Friday roundup: Tampa official stonewalls, Falcons get sued, Amazon is the new Olympics

Okay, let’s do this thing:

Warriors break ground on privately funded SF arena, only travesty is the entertainment

The Golden State Warriors held their long, long-awaited groundbreaking on their new San Francisco arena this week, which presumably means they’re actually going to build this thing. The event was not without its awkward weirdness, though:

Oooookay. That’s got to be the worst of it, though, right?


Anyway, the Warriors arena is still being built with $1 billion in private funding, because ownership decided it could make more money by having an arena closer to its wealthier fan base (and to give San Francisco its first arena for hosting concerts and such), which while slightly icky if you consider the whole “San Francisco is for richies while less-richies have to go live in the East Bay” thing is at least the way that matters should work in a world without public subsidies to chase after. And at least East Bay residents can still get to games easily enough — which is good, because it meant at least the Warriors avoided the embarrassment of having a fan from their former city interrupt their welcome-to-their-new-city event, like some other relocating California teams I could name.

Warriors arena in SF clears legal challenge, may actually get built someday

The seemingly never-ending battle over the Golden State Warriors‘ proposed new arena in San Francisco got at least one resolution yesterday, as San Francisco Superior Court Judge Garrett Wong ruled that the environmental impact statement that the San Francisco city council approved last winter was in fact conducted properly:

In a statement, team President Rick Welts said the ruling “brings us a huge step closer to building a new state-of-the-art sports and entertainment venue, which will add needed vitality to the Mission Bay neighborhood and serve the entire Bay Area extremely well.”

“We look forward to breaking ground soon,” he said…

Osha Meserve, a land-use attorney representing the [Mission Bay Alliance], said she is “disappointed on behalf of our co-plaintiffs and the people of San Francisco.” She said that the judge was under “extreme time pressure to make a ruling.”

This whole business of challenging environmental impact statements in court has become pretty de rigueur these days, especially in California, since it’s just about the only legal hook that opponents have for challenging land use decisions: You can’t overrule the city council on the grounds that a project is dumb or against the will of the people, but you can if you can find that the traffic analysis didn’t take something into account. It doesn’t often work, and in this case it didn’t, but it’s worth a shot.

This still doesn’t completely clear the path for the construction of the new Warriors’ arena — which, as a reminder, will be built entirely with private money and even pay property taxes, because that’s just how much moolah is available from San Francisco big spenders — as opponents could still choose to appeal yesterday’s ruling, and there’s still a separate lawsuit charging that the UC-San Francisco chancellor didn’t have the authority to agree to set up a $10 million traffic mitigation fund to ease problems during Warriors games. At this point, it’s extremely likely that the arena will get built eventually and the Warriors will move across the bay, but I wouldn’t be totally shocked if it didn’t happen by the September 2019 target date, because lawyers.

Warriors’ departure for SF wouldn’t doom Oakland arena, but it wouldn’t help, either

Good piece in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle by Rachel Swan looking at what the Golden State Warriors‘ (eventual) departure for a new arena in San Francisco would mean for Oakland. It’s especially welcome because it doesn’t waste time on any alleged costs to the overall Oakland economy — Oracle Arena may provide less spinoff spending than any other arena in the nation, given that virtually 100% of fans see nothing more of Oakland than the walk from the parking lot or the BART — and instead examines a new SF venue’s impact on possible arena glut:

“[Oracle Arena] will not only lose the team, it will also lose some events to the Warriors’ new [Chase Center] in San Francisco,” [Stanford economist Roger] Noll said. “It’s not going to be the Cow Palace, but it’s not going to be the venue of choice, either.”…

For the last few years the venue has turned a small profit for the authority, [Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority head Scott] McKibben said. … He’s optimistic that the arena will reap more money for Oakland and Alameda County once the Warriors leave. Without the team, the Coliseum Authority will collect all the proceeds from luxury suites, signage on the building, sponsorships and ticket sales. And it won’t have to block off 40 to 60 days a year for basketball, he added…

The big challenge, [Long Island University economist Geoffrey] Propheter said, will be steering those headliners away from the Warriors’ new home.

This is the arena management story in a nutshell: Sports teams generally aren’t big money-makers, and you can actually do better just booking concerts if a team leaves — Swan cites Seattle’s Key Arena as an example here. On the other hand, Key Arena is a cautionary tale as well, because if Chris Hansen’s SoDo arena ever opens, Key is going to have a hard time filling its calendar, and Oracle Arena could face a similar fate, which will cost Oakland taxpayers since they own the place.

The Bay Area is way bigger than Seattle, of course, and it can probably support two arenas. (The Cow Palace is probably doomed, but it’s been that way for a while.) There are only so many concerts, though, and once all those are booked, any additional arenas become surplus — and we’ve seen what happens then.

Warriors arena environmental report wins city approval, public less thrilled about it

The San Francisco board of supervisors unanimously approved the environmental impact report for the proposed Golden State Warriors arena last night, moving that $1 billion project a step closer to completion. A recently released poll by arena opponents found that less than half of city registered voters now support the plan, down from 61% support in a team-commissioned poll in July — though it’s always possible that wording differences in the two surveys are to blame, that is if you even think that polls still have any validity in a world where no one has landlines anymore and those who do seldom answer them.

The Warriors owners would be paying the full cost of arena construction plus land costs plus property taxes (no hidden tax kickbacks here), so opposition is mostly on the grounds that the plan would create traffic problems and allow too-tall development around the arena to help repay its costs. All of which are legitimate concerns, but don’t change the fact that this would be a very fair deal for San Francisco in terms of the funding, at least. The next step is probably a court battle over whether the EIR was properly conducted, which seldom ends up overturning these kinds of rulings, but this being California, one should never say never.

SF Chronicle cut and pasted Warriors arena press release, ran it as news story

I know I’ve often criticized the sports media for doing little more than reprinting teams’ press releases when it comes to stadium and arena coverage, but even I didn’t expect this: The San Francisco Chronicle’s Golden State Warriors reporter has been suspended for literally reprinting a team press release about the Warriors’ arena plans:

The headline for the original Chronicle story and the Warriors’ press release on were the same: “Warriors formally purchase Mission Bay site.” The initial story was identical to the release, except that the team referred to itself as the “NBA Champion Golden State Warriors” in its lede, and the Chronicle story left out the “champion” superlative. The only other change was a semicolon in the press release that became two sentences in the Chronicle story.

That’s pretty terrible, but the story gets even worse, as Deadspin has uncovered six more examples of times Warriors beat reporter Rusty Simmons, or his editor Al Saracevic, flat-out copied-and-pasted Warriors press releases. (Most of these were on far more boring topics than arena dealings.) They also asked Simmons for comment, and got this reply:

“I would really like to tell you how that happens, but I’m not allowed. I’m so sorry. …My suspension should be lifted in a couple of days, and we’ll talk.”

I think I speak for everyone when I say: We can’t wait to hear this one.

Warriors’ arena to include $10m/year traffic fund, but read the fine print

The battle the last few months over the Golden State Warriors‘ proposed new arena on the San Francisco waterfront has been especially dull — basically, a bunch of rich donors to UC-Francisco opposed the plan because they were worried it would create too much traffic around the university’s hospital. This seemed like the sort of thing that was going to be easily compromised over when it first emerged in April, and sure enough, a settlement with UCSF (though not necessarily the donors) was announced yesterday. But it’s the details of the settlement that should be raising eyebrows:

At least $10 million in revenues from the 18,050-seat arena annually would be used to fund traffic mitigations for the life of the arena, pending approval from San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.

Wait, $10 million a year? That is a huge amount of money, the equivalent of maybe $150 million in present value, which even on a billion-dollar project is a significant chunk of change. If Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber really agreed to pay that much to ease traffic concerns, that would be unprecedented.

It’s not entirely clear, though, whether this is actually Lacob and Guber’s money: Mayor Ed Lee’s press release just said the traffic funds would “come from new revenues generated by the Warriors sports and entertainment center,” which could easily mean city tax money, not team checks. Neither Lee’s website nor the city’s database of legislation has the text of the bill that Lee introduced on Tuesday, and it’s 6 am on the West Coast right now, so your guess is as good as mine what this actually means.

Not that it makes much of a difference in terms of the project’s financing overall, which is still extremely city-friendly: Lacob and Guber are paying for the full construction cost, plus the cost of acquiring the land, plus property taxes on the whole megillah. If anything, it’s set to be a model of how much team owners can afford to cough up for a new building when public funding is off the table — though admittedly, San Francisco is a bit of a special case since it’s a city full of rich people who currently have no full-sized arena to go and drop $300 a pop on Eagles tickets at. Still, it’ll be interesting if someday soon the bayfront features two sports facilities built with effectively no public money — it’ll be like visiting England, only with better seafood.

Bunch of unnamed rich folks form opposition to Warriors’ SF arena

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier & Ross report that the Golden State Warriors‘ San Francisco arena project has acquired some deep-pocketed opponents — even if it’s not quite clear who:

An anonymous group of what organizers describe as big-bucks donors to UCSF hired an imposing cast of consultants — including former UCSF Senior Vice Chancellor Bruce Spaulding and, for a time, Chronicle columnist and former Mayor Willie Brown — to block the plan for the arena and adjacent twin office towers in Mission Bay near the waterfront.

Also on board, and working without pay: Jack Davis, once the biggest political consultant in town and still a force to be reckoned with in semi-retirement.

“This arena is going to essentially ruin decades of good work and planning in Mission Bay and make it impossible for people to access the hospital there,” said public relations pro Sam Singer, who has also been hired by the antiarena forces.

Now, nobody concocted big-money campaigns to oppose development project just because of bad planning processes (or the risk of ambulances getting stuck in traffic, another objection that’s been raised by UCSF), so clearly these folks — whoever they are — must have some ulterior motive. Either way, though, the power to hire lobbyists and lawyers is a key factor in the success of opposition to sports development projects (and all development projects, really), so this could be more than a minor stumbling block for the Warriors’ owners — depending on what it’ll take to placate these mystery men, anyway.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel runs actual journalistic report on arena project (just not Milwaukee’s)

I’ve been very harsh on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer Don Walker, with good reason, but credit where credit is due: He wrote a good article on Saturday on NBA arena plans, even citing Judith Grant Long’s research on total subsidies to sports facilities. It was an article on the Golden State Warriors‘ plans for a privately funded arena in San Francisco, mind you, not on the Milwaukee Bucks‘ plans for a mostly publicly funded one in Milwaukee, but still, at least Walker did lay out the basics of the Warriors plan and contrast it with the Bucks one.

Sure, it would have been nice if he’d dug deeper into how the Warriors owners expect to recoup their investment (development around the site, plus being the only sizable arena in one of the nation’s wealthiest markets) and whether it makes sense for the Bucks owners to do the same, but at least it quotes more than one person. Though the conclusion still leaves a bit to be desired:

In San Francisco, “They have a vision to make the Warriors world-class, second to none,” [Warriors spokesperson P.J.] Johnston said.

The Bucks leadership seems to have that same vision. Just a different way of getting there.

Yup, just two ownership groups trying to make their arenas the best they can, one by paying for it, the other by sticking taxpayers with half the bill. Potato, potahto, right?

Warriors: We need a new $1B arena because we don’t like the restaurant manager at the old one

The San Francisco Business Times has a report out on the pressing matter of “Why the Raiders, A’s and Warriors want new homes” (verbatim headline), and the answer is: They all need to tear down their old venues and build entirely new ones at a cost of billions of dollars because they don’t like the concessionaires, duh!

Consider the recently opened BMW Club at Oracle Arena. BMW is a Warriors sponsor, but the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority contracts arena operations to Anschutz Entertainment Group. AEG, in turn, contracts arena restaurant management to Levy Restaurants.

“It’s a little bit of a challenge” to make customer service part of the overall game experience when food service and stadium operations aren’t in the Warriors’ control, team President and COO Rick Welts said.

Here’s a crazy idea: If your main complaint is the guys the county hired to run the arena operations, why don’t you offer to buy the arena operations rights from the county, and then pick your own operator? Sure, it might cost you something, but less than the billion dollars it will cost for a whole new building.

The real answer, of course, is that this is about the 74th most important reason for these teams wanting out of their old stadiums, but it’s what the Warriors president told the Business Times, so it’s what they’re going to report, dammit. Remember, kids: Friends don’t let friends read news stories that only include sports team execs and stadium developers as sources!