Friday roundup: Raleigh MLS project funding, Islanders’ train station costs, Flames arena talks are all ???

Happy Friday! If you’ve been wondering if Scott McCaughey’s excellent new album of songs written while in a hospital room recovering from a stroke can drown out the sound of poorly timed jackhammering by the gas company right outside your window, I’m here to report: Not nearly well enough!

Typing really loud so you can hear me over the din:

  • Raleigh residents are concerned that a development project centered on a new soccer stadium could price them out of living in the city. Also, there isn’t actually enough Wake County tax money available to pay for the project’s proposed $390 million public cost. And Raleigh doesn’t have an MLS team, or the promise of one. Other than that, this is going swimmingly.
  • Newsday has contradicted Long Island Business News’s report that New York state will pay “most” of the cost of a new $300 million train station for an Islanders arena at Belmont Park, saying that the actual cost is only $100 million and developers will pay most of it. Unnamed source fight!
  • Calgary city councillor Jeff Davison, who is spearheading behind-closed-doors talks with the Flames owners over a new arena, says, “We do not have a deal today, and when we will have one and if we will have one is totally up in the air. But what we can tell the public today is that discussions are productive but they’re not complete. We can’t give an exact date as to when we’ll be back with any information [but] I’m confident if we do bring a plan back, that the public will support it.” Pretty sure that translates as “Still talking, ask again later.”
  • Noah Pransky has been on a writing tear about the Tampa Bay Rays mess this week, including a review of an article he wrote in July 2009 predicting much of what has since come to pass and an analysis of how hotel-tax money that Tampa officials say can’t be spent for things like policing or libraries really can, because they could be used to free up general-fund money that’s currently spent on tourism-related expenses. “Where’s the study on best uses for that new money?” writes Pransky at Florida Politics. “How about just a best-use conversation, held out in the sunshine?” Crazy talk!
  • Speaking of tax money that could be spent on other things, Cuyahoga County is considering a 1% hotel tax hike to free up $4.6 million a year to spend on its convention center and sports venues, which in present value comes to about $70 million. (The Cleveland Plain Dealer article on this is entirely about how the bed tax hike would affect the hotel industry, because of course it is.)
  • “Could an NFL Stadium [for the Buffalo Bills] be Built on an Abandoned Coke Plant Property?” asks Erie News Now, boldly toying with Betteridge’s Law.
  • Worcester will break ground next Thursday on its new heavily subsidized Triple-A Red Sox stadium set to open at the beginning of the 2021 season, which, uh, isn’t a lot of time. They’d better hope that the climate crisis means a less stormy winter construction season in New England, which, uh, isn’t likely.

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!

Raleigh soccer stadium renderers can’t stop clicking the fireworks tool

There are new renderings out for the stadium that North Carolina F.C. owner Steve Malik wants Raleigh to build for his lower-division USL team (promising that if they build it, an MLS franchise really will totally come), and I’ve gotta say, they’re kinda disappointing. Only two images? And nobody raising their fists to the sky?

The stadium designers do deserve an award, however, for the most gratuitous use of fireworks in a serious stadium design. In the first image, there are fireworks going off just a few feet above the heads of fans lining up to enter the game; in the second one, there are fireworks going off above the stadium while the match is in play, which surely won’t be distracting. The subtly asymmetrical roof is a nice touch as well, though the way it’s drawn it’s hard to tell if it’s a design gimmick or if the renderers just have a poor sense of perspective.

Malik has asked for $11 million a year in public money for 30 years (present value: about $169 million), which it’s fair to say is a hell of a lot for a stadium for an MLS team that doesn’t even exist yet. If I’m a Raleigh voter, I’m going to want to see some more details before approving of this plan — at the very least, some lens flare.

Friday roundup: Graceland seeks arena money, Marlins and Cards seek spring-training stadium money, guy in Raleigh seeks MLS stadium money

In no particular order, or as we call it in New York, Mets style:

Charlotte won’t get county money for MLS stadium, expansion race now bigger mess than ever

The Mecklenburg County commission voted 5-3 on Wednesday to hand over the site of 83-year-old Memorial Stadium to the city of Charlotte for a new soccer stadium for a potential MLS team — but no money for building it, which is what the ownership group had been hoping for. Commissioners said they wanted to see a soccer stadium built, but, you know, by the city, not them:

“They manage stadiums and they have a division in the city that deals with pro sports teams,” [Commissioner Jim] Puckett said. “They have a dedicated tax revenue stream that’s for entertainment and can be used for pro sports. They have the expertise and funding stream to deal with that.”

The team’s original plan was for a $175 million stadium where $101.25 million of the costs would be paid off by the county, with the team repaying the public via $4.25 million a year in rent payments. (Note to readers who can do math: No, $4.25 million a year is not enough to repay $101.25 million in bonds unless you get a 1.5% interest rate, which I know they’re low but get serious.) Now they’ll instead have to try to hit up the city of Charlotte alone, which has already indicated that its maximum contribution is $30 million.

That would leave the team to shoulder $145 million of the cost, plus MLS’s nutso $150 million expansion fee, which is a hefty chunk of change. On the other hand, the team wouldn’t have to make those rent payments, so maybe it could just go to a bank and borrow the cash, and make mortgage payments instead? Or maybe the rich NASCAR track heir who wants to launch the MLS team would rather have somebody else on the hook for loan payments if his team, or MLS as a whole, went belly-up at some point as a result of its pyramid-scam spree of handing out expansion franchises like candy to anyone who wants to pay $150 million for candy? Yeah, probably that.

If you’re keeping score, the MLS expansion candidates are now:

That’s a whole mishmash of stuff indeed, and I don’t envy the job of the MLS officials tasked with having to pick two winners this fall (and two more next fall, because they can’t cash those $150 million expansion-fee checks fast enough). You have to wonder if commissioner Don Garber doesn’t think to himself sometimes, maybe it’d be easier just to stick the expansion franchises on eBay and take the highest bids. It would mean giving up on the pretense that they’re actually selecting the best soccer cities or something, but get real, nobody believes that anyway.

Raleigh MLS team wants $91m in state land, will pay for it by hey look over there!

We have a price tag on that 13 acres of state-owned land (with state-owned buildings on it) that would-be MLS owners in Raleigh want for a stadium, and it’s $91 million, at least. Which the MLS backers say they’ll pay for by, um, er, something about a “public-private partnership”:

State Property Office Director Tim Walton … told Department of Administration officials in an email last month that $7 million an acre would be the “minimum starting point” for the 13-acre parcel of state land the club hopes will become home to a new Major League Soccer franchise.

Rather than buy the land outright, NCFC wants to form a public-private partnership with the state to use the property, which is bounded by Peace, Salisbury and Lane streets just north of downtown.

“Public-private partnership,” for those not familiar with the term of art, can mean lots of things — anywhere from “we’ll get together with the government and share profits on a joint investment” to (more commonly) “we’ll be the partner that gets the money, and you be the partner who spends it.” While details haven’t been released yet, clearly this would be an easy way to stick to a “no public money” pledge while still collecting lots of public money — either by promising to repay the state for its land with revenues that aren’t a sure bet to turn up, or by charging the state a premium to rent space for new offices in a joint development, or really any of a million other ways that could be hidden deep within a development agreement.

Is this 100% absolutely surely a scam? No! Is it something that we should be raising an eyebrow at until enough details are released to tell if it’s a scam? Hell yeah! Billie Redmond, chief executive Trademark Properties, the company tasked with site selection for North Carolina F.C. (nice way to include the state name when you’re seeking state money, btw), said, “What we are proposing is complicated, but it’s an opportunity to do something extraordinary”; whether that’s extraordinary in terms of “a win-win for all concerned” or “I can’t believe they fell for that!” is yet to be determined.

Raleigh MLS bidders want state to raze government buildings to build them a stadium

Another day, another prospective MLS team looking for a “public-private partnership” to build a stadium. Today’s contender: Raleigh, where the owners of North Carolina Football Club (catchy name) want the state to raze a government office complex and give them the land for a soccer venue:

The 13-acre site, bounded by Peace, Salisbury and Lane streets, is part of the sprawling state government complex and houses several offices, including the Archdale Building and the State Capitol Police station.

NCFC wants to lease the land from the state, but it’s unclear whether government leaders are on board.

Yeah, it should be unclear, considering here’s what the site looks like now, per Google Maps:
That is a whole mess of stuff that is already built and would have to be replaced! Me, that probably wouldn’t have been my first ask, but maybe the team owners are thinking they can negotiate down to a public park or something.

Aside from this, there aren’t many details on how the funding for a stadium would work, other than that it would cost $150 million and, according to the News & Observer, “would generate $262 million a year in economic activity for North Carolina and create 1,960 jobs, according to Economic Leadership, an economic development consulting firm in Raleigh. It would generate $5.6 million in annual tax revenue for the state.”

A soccer team selling 20,000 seats a game for 19 home games at, let’s be generous and give them $30 a pop, plus $30 in concessions and parking, apply a 2x multiplier just for the hell of it, that’ll almost come to $5.6 million a year at Raleigh’s 7.25% sales tax rate. Assuming, of course, that all the North Carolina F.C. fans would otherwise be spending that money out of the state, which, um, yeah. This seems like almost as terrible an idea as that time El Paso tore down its City Hall to build a minor-league baseball stadium, so I really hope it happens, because I need new laughably tragic stories to tell during radio interviews.

Every concentration of humans on earth now bidding to build MLS stadiums

Nashville is looking to build a new MLS stadium, and Indianapolis is looking to build a new MLS stadium, and San Diego is looking to get a new MLS stadium, and Detroit is considering providing free land for an MLS stadium, and St. Louis is still looking to build an MLS stadium after rejecting it once, and a guy in Charlotte is still looking to have an MLS stadium built for him, and Tampa is looking to get an MLS franchise but already has a stadium.

These are mostly terrible ideas, notes the Guardian, at least where they involve public money. And if the newspaper slightly overstates the case that there’s growing pushback on MLS subsidies (truth is, they’ve never been an especially easy sell as sports subsidies go, mostly because MLS isn’t as popular yet as the Big Four sports), it does contain a classic defense of them from Peter Wilt, the Chicago Fire founder who now heads later headed the Indy Eleven NASL team and wannabe expansion franchise:

“It is about image and plays into making a city cool to live in, a good experience for young professionals, and reducing the brain drain on a community. Things like that are sometimes not taken order ativan online overnight into account. If Oakland loses the A’s and the Raiders, which is a possibility, then no one will hear about Oakland in any positive terms for the foreseeable future.”

Things like that actually are taken into account in economic studies of teams and stadiums, which overwhelmingly find that if sports teams make cities “cool,” it doesn’t show up in things like per-capita income or jobs or economic activity or tax receipts. Plus you’d then have to explain how a city like Portland, for example, which until recently had only basketball as a major-league sport and famously turned down a domed stadium in the 1960s that would have brought an NFL team, nonetheless became one of the hippest cities in America. (It has MLS now, but the hipness predated that.)

Anyway, with MLS set to announce four more expansion franchises in the next year or so, the league can probably count on some cities stepping up to throw money at new stadiums, so long as they’re not too picky about which ones. (Cincinnati, Raleigh/Durham, Sacramento, and San Antonio are also in the mix.) Bulk-mailing extortion notes is kind of a strange business model, but hey, whatever works.