Friday roundup: What arena glut looks like, and other news of our impending doom

Hey, I like this Friday news roundup thing! Let’s do it again:

  • A public hearing has been set for Elmont Public Library on July 10 to discuss the possibility of a New York Islanders arena near Belmont Park racetrack. Team owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin won’t have to submit their actual bid until after that, so who knows what everyone will be commenting on, but I’m going to try to go and report back, if I can figure out what time the hearing is, a detail that none of New York’s myriad news agencies seem to have reported on.
  • There’s a thing called the Canadian Premier League, apparently, though it’s more destined to be a second-tier league (think USL of the North) that can serve as development for Canadian soccer players. Anyway, assuming this gets off the ground, Halifax has approved plans for a privately funded 7,000-seat “pop-up” stadium on a public soccer pitch, which will be taken down once the season is over so regular folks can use the field — park users are a little gripey, as you’d expect them to be, but all in all it’s a far cry from the kinds of demands that minor-league soccer teams in the States are issuing, and promises to be far less of a disaster than most of the other things Halifax is known for.
  • Two out of three Hamilton County commissioners agreed to sign non-disclosure agreements before receiving details of FC Cincinnati‘s soccer stadium proposal, because it was the only way they could find out about the team’s plans. Apparently being on the deliberative body that will be deciding whether to give your team gobs of money just doesn’t hold the same kind of sway that it used to.
  • The Atlanta Hawks owners are considering building a mixed-use project around their arena similar to what the Braves did around their stadium, which Mayor Kasim Reed says is the result of the city handing over $142.5 million in renovation funds, no, I don’t understand that either. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution further reports that a new state law would allow local governments to kick back sales taxes to help pay for development in so-called “enterprise zones,” and okay, now it all starts to make sense.
  • One of the Detroit city councilmembers who voted to approve $34.5 million in subsidies for a new Pistons practice facility says she’s considering changing her vote after being deluged with complaints from constituents, but also said she believes the objections are “based on misinformation that I plan on trying to address or clarify at this public meeting on Friday,” so, we’ll see.
  • And finally, here is a photo showing three past, present, and future NBA arenas all side-by-side, because this is what 21st-century America thinks is a rational use of land, resources, and carbon footprint. Future alien visitors who find this as a relic of the civilization that once was, we can’t really explain it either.

Hawks get their $142.5m in tax money, Atlanta mayor says public doesn’t appreciate his “heart”

Atlanta officials already agreed a couple of weeks ago to throw $142.5 million in car-rental taxes at a renovation of the Hawks arena, but now it’s official, as the Atlanta city council has given its blessing to the deal:

The Council on Monday approved a deal between the city and College Park to extend car rental tax collections beyond their 2038 sunset to raise at least $110 million to fund a $192.5 million update of Philips, the city’s downtown Atlanta sports and entertainment complex.

Now the city and College Park will collect the tax through 2047. College Park was required to sign off on the deal because it is home to the car rental facilities at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the source of the revenue.

So basically, instead of the car rental tax surcharge ending in 2038, or being available to be used for something else, it will go to repay the $110 million in bonds that will be a-moldering on the city’s books by then. (The Hawks will get another $32.5 million in cash from the city from other sources.)

Anyway, that’s that. The best part of this story comes at the end, where apparently Mayor Kasim Reed got into an argument with a college student, if I’m reading this Atlanta Journal-Constitution article correctly:

Georgia State University student Tim Franzen said he didn’t understand the city’s love of stadiums.

“It’s insane,” he said. “We are not in a crisis of resources. We are in a crisis of moral authority.”

An exasperated Reed pushed back, saying he was tired of the council and his administration being beat up for what he sees as a record of accomplishment, including cutting the unemployment rate in half and millions in investment in the city.

“You are not going to come in here and question our hearts,” he said.

Great moments in democracy, people. I so hope there’s a YouTube clip.

Court rules Detroit can spend tax money on Red Wings arena, because they already pinky-swore

A federal judge has refused to impose an emergency injunction against Detroit using tax money to pay off construction debt for the new Red Wings and Pistons arena without a public vote, on the grounds of “OMG won’t anyone think of the city’s bond rating?!?”

In his opinion, federal Judge Mark Goldsmith said the plaintiffs ultimately failed to establish why an emergency injunction was needed.

“The loss of  anticipated commercial activity connected to the Detroit Piston’s downtown presence would be regrettable, but the loss of the city’s hard-won creditworthiness caused by defaulting on existing bond obligations would do catastrophic damage to the status quo,” Goldsmith said.

This is, needless to say, a dangerous precedent, since it would mean that cities could go ahead and sell bonds without being sure they’re legally allowed to pay them off, figuring that no one will stop them after the fact for fear of harming the city’s credit rating. (Which cities are already doing, of course.)

The plaintiffs can still continue with the court case, and have indicated that they will — as well as filing a state court action to stop the Detroit city council from approving funding for the Pistons’ practice facility, as it is expected to do today — but if the courts keep ruling, “Too late, the getaway car has already left and it would be too much of a mess to chase it down now,” it’s hard to see how court challenges will do any better down the road. There’s a long tradition of this kind of thing in Michigan — the Tigers‘ new stadium was funded in part by the governor funneling off state money without legislative approval and courts later ruling, “Enh, water under the bridge” — but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing when courts rule not on the basis of the law but on the basis of who will be most inconvenienced.

Stadium architects dream of holographic players, and other Friday news

Hey, know what we haven’t done in a while? A Friday news roundup. Let’s do one of those now!

Happy weekend, everybody!

Ballmer, Inglewood enter “agreement” on new Clippers arena with pretty much no details at all

Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has been talking for a while about wanting to build an arena of his own — with maybe some kind of L.A. Live–style entertainment district around it — in Inglewood, and now it looks like he’s taken a step closer, with the city voting today on opening talks for a new arena to be built adjacent to the new Rams and Chargers stadium:

The Inglewood City Council is scheduled to vote Thursday on an exclusive negotiating agreement with the Clippers to build a state-of-the-art arena on city-owned land. The 18,000- to 20,000-seat arena would be fully financed by Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, sources said. Ballmer, who is worth an estimated $31.8 billion, bought the Clippers for $2 billion in 2014.

So what does all that mean, exactly? “Exclusive negotiating agreement” means that Ballmer would have three years to work out environmental permits, which works well with his timetable in that he has a lease to play at Staples Center through 2024. As for how the financing would work, it sounds like Ballmer would pay for construction, while Inglewood would provide free land (some of which it may have to acquire, possibly by eminent domain), but there are many other variables — would Ballmer pay rent on the land? would this include land for the entertainment district as well? would he receive any tax breaks? who would pay to operate and maintain the building? — and the agreement itself doesn’t answer any of them, beyond a whole lot of legalese that comes down to “We’ll figure that stuff out later.” This is just the opening buzzer, in other words: Figuring out who’s actually winning, assuming this arena ever gets built at all, is still going to take a while.

Coyotes owner buys out fellow owners, time to pretend this helps build new arena somehow

The Arizona Coyotes‘ mostly silent majority partner, hedge fund manager Andrew Barroway, has bought out the rest of his ownership partners, including the far less silent CEO Anthony LeBlanc, for an undisclosed price. And naturally, somebody thinks that regime change will mean a new life for plans for a new arena:

Sure, okay? KPNX-TV reports that “Phoenix insiders say Suns owner Robert Sarver wants nothing to do with the Coyotes [and] LeBlanc’s departure might change that,” so maybe Barroway is a more personable guy or something, and now arena partnerships will abound! Or at least Barroway will remember to invite his partners to his arena press conference, which would be a start!

The problem remains how to find money to pay for a new arena, when this whole thing started because the Coyotes ownership didn’t want to keep playing in their old new arena unless they were paid a hefty annual fee to do so. Sharing costs between the Suns and Coyotes owners will help some, but then they’ll have to share revenues as well (can’t sell naming rights to a building twice just because two teams play there), so it hardly is a panacea. Maybe it gives some new life to, or at least an excuse for new tweets about, Mayor Greg Stanton’s Rube Goldberg scheme of using tax money to pay for a new arena while pretending not to use tax money to pay for a new arena, but since it’s not like money operates differerently for Barroway than for LeBlanc, I don’t see where this changes much other than the names on the letterhead.

Seattle mayor calls Hansen arena plan “technically alive,” no, that’s not a compliment

There’s been a lot of back and forth lately about whether Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has really decided on renovating KeyArena over approving Chris Hansen’s plan for a new SoDo arena or is just keeping his options open, but this latest quote from Murray sounds pretty decisive:

“The SODO plan is still technically alive and the council, [street] vacations are in the council’s purview, not ours. Work could be done on doing it. If we were going to send it back down to the council though, I would want a very different process than was used the first time,” Murray said.

“Technically alive” is about like “mostly dead,” and while that means Hansen can still hold out some hope, it’s a pretty clear sign that a Key renovation is Murray’s first choice. Which may not matter all that much — the council still has to weigh in, and with Murray not running for re-election his opinion may not carry as much importance — but it’s still not good news for Hansen (who yesterday said he’s still willing to “be patient” in his quest for his own arena).

I’m not so sure that tipping the city’s hand is the best way to go about this — one of the two Key renovation bidders has already dropped out, meaning that the other bidder Oak View Group and Hansen are the only two developers left to play off against each other in an attempt to get the best deal possible for taxpayers. This may not matter too much in terms of getting a new NBA or NHL team — OVG’s Tim Leiweke is a veteran sports guy, and besides which has already invited Hansen to join any ownership group — but it could make a difference in, say, lease terms, which is a very big deal indeed. You’d think any mayor worth his salt would know how to say, “We’re still keeping an open mind to all options,” but then, mayors about to leave office often are thinking more of their next jobs than their current ones, so maybe not.

Detroit council signs off on $20m in Pistons tax breaks, says worth it because it just is

The Detroit city council has approved $20 million in tax breaks for a Detroit Pistons practice facility, clearing the way for the team to move from suburban Auburn Hills to the new downtown Red Wings arena. Here’s how council president pro-tem George Cushingberry explained his reasoning:

“It seems to me that this deal is an $83 million deal and there is approximately $8 (million) to $10 million benefit to the residents of the city of Detroit, just in the first ten years of the tax abatement,” Cushingberry said. “So it’s certainly a benefit.”

(Yeah, no, I don’t get how $8-10 million in benefit would be worth $20 million in subsidies, either. Just go with it, it’s city councilmember math.)

The total cost of the Pistons share of subsidies would actually be $54.5 million, since there’s another $34.5 million in city bonding that still has to be approved by the council. The Detroit News has estimated that Detroit could earn that back via new “jock tax” revenues, which is maybe possible (jock taxes are notoriously hard to calculate because of accounting tricks players and performers can use to offset one state’s taxes against another’s), but in any case none of this would be happening without the more than $300 million that the state and city are giving to the Red Wings to build the arena. This is badly crying out for a better analysis than “the Pistons are spending $83 million on a practice facility, that’s a lot of zeroes!”, but it’s not looking like we’re going to get it.

Would-be KeyArena renovators seeking $40m in city tax kickbacks, $50m in federal tax credits

The day after arena managers AEG pulled out of bidding to overhaul Seattle’s KeyArena on the grounds that it was unfair their competitors hadn’t had to reveal financial details of their bid, lookee what happened: The city of Seattle went and released some of Oak View Group’s financials, including this:

The key lines are under “Sources,” where it’s revealed that OVG would be seeking a $50 million federal historic tax credit (previously reported as $70 million), plus $40 million in “city tax reinvestment of NASC revenues,” which presumably is bureaucratese for “tax money kicked back from arena property, sales, ticket, etc. taxes.” By comparison, AEG was looking at closer to $100 million or so in kicked-back taxes, so this is less than that, and possibly a small enough amount that the city can earn it back by stealing business from entertainment venues outside of city limits, though without a real economic analysis that’s more than one sheet of paper — as well as a lease explanation that guarantees that OVG would pay all maintenance, operations, and future upgrade costs, as the city itself requested — it’s tough to tell exactly how this would work out for the public purse.

It’s at least possibly not a terrible deal, though, which is better than most cases — as I always say, there’s a price point where the value of a new arena and the presence of a team (assuming OVG can get one, which seems a pretty good bet eventually) can make a small enough subsidy worth it. Here’s hoping the city of Seattle can stick to its guns, and be ready to walk away if the fine print on OVG’s plan turns out to make it too rich for their blood.

Cleveland sues self to avoid public vote on $70m Cavs renovation subsidy

In the latest step in the increasingly bizarre Cleveland Cavaliers $70 million glass-wall subsidy battle, the city of Cleveland is now suing itself over whether the plan can be challenged by referendum, apparently so that city lawyers can argue both sides of the case:

[Council President Kevin] Kelley described the action as that which was requested in a taxpayer demand letter issued by the attorneys representing the referendum coalition. He said it was the “most expeditious way” to resolve the issue…

[Referendum-challenging attorney Subodh] Chandra was dismayed when Scene reached him by phone.

“I have been a litigator for more than two decades,” he said. “I thought I had seen everything. But I have never seen a party working to orchestrate a suit against himself, telling himself to do the right thing.”

The city’s lawsuit will now go directly to the state supreme court, with no appeal. Since Chandra and his fellow attorneys are now excluded from the suit, if the city fails to make a strong argument that it violated the law by refusing to accept petitions calling for a public vote on the deal, then it can wash its hands of the problem and walk away, maybe? It would seem there would have to be a way to challenge this legally, but if Cleveland really has invented a get-out-of-lawsuits-free card that it can play by suing itself, then they certainly deserve our respect. Also fear, because damn, is that ever not democracy.