Friday roundup: Worcester stadium subsidy snowballs, Rochester Rhinos look to abandon 12-year-old stadium, old rich white guys continue to control the media

TGIF, but please cut God some slack for this week in stadium facepalms:

  • Members of the Worcester city council say they won’t rush to rubber stamp city manager Edward M. Augustus Jr.’s proposed $100 million stadium subsidy deal for the Pawtucket Red Sox, with public hearings scheduled for next Tuesday and September 5. Augustus, though, says he won’t accept proposed amendments to the deal, only a straight up or down “yes” or “no” vote, because any changes “would significantly impact our ability to deliver this project on time and could lead to unintended consequences.” So, basically, he’s asking for a rubber stamp, though the council still always has this one available.
  • Worcester city councilmembers might also want to check out this article from WBUR about how throwing large sums of money at minor-league baseball stadiums has worked out in other cities like Nashville, Durham, and El Paso. Representative quote, from Nashville City Councilor John Cooper: “Our overall success as a tourist destination is clearly not part of this baseball project. Nobody here thinks of the minor league baseball park as driving much of that.”
  • Meanwhile, the Worcester stadium deal has already created a cascade effect, with the owners of the Boston Red Sox‘ single-A team, the Lowell Spinners, asking when they’ll get some public money too. “I love Lowell, and I believe in Lowell,” Spinners owner Dave Heller said after meeting with Massachusetts state economic development officials. “I’m excited about the future in Lowell and investing here. I want to make sure we can take advantage of any incentives that are available from the state.” Spoken like a true Vercotti brother.
  • The GM of the New York Islanders and the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers both say they’re optimistic about getting the arenas built that they are lobbying to get built, and they both got articles in major news outlets (Newsday and CBS Sports) about their optimism. Normal non-rich humans who would like to express their pessimism about the arena projects can write a letter to the editor — ha ha, just kidding, CBS Sports doesn’t publish letters to the editor, go write an angry tweet or something.
  • The former owners of the USL Rochester Rhinos got $20 million from the state of New York for a new stadium in 2006, but now the new owners say they’re looking to move to a newer stadium in the suburbs, because people would rather watch the Premier League on TV than sit in a 12-year-old stadium or something? (And this after they narrowly avoided getting evicted!) Anyway, what the hell is it with upstate New York cities not thinking to lock their minor-league teams into long-term lease deals? Is it something in the water?

Friday roundup: Untangling NYCFC’s stadium plan, fighting over the Crew’s future, and what to do with a luxury suite

Sorry for the radio silence the last couple of days — it was a combination of not much super-urgent breaking news and a busy work schedule on my end — but let’s remedy that with a heaping helping of Friday links:

  • Part of that busy schedule was wrapping up work on my Village Voice article trying to unravel NYCFC’s latest stadium plan, and while the upshot remains what it was a month ago — this is a Rube Goldberg–style proposal with so many moving parts that it’s hard to say yet if it would involve public subsidies — it also involves city parks land that isn’t really parkland but is really controlled by another city agency that isn’t really a city agency and denies having control over it … go read it, you’ll either be entertained or confused or both!
  • The state of Maryland has luxury suites at the Baltimore Ravens and Orioles stadiums, and Gov. Larry Hogan mostly uses them for family members and political cronies. This should come as a surprise to no one, but it’s a reminder that getting government use of a suite as part of a stadium deal is less a public benefit than a, what do you call those things?
  • Based on questions asked at a Monday hearing, The Stranger concludes that most King County council members aren’t opposed to the Seattle Mariners‘ demand for $180 million in future county upgrade spending on Safeco Field, in exchange for the team signing a new lease. That could still change, obviously, but only if all of you readers turn toward Seattle and shout this post in unison. Three, two, one, go!
  • MLS commissioner Don Garber says talks are “ongoing” with the city of Columbus about replacing the Crew if they move to Austin, and by “with the city of Columbus” he apparently means the local business council the Columbus Partnership. And even their CEO, Alex Fischer, doesn’t sound too in the mood to talk, noting that Garber has called for a new downtown stadium in Columbus while not requiring the same of Austin: “I find it extremely ironic that the commissioner wants a downtown stadium at the same time that the McKalla site is the equivalent of building a stadium in Buckeye Lake.” MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott retorted that Fischer’s remarks are “certainly a strange way to demonstrate an interest in working with us.” The lines of communication are open!
  • The owners of Nashville S.C. would have to pay $200,000 a year in city rent on their new stadium, which is … something, at least. Except, reports the Tennessean, “Parking revenue collected from non-soccer events at the new MLS stadium, such as concerts or football games, would go toward the annual base rent and could potentially cover the entire amount.” So maybe not really something.
  • Glendale has extended its arena management deal with AEG through 2026, which will mean continuing to pay $5.6 million annual management fees, but also collecting about $1.6 million a year in shared arena revenues. That’s not good, but it is significantly better than the lease that had the city paying the owners of the Arizona Coyotes more than $7 million a year after revenue shares, so yay Glendale for tearing up that lease and bidding out the contract to at least cut their losses.
  • Here’s Austin’s lead negotiator with Crew owner Anthony Precourt over a new stadium, Chris Dunlavey of Brailsford and Dunlavey. on whether the deal is fair to taxpayers: “All around, I don’t know how it could get characterized as favorable to [Precourt Sports Ventures]. I think the city of Austin has negotiated this to as favorable for a city as PSV could stand to do.” Uh, Chris, you do know that “good for the public” and “as least awful for the public as we could get” aren’t the same thing, right?
  • Former U.S. senator Barbara Boxer has thrown her weight behind Inglewood residents opposing a new Los Angeles Clippers arena because it could cause gentrification and displacement. Which, not all arenas do, but in hot urban areas like L.A. it doesn’t take much to cause gentrification and displacement, so I can certainly see why there’s concern.
  • An otherwise unidentified group calling itself Protect Oakland’s Shoreline Economy has issued flyers opposing the A’s building a stadium at Howard Terminal because, among other things, it could displace homeless encampments to make way for parking lots. This is getting David Beckham–level silly, but also it’s getting harder and harder not to feel like the A’s owners should just give in and build a stadium at the Coliseum site, since at least nobody seems to mind if they do that. Yet.

Friday roundup: Rays set stadium deadlinish thing, D.C. United can’t find the sun in the sky, Inglewood mayor flees lawsuit filing on Clippers arena

Farewell, Koko and Argentina:

Friday roundup: Kraft tries to use World Cup to get new stadium, Roger Noll says Austin MLS subsidies are indeed subsidies, NC mulls new tax breaks for Panthers

Posting this while watching the first World Cup match at the crazy stadium with the seats outside the stadium. (I haven’t honestly even noticed who the teams are yet, I’m just watching the architecture.) Anyhoo:

Community group wants Inglewood investigated for flouting open meetings laws in Clippers arena deal

An Inglewood citizen group with the best name ever — Inglewood Residents Against Taking and Eviction, or IRATE — is asking the Los Angeles D.A.’s office to investigate the Inglewood city council for violating open meeting laws in approving a new Clippers arena:

Residents learned about the project on June 15, 2017, at a special meeting of the city council. The documents suggest that backers of the arena may have purposely used a special meeting because it required just 24 hours public notice, while a regular meeting requires 72 hours notice. The meeting agenda didn’t mention the arena or the Clippers, but gave an obscure name of a related company negotiating the deal…

Residents would see only that the meeting involved Murphy’s Bowl LLC, an entity formed in January 2017 in Delaware. It has one member, Steven Ballmer, the owner of the Clippers, according to court records.

The Inglewood City Council’s regular meetings are held on alternate Tuesdays, but there wasn’t one on Tuesday, June 13. Instead, there was a special meeting on Thursday, which only required the agenda to be posted 24 hours in advance.

That is pretty bad, though still not quite as bad as Cobb County officials hiding in hallways to evade open meetings laws while negotiating an Atlanta Braves stadium deal.

The KCET reporting on the IRATE suit doesn’t make clear what the group hopes to accomplish by getting the D.A. to investigate — I mean, clearly it wants to block the arena, but would this be by forcing a re-vote by the city council or what? It all makes Mayor James Butts’ contention that no California residents are upset about the arena that much more laughable, though, and since the internet is driven pretty much entirely by outrage and schadenfreude, please, go ahead and laugh!

 

Friday roundup: Coyotes seek investors, Detroit MLS stadium deal maybe not dead after all, and new stadium fireworks renderings!

So much news! Let’s get right to it:

MSG sues over Clippers arena, says Inglewood mayor used personal cell phone to cheat them out of land

And check it out, it’s another lawsuit, this one filed by Madison Square Garden (owners of the Forum in Inglewood) against the city of Inglewood over its plans to let the Los Angeles Clippers build a new arena nearby. Which sounds implausible — since when do you get to sue just because somebody else is building a competing arena nearby — until you get to this line:

MSG’s lawyers claim [Inglewood Mayor James] Butts tricked MSG into giving up the arena’s lease of the city-owned land and then tried to cover his tracks by negotiating with a personal email address and private cell phone.

Now we’re talking! MSG says that Butts got them to give up their option on the land the Clippers now intend to use by telling them he needed it for a “technology park,” which in their eyes constitutes breach of contract, fraud, and contractual interference. As a practicing non-lawyer, I have no idea whether this is a viable legal strategy, but as an unabashed fan of embarrassing public spectacles involving politicians and major sports corporations, I consider the mere existence of this suit a win.

CA legislators reject fast-track bill for Clippers, Olympics, call it “billionaire justice”

The plan to fast-track any environmental lawsuits over any new arena for the Los Angeles Clippers (or transit projects for the 2028 Olympics) got off to a dud of a start last week, as the state legislature did not advance out of committee a bill that would have greased the skids for those projects:

Legislators on the Assembly Natural Resources Committee expressed concerns about giving well-heeled developers special treatment, and the bill failed to get enough votes to advance.

“There’s been a lot of angst as far as big CEQA exemptions for projects with individuals with tremendous means, billionaire justice, whatever you want to call it,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento).

Read further in the Los Angeles Times article, and you start to see maybe why the bill had such rough sledding: L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti opposed the Olympics provision as unnecessary, and AEG, owner of the Staples Center, opposed the Clippers clause as, well, helping their rivals and current tenants, and we can’t have any of that. The last time we saw two sports giants go up against each other was when the New York Jets and Cablevision, owners of the Knicks and Rangers, went toe-to-toe over a new football stadium in Manhattan. Cablevision ultimately prevailed and the project was killed; it’s way too soon to tell if AEG will pull off something similar over the Clippers arena, but expect an awful lot of lobbying money to be spilled in the interim.

Ballmer demands fast-tracked legal process, bonus billboards for proposed Inglewood arena

So we have a partial answer to the question of what public aid billionaire Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer will be demanding for his proposed new NBA arena in Inglewood, and it’s “a bunch of stuff that’s worth money to him but isn’t a direct cash subsidy. Per the L.A. Times, which snuck a peek at the team’s draft legislation:

  • Any lawsuits against the arena under the California Environmental Quality Act would get fast-tracked to be wrapped up within nine months, and a court would be unable to halt construction even if it found environmental review to be inadequate. (The Sacramento Kings previously got this get-out-of-lawsuits-free card for their new arena, as did Ed Roski for his never-built City of Industry NFL stadium.)
  • The bill “would also allow the city to permit more billboards and other signage around the arena than otherwise allowed under the law.” No details in the Times report about how many more billboards, but clearly that’s a potentially large revenue source for Ballmer.

Things we still don’t know: Who would acquire the land for the arena, whether it would involve evicting current residents by eminent domain, if so who would pay for that, who would own the arena and would Ballmer pay property taxes and/or rent and/or money toward maintenance and operations, etc. If fast-tracking legal challenges and a bunch of free billboards is all Ballmer gets, it would hardly be the worst arena deal in history. But there’s still plenty of room to lard on more hidden subsidies as well, so everyone stay tuned.

 

Clippers’ Inglewood arena plans face MSG suit, could require taking homes by eminent domain

The Inglewood city council, after voting last month to enter into an “exclusive negotiating agreement” with Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer for a new arena, voted again on Friday to do the same thing, after getting a claim filed against it by the owners of Madison Square Garden on Wednesday for — you know what, let’s take this one step at a time:

  • Since February, there’s been talk that Ballmer wanted to build his own arena in Inglewood, possibly adjacent to the Los Angeles Rams’ (and Chargers‘) new stadium, so that he (and maybe Rams owner Stan Kroenke) could create his own entertainment district to compete with AEG’s L.A. Live next to the Clippers’ (and Lakers‘) current home at the Staples Center.
  • Inglewood councilmembers voted in June to approve that three-year negotiating agreement, which has no funding or operating details beyond “We wanna build an arena, let’s figure this out.”
  • Last Wednesday, MSG — which owns the Forum arena, formerly the home of the Lakers and now used mostly for concerts, and which is owned by James Dolan of New York Knicks and terrible singing fame — filed that claim for damages against Inglewood, claiming city officials asked them to give up their lease on parking lots across the street from the new football stadium site in April by telling them it was for a new “business-technology park.” Which, you’d think Dolan and his lawyers could have read the newspapers back in February to see this coming, but okay. MSG’s lawyers said if the city didn’t cancel the deal with Ballmer, they’d file suit.
  • Inglewood doubled down on Friday by voting unanimously to reauthorize the agreement with Ballmer, to meet any concerns that the June vote had taken place without public notice (one of the charges in MSG’s claim).
  • Friday’s vote was attended by 40 Inglewood residents protesting that the city was considering using eminent domain to force them off of their privately owned land to make way for the arena, or otherwise displace them by helping to gentrify their neighborhood.
  • Inglewood Mayor James Butts said no one was being displaced, that the arena would be built entirely on public land.
  • An MSG press spokesperson fired off an email to the Los Angeles Times saying that the land Ballmer is seeking contains hundreds of homes, apartments, and businesses, and “there is no question that residents would need to be displaced within this area.”

So, what the hell? The agreement itself includes this color-coded map by owner type:

The white parcels are the privately-owned bits of land, so, yeah, I’d say there should be some concern about eminent domain being used. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’d be impossible to build an arena, let alone a surrounding entertainment district, without obtaining some private land.

Here’s what it looks like on Google Maps:

This is shaping up to be a big-ass mess, and that’s before we’ve even gotten into the question of who’s going to pay for it. Ballmer and Butts are going to need all of those three years, I’m guessing.