Bucks unveil tarpaulins covering new arena construction, and other Friday must-see news

And away we go with another weekly round of micro-news that shouldn’t be allowed to slip through the cracks:

Hawks spending $142.5m in tax money on new seats, scoreboard, virtual golf simulator

What is Atlanta Hawks owner Antony Ressler buying with the $142.5 million in arena renovation money he’s getting from the city of Atlanta? What isn’t he buying! Here’s the list, culled from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s report:

  • In place of the six levels of luxury suites that took up one side of Philips Arena — which made room for more mid-level seats on the opposite side, but also meant those fans were left staring at this — there will be a mix of regular seating and smaller suites, in order to “increase interaction among fans” (read: not that many people want to buy Hawks suites, it turns out).
  • A new scoreboard that is three times bigger than the old one — which means three times better, right?
  • A courtside bar “almost close enough for patrons to shoot a three-pointer.”
  • A conference center.
  • A Swag Shop barber franchise owned by Atlanta rapper Killer Mike.
  • A Swing Suite golf simulator, which led to the PR quote of the day:

“Philips is a perfect complement to Topgolf because we’re really about sports entertainment,” said Ron Powers, president of Topgolf Swing Suites. “Topgolf is popular with those who are avid golfers as well as those who aren’t. We’ve found Swing Suite is really popular among millennials who may have a short attention span but have high engagement with technology.”

Poor millennials are being blamed for everything these days — now they’re even getting put down for their short attention spans by people who are trying to sell them on playing virtual golf. Which they can now do while not watching an NBA game, instead of doing so on their gaming devices in the comfort of their own homes, which they’ll want to do because … I don’t know, something about modern furniture? Anyway, thanks to Atlanta taxpayers for making that possible! And, of course, to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, for his vision in realizing that an arena without computer golf is no arena at all.

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.

Atlanta picks car-rental taxes as way to raise $142.5m to give Hawks for arena renovations

Back last November when Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced plans for the city to pay $142.5 million toward renovations of the Hawks‘ arena, and the city council promised to take up the proposal promptly, it looked like the deal was going to sail through. Except that it turned out nobody had quite figured out where the actual public money was going to come from, something that didn’t get worked out until yesterday, when Atlanta and neighboring College Park agreed to throw a bunch of airport rental-car taxes at the problem:

The $192 million renovation will be paid for, in large part, with an extension of a tax on rental cars.

With the rental car lots sitting within the College Park city limits, College Park has long-shared the tax profits with the city of Atlanta.

After months of negotiations, both cities have agreed to continue doing that for years to come giving Atlanta the money it needs to pay for the renovation.

So, basically, Atlanta and College Park have been collecting taxes on car rentals at the airport and using them for … something (WSB-TV didn’t find this detail worthy of reporting on), and now instead of either continuing to use the money for that something, or using the money for something else, or just cutting taxes on airport car rentals so visitors don’t have to schlep around the city looking for better rates, they’ll start giving the money to the Hawks instead. Which enables the cities to call this “no new taxes,” even though an extension of an old tax really is functionally the same as a new tax, and I don’t really have to explain this to you, do I?

Anyway, $142.5 million in public money being transferred to the Hawks’ owners, check. As I noted last fall, it’s hardly the worst sports subsidy deal in Atlanta’s history, but that’s not saying much.

Atlanta mayoral candidates debate Hawks arena deal that they won’t get to decide anyway

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is term-limited out of office after next year, which means the city is gearing up for the election of a new mayor in 2017. And, as befits a city that just spent almost $700 million on a Falcons stadium and saw the Braves leave for the suburbs in exchange for $355 million in stadium subsidies and is facing a demand for $142.5 million in arena renovations for the Hawks, sports subsidies are becoming an issue in the campaign:

Candidates Cathy Woolard and Vincent Fort have come out swinging against the proposal, calling it a giveaway to a billionaire. Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, a key negotiator in the deal, is a hearty backer, while competitors including Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, Councilwoman Mary Norwood and businessman Peter Aman, have been more sanguine…

Bottoms, who threw her hat in the ring to run for mayor just days before news of the Hawks deal broke, is also head of the Atlanta-Fulton Recreational Authority that owns Philips and will recuse herself from voting. But she said the project would be a boon to Atlanta’s hospitality community.

“It’s not just about sports,” she said. “It’s an arena that has a lot going on. It’s about being a good steward of a city-owned asset.”

By contrast, Fort said recently, “This is another instance where billionaires are making out like nobody’s business and the citizens of the city are getting very little in return.”

Yep, those would be the two stock arguments. Not that any of the candidates — except Bottoms, Mitchell, and Norwood, since they’re on the city council — will actually have any say in this matter, since the council is expected to vote on it way before the mayoral election, but the public debate could help influence how that vote goes. Especially with candidates saying stuff like this:

Woolard said there was little risk of losing the Hawks after Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee was ousted by voters following his deal with the Atlanta Braves.

“I’ll call that bet,” she said. “I’m not sure the NBA would let Atlanta not have a pro team. And what other jurisdiction in metro Atlanta is going to do this deal after Tim Lee lost [re-election] after the Braves deal?”

That’s a good point! Also not likely to carry much weight, especially when we just saw the Texas Rangers get $500 million in subsidies for a new stadium to replace their 22-year-old one in part by dropping hints that they’d move from Arlington to Dallas even though Dallas hadn’t made any moves to offer them a stadium. But it’s nice to see mayoral candidates using logic as an argument, just for a change of pace.

Atlanta mayor proposes giving Hawks $142.5m for arena renovations, because they asked nicely

Nine months after saying he wanted to offer up to $150 million to the owners of the Atlanta Hawks for arena renovations to get them to sign a lease extension, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has offered $142.5 million to the owners of the Atlanta Hawks for arena renovations:

The city will put $142.5 million into the renovation, with the Hawks contributing $50 million.

About $110 million will come from extension of car-rental tax and the city will contribute $12.5 million from the sale of Turner Field, which is expected to close by year end. The remaining $20 million from the city will come from a series of expected future land sales, Reed said…

Hawks officials have previously said they are looking to, among a number of upgrades, replace the bank of suites that dominate one side of the arena, install a variety of different-size suites, improve the connectivity so fans can navigate around the arena on one level and create better floor seating by changing the layout which originally had oval ends to accommodate hockey.

So how bad would this deal — which still requires approval by the Atlanta city council and the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority — be for city residents? Let’s come at it from a variety of different angles:

  • Having the public put up 74% of the renovation costs for a privately run sports facility sounds pretty bad, unless the Hawks are agreeing to share more arena revenues with the city in exchange. The deal is just being described as a “lease extension,” though, so presumably they’re not.
  • On the bright side, $142.5 milllion is a lot less than the almost $700 million in public funds that the Falcons are getting for their new stadium. On the less bright side, they’re getting a whole new stadium out of the deal, whereas this is just rejiggering the suites and concourses.
  • Philips Arena only cost $213.5 million to build in the first place, so this is almost paying for its construction cost all over again.
  • The Hawks’ lease already runs through 2028; this would extend it through 2046. That makes this a public tithe of a little less than $8 million per each added year, which is cheaper than the $14.6 million per year that Charlotte is paying the Carolina Panthers for their lease extension, so, um, good negotiating?
  • Now Hawks fans don’t have to worry about the team moving out of town in 2029! Which will be a real worry following the economic upheaval in the first year of the Farkas Administration.

In short, then, the owners of the Hawks complained that their 17-year-old arena was designed wrong and needed a $200 million upgrade 12 years before their lease was to run out, and the mayor of Atlanta said, “Sure, we’ll pay for three-quarters of that, if you extend your lease some.” It’s not the worst deal in the world — it’s not even the worst deal that Reed himself has brokered — but it’s not an especially good one either, especially if anyone in Atlanta was hoping to use that future tax money for something that would benefit more than one group of local rich guys. Atlanta city council, ball’s in your court.

Cobb County chair who masterminded Braves deal gets booted in landslide

Voters in Cobb County, Georgia went to the polls last night for a runoff election between Cobb County Commission chair Tim Lee and his challenger Mike Boyce, and it wasn’t close: Boyce trounced Lee, 64-36%. And the main issue in the campaign was Lee’s engineering of $350-million-plus in public subsidies for a stadium to lure the Atlanta Braves to the suburbs, a deal concocted in secret, pushed through in just two weeks with little public debate, and approved before finalizing a transportation plan, leading to possible traffic and transit nightmares; Boyce remarked following the vote, “

Lee’s name is now added to the list of elected officials who were bounced from office for giving public money to pro sports teams against the wishes of their constituents, joining Wisconsin state senator George Petak (recalled by voters in 1996 for casting the deciding vote for public money for a new Milwaukee Brewers stadium) and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez (recalled by voters in 2011 after advocating public money for a new Miami Marlins stadium). That’s a short list, but it’s still longer than the list of local officials who were booted because they didn’t approve sports subsidies — Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels is the only arguable member of that club, and he was more reviled by voters for not putting down salt on roads before a snowstorm and leaving the entire city paralyzed, then giving himself a “B” grade for his snow removal efforts.

So once we’re all finished dancing on Lee’s grave, what happens now with the train wreck that is the Braves stadium? Probably not a whole lot: According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Boyce indicated that “

As for Lee himself, he’ll probably have job options despite “couldn’t even find 15,000 people to vote for him” on his resume. The record in past ousters is mixed: Petak immediately landed a job with Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, the man who’d talked him into switching his Brewers stadium vote; Alvarez won an over-60 bodybuilding contest and then was arrested for assaulting his ex-girlfriend in a fight over his cat. If I’m Lee, I’d try to go the former route — Georgia does have a Republican governor who has backed the Braves project, so that’s always an option. Or, hey, the Braves could use a shortstop, and Lee probably wouldn’t hit much worse than the incumbent.

If nothing else, at least, we can rest assured that after two pricey stadium deals for the Braves and Falcons, Atlanta area residents have learned their lesson about signing on to large public subsidies to replace buildings that are barely 20 years old. Why, I bet no one could even propose something like that now without getting laughed out of

Compared to many other NBA teams, Phillips Arena is an old barn. I haven’t been to any of them, but I don’t have to. All that’s necessary is to crank up a recent edition of NBA 2K to see how far behind Phillips Arena is from like The Barclays Center in Brooklyn, or even The Amway Center in Orlando. … The Hawks provide their fans with a great product. How badly would some other cities like to have eight consecutive playoff seasons and counting in a row? … The only reason for the poor attendance has to be the almost-twenty year arena they have to perform in.

Sigh. Okay, settle in, we may yet be here a while.

Hawks seek sales tax breaks for arena development, total subsidy now umpteen gajillion dollars

The Atlanta Hawks owners want to build a big L.A. Live-style entertainment district around their soon-to-be-renovated arena, because of course they do. And along with the maybe $150 million they’re looking for in arena renovation subsidies, they want the entertainment district to get tax breaks, too, because duh.

If I’m reading the legislation right, the sales tax break would be on construction materials, which is a common enough giveaway to big development projects that’s not worth a ton — the sales tax rate in Atlanta is 8%, so even if half the project cost is for materials, that’s still only a kickback of 4% off the total cost — but does raise the question of why legislators are convinced that nobody will build anything ever without getting sales tax knocked off their bill. The rental car tax, which was originally passed to fund infrastructure around the arena, is likely worth more to the Hawks owners, but it’s targeted for “infrastructure” again, though we don’t know what that means yet, or it could go to pay for arena improvements, too.

So basically we have no idea what any of this will look like or who will pay how much for what, but the state legislature is voting on tax breaks for it regardless. Good ol’ Georgia.

Atlanta mayor “comfortable” giving $150m he doesn’t have yet to Hawks owner for arena remodel

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed still really wants to throw money at the Hawks for an upgrade to their 17-year-old arena:

“We have not settled on the number, but what we have looked at is our own capacity of what we can comfortably finance,” he said in an hour-long meeting with AJC reporters and the newspaper’s editorial board. “We think that number is between 100 million and 150 million (dollars).

“The total project would be anywhere from 200 million to 300 million (dollars),” he said.

Reed said the sources of funding haven’t been determined, but rental car taxes are likely to be part and he did not rule out funding from the Westside Tax Allocation District.

So… wait, what? The city can comfortably finance $100-150 million, but doesn’t know where the money would come from? I thought that $150 million figure was supposed to be from money available after the city sells Turner Field? Now it’s just a big ol’ number that Reed is offering Hawks owner Tony Ressler because that’s just what Atlanta does, even though the team can’t move anywhere without paying massive penalties? Come on, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I’m counting on you to raise your eyebrows at least a little more at this.