed-use development” on the site, which would be a lot to fit on Boyd’s 11 total acres along with a ballpark, but is definitely the kind of thing you say when you’re looking for ways to involve other investors.
  • Are there renderings? Do they involve ballplayers the size of Volkswagens standing in positions bearing little resemblance to actual baseball? You bet they do:

This is all just the kicking-the-tires stage, but it’s certainly worth noting that Knoxville officials seem perfectly eager to throw some kind of public money at a new stadium even in the midst of a pandemic recession that has forced budget cuts to such things as libraries and public health. And that’s before Boyd has even rattled any sabers about moving out of the Knoxville area entirely — don’t forget that once minor-league baseball restarts, it will likely be without 42 affiliated teams including the Chattanooga Lookouts, any one of whose cities could be interested (or at least cast as interested) in becoming the new home of the Smokies. I know it may seem like the world has changed irrevocably under Covid, but the underlying business model of the sports industry and its relationship to local political forces is still there, waiting patiently for this to all be over. Or not so patiently, if there’s an expiring lease and an unemployed sketch artist with no sense of proportion ready and waiting to go.

Friday roundup: Deadspin est mort, vive Deadspin (also baseball may be dead again, film at 11)

This was another shitty week in what feels like an endless series of shitty weeks, but with one undeniable bright spot: On Tuesday, the former staffers of Deadspin announced the launch of Defector, a new site that will be everything the old Deadspin was — sports and news reporting and commentary “without access, without favor, without discretion” — but this time funded by subscriptions and staff-owned, so safe from the threat of new private-equity owners decreeing that they stop doing everything that made the site both popular and worthwhile. I’ve already explained why I thought Deadspin desperately mattered for anyone who cares about sports’ role in our greater lives, or just likes great writing that makes you both laugh and think; you can read here my own contributions to the old site before its implosion (not sure why the article search function is listing every article as written by Barry Petchesky, who knows what the private-equity people are up to). Needless to say, launching a DIY journalism site in the middle of the collapse of the entire journalism business model is an inherently risky prospect, so if you want to give the Defector team a bit more of a financial foundation to work from, you can subscribe now. I already have.

But enough good news, let’s get on with the parade of sadness and horror:

Angels owner releases pictures of whatever stadium development idea is in his head this very second

After getting granted a one-month extension by the Anaheim city council, Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno has come out with his redevelopment plan for the Angel Stadium land he got from the city at a bargain price last winter, and the whole thing is so handwavy that it makes you wonder why he couldn’t have just made a crayon drawing of some buildings and released that on time in May. Let’s see what Moreno’s planning team came up with:

That is indeed a bunch of numbers of things! Can we get any renderings that aren’t just bird’s-eye schematics?

That’s a little better, I guess, though still pretty generic, aside from somebody coloring in the roofs green because that what one does in 2020.

More to the point, there’s nothing that I can find in Moreno’s plans that indicates a timeline: Is he actually committing to building all this stuff, or just sketching out pretty pictures of what it might look like if he decides this is a good idea? (Past “ballpark village” concepts, it’s worth noting, haven’t always immediately panned out as planned, and have sometimes come with requests for more public money to make them happen.) Presumably if the city of Anaheim is selling him the land because they want it developed, there should be some rules about when it will be developed by — maybe that’s still in the “TBD” folder, but if so, what’s the point of releasing this plan now?

As for what will happen to the stadium itself, we learn this from the Los Angeles Times:

The Angels put off for now the decision to renovate Angel Stadium or replace it. If the Angels decide to build a new ballpark, the plan calls for it to be located immediately adjacent to the 57 Freeway, and closer to the Anaheim train station. If they renovate, they plan to open up the outfield and turn it into a grand entrance plaza.

Definitely one of those things! Maybe.

Let’s see, anything else remotely of note here? There’s a guy pointing randomly at the sky outside a bistro called “Bistro,” and oh hey check it out:

Yes, that is indeed Cab-Hailing Purse Woman, though someone has tried to disguise her true intent by placing a giant foam finger over her cab-hailing hand. If this clip-art woman is indeed the key to all sports-related economic development plans, maybe it would cheaper for cities just to buy her plane tickets (on clip-art airplanes, obviously) so she can bestow her presence on their populaces? Do you think she’s based on a real person, and if so does that person get royalties? Did anyone at the rendering software company think to shop around for a purse company that would pay for product placement? So very many questions, so few answers.

Friday roundup: Ohio could cut stadium funds, A’s could delay stadium plans, sports could return, world could end, anything’s possible

A little distracted this morning with a new work project and the usual pandemic stuff and the not-so-usual riots on TV, but there’s a passel of stadium and arena news I didn’t get to, so let’s get to ’em: