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:

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.

Milwaukee Bucks introduce “digital tour” of their PR spin for new arena

The Milwaukee Bucks have introduced an interactive virtual tour that fans can take of the team’s new $500 million arena that taxpayers are funding virtually all of , and — hey, wait a minute, that’s not an interactive virtual tour, that’s a video of some Bucks guy taking an interactive virtual tour! We want to do our own clicking on our own touchscreens, Bucks guy!

Anyway, for those who can’t be bothered to take 2:33 to watch the video, here are the highlights:

  • The virtual tour is “used in all of our meetings” and “super-impactful”!
  • There will be a lobby!
  • Fans sitting in the first four rows will get their own VIP entrance, so they aren’t forced to hobnob with those peons sitting in the fifth row!
  • Those VIP fans will get to gawk at/reach out and touch/throw things at the players as they enter the court via their tunnel from the locker room, because that’s worked oh so well in the past.
  • Designer types call entry ramps “vomitories” without thinking its funny, and apparently without thinking everyone else will think it’s funny.
  • Seventy-five percent of the main concourse is open to the court area, so that you can “grab a beer” and “still watch the action.” Now, having spent a lot of time at baseball games where open concourses are more common, I can tell you how this will work: Because of sports geometry, while you are waiting on line for your beer, you will only be able to see the airspace above the actual game; because of sports fan behavior, you won’t be able to see much of it, because lots of people will be standing at the edge of the concourse, blocking your view. So in reality, you will be waiting to grab your beer, will hear a big noise, look over to see what happened, not be able to see a damn thing, try to decide whether to run back to the seating bowl (or the vomitory) to see what’s going on, decide it’s too late, then look up at the video screens placed by the beer line to watch that instead. I.e., exactly what you’d do in a space without an open concourse, but with the added feature of eliminating several rows of decent seats and replacing them with ones at the back of the upper level.
  • Bucks guy says of the concourse that “this is where most of the guests are going to spend their time,” so either he’s anticipating really slow beer lines or acknowledging that most people will be there to eat the food, not watch the Bucks.
  • “Everybody is much closer to the action.” There is no way that this is true, especially when you consider those gaps for the open concourses, but it is a thing that every arena and stadium developer says, so this guy is contractually required to, too.
  • Those creepy party spaces where fans won’t get to see the game but will get to be bathed in strange neon lights are now called the “sky mezzanine level,” and the Bucks are “really excited” for people to use them for weddings and corporate events and stuff other than watching Bucks games, because that would be a terrible idea.
  • And speaking of terrible ideas, the “corner sponsor towers” that likewise featured no way for most fans to see the game and possibly no railings appear to be gone, though it’s hard to tell without a virtual tour that I can actually control.

In short, it looks pretty much like every other new sports venue, with maybe a couple of unique elements that could be fun or could be awful, but now comes with a heaping helping of PR to help you understand why you’re having a better time, whether or not you actually are. If that’s not super-impactful, I don’t know what is.

Report: Economists, team owners disagree on whether stadium subsidies are a good thing

Hey, it’s another “longform” article mulling over stadium subsidies! This time it’s in the Atlantic, headlined, “Is There a Better Way to Build a Stadium?” An excellent question, albeit one that raises suspicions of Betteridge’s Law being at work here, but let’s see what author Alana Semuels has to say:

It has become widely accepted that publicly-financed sports stadiums are a bad deal for cities.

Well, yeah. The only example given here is the St. Louis Rams deal, which was indeed bad but is by no means definitive, but subsidies are long and online attention spans are short, so let’s move on to the nut graf:

What’s different in the case of Milwaukee? Either a whole lot, or nothing, depending on who you ask.

Oh, lord, this isn’t going to be a he-said-she-said “there are opinions on both sides” article, is it?

Next up is a quote from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on the Bucks deal (“we think this is a good, solid move as a good steward of the taxpayers’ money here in Wisconsin”), then a counter from economist Victor Matheson (“There is a fairly big deal of hypocrisy going on particularly in Milwaukee Bucks case”), plus a cite of studies showing bad returns on public spending on stadiums and arenas. Then a confusing discussion of tax-exempt bonds (“Public financing for stadiums came about as Congress tried to limit deals that allowed private entities to profit from tax-exempt bonds,” wait, what?), then “it’s possible that the Bucks, and other teams, have learned something from the public antipathy towards public financing of arenas.” Learned how?

The team isn’t just using public funds to build an arena for itself; it is also pledging to build a seven-story parking structure alongside the arena with mixed-use retail on the ground floor and an apartment complex on the eastern side. It has hired a design team for a block of entertainment, retail, and commercial spaces, and hopes to begin building that area next year, according to spokesman Jake Suski. The team is also the master developer for the entire 27-acre development, which may someday include bars, restaurants, a public plaza, and eventually office space, multifamily housing, and a hotel.

Yeah, that’s not new at all — team owners have been building ancillary development next to sports venues for so long that I’ve already come up with and abandoned a nickname for them. (“Kitchen-sink plans,” because they throw in everything but — you can see why I abandoned it.) Then there’s lots of back and forth about whether this can work out well (conclusion: maybe), and finally a Milwaukee law professor saying, “I remain a skeptic.” And FIN.

This isn’t even an example of Betteridge’s Law so much as an example of an article that sets out to answer a question, then throws up its hands halfway through, because hell, people disagree on the answer. Admittedly, one side is the people who stand to reap a fortune in subsidies — more than $500 million, a figure that is not even hinted at in the Atlantic article, which apparently either doesn’t consider tax breaks to be subsidies or just takes Walker’s word on how much the subsidies are worth — and the other is just about every economist and independent investigator on earth, but hey, who are we as journalists to say who’s right? One thing’s for certain: No one knows.

Bucks arena bonds get slightly lower interest rate than expected, business journalist rejoices

Anatomy of a misleading sports finance article, the headline:

Bond sale for Milwaukee Bucks arena deemed a success

Ooookay. A success for whom? A success because the bonds were successfully sold? That’s a pretty low bar, no?

The lede:

With the Milwaukee Bucks poised to start construction on their new arena, the largest chunk of public funding for the project came through Wednesday and Thursday via the sale of bonds totaling $162 million at interest rates that experts said are a good deal for Wisconsin taxpayers.

A good deal for Wisconsin taxpayers, really? Tell me more.

The interest rate on a series of bonds for $108 million and secured by the state of Wisconsin had an overall interest rate of just 2.7 percent… “We’re pleased with the strong market response to this sale, resulting in a significantly lower than expected interest rate,” said Wisconsin Center District board chairman Scott Neitzel, who is secretary of the state Department of Administration.

Okay, so Wisconsin got a low interest rate on the bonds. That’s indeed good for taxpayers, since it means lower payments over time to pay off the $108 million. Wisconsin residents will still be on the hook for the $108 million in principal, though.

No new taxes are being implemented to pay the interest on the bonds.

Now this is just straight-up misdirection. No new taxes are being levied because all the money is coming out of general fund revenue: half from the state, half from the county after the state cut its funding for county programs to cover the rest of the bonds.

Another major selling point for investors was the fact that individual Wisconsin investors who bought the bonds enjoyed a tax exemption on both federal and state income tax, Bryden and others said.

“The tax advantage has appeal,” he said. “You don’t get those frequently.”

Another way of saying this is that the bonds are a very bad deal for federal taxpayers, who miss out on taxes on the income that bond buyers are sheltering from federal tax, and who don’t even get the benefit (?) of going to a new Milwaukee Bucks arena unless they live near Milwaukee.

All in all, the story here is “Bond payments for Milwaukee Bucks arena to cost maybe 2% less than expected.” That’s good news, but on a very different scale than the Milwaukee Business Journal is telling it. It’s almost like the only people author Rich Kirchen talked to were bond managers and the state officials selling the bonds — hey, wait a minute…

Inside of new Bucks arena looks more and more like a dystopian sci-fi movie

It’s a bit of a slow news day, so thank goodness the Milwaukee Bucks have come through with some new interior arena renderings for us to peruse while we wait for the last dregs of the week to run out:

pano3pano1v2I don’t know exactly what’s going on with that creepy dark club with the glowy rings on the ceiling — supposedly it gives fans views of both the court and the city, though given that in real life there would be more than ten people in it at any one time, more likely it will mostly provide a view of those TV screens as you crane your neck to see the score while waiting on line for overpriced food. The “corner sponsor tower” next to it, meanwhile, is even more mysterious — presumably it should have a big sponsor logo on it, but instead it’s just three levels of blank void with more of those geometric patterns on the ceilings. The interior of the levels doesn’t appear to be raked at all, so only the people at the front railing (there is a railing, right?) will be able to see the game, from a great distance, while everyone behind them will be … dancing? Enjoying presentations from the corporate sponsor of their choosing? What the heck does any of this have to do with basketball, exactly?

Bucks lease revealed, doesn’t make arena deal worse than it was already

The state-run Wisconsin Center District and the Milwaukee Bucks have finally agreed on a lease for the team’s new $500 million arena that’s getting $450 million in public subsidies, and hey, look, it’s not entirely awful! The big questions, as you’ll remember, were “Who’ll pay for operating and maintenance costs?” and “Can the Bucks break the lease before the 30-year term is up?” and at least initially appears that the answers are “the Bucks owners” and “no”:

  • The Bucks owners will need to deposit a minimum of $60 million over 30 years in a capital reserve fund to pay for maintenance, and the team must pay for all maintenance, repair, and upgrade costs. (One report says this also includes operating costs; others are silent on the matter.)
  • The lease includes penalties for breaking the lease that start at $553 million in the first year and gradually decline to a bit more than $200 million by the end.
  • The team will actually pay rent! Not much rent — starting at $1 million a year, rising to about double that by the end — but so many teams pay no rent or negative rent, this qualifies as worth one cheer, anyway.

None of this makes the public arena cost a good deal, mind you. But at least the lease doesn’t look to have made it any worse.

New Bucks arena to be covered with rust, what is it with the rust already?

They’re not nearly as batshit as yesterday’s Washington NFL renderings — not to mention they’re for a building that is actually getting built in an actual location — but the Milwaukee Bucks have released renderings of their new $500 million arena being built with $505 million in public subsidies:

b99688823z.1_20160316221937_000_gnketctn.1-0b99688823z.1_20160316221937_000_gnketctq.1-0b99688823z.1_20160316221937_000_gnketctr.1-0That outer shell that supposedly looks like a “wave” (if waves were brown, which I don’t really want to think too hard about) is going to be made up of “zinc panels chemically treated to achieve a gritty, brown-rust patina,” which is a different kind of intentional rust color than the weathered steel used on the Brooklyn Nets arena, but promises to be just as ugly. (Name one attractive rust-brown building you’ve seen. I’ll wait.)

The inner seating bowl is somewhat more promising, though the cheap seats in those tiny upper decks separated by two decks of luxury suites are going to royally suck; and while the large lower deck will be nice for anyone who can afford to sit there, forcing everyone to enter and exit at the back of the section is going to make for some epic foot traffic jams at the end of games.

As usual, though, the real fun part is nitpicking the little details that the architects probably added at 1 am when they didn’t know how to fill out a blank space on their drawings. Like, what’s up with that strange balcony projecting off the front of the building, the better for drunken fans to throw their beers/themselves down onto passersby? And how much did those people pay to stand in those weirdly backlit sections in the upper-deck corners, and why? Who are those two opposing players near midcourt supposed to be guarding? What exactly is Greg Monroe doing in that replay (?) on the video board? Why does anyone think Greg Monroe will still be on the Bucks when the new arena opens in 2018? Play along yourself in comments!

Stadium spending is bad for humans and other living things, Thursday edition

Happy National Notice That Stadium Subsidies Are A Bad Deal Day, everybody!

  • The Wall Street Journal notices that the soon-to-be-again Los Angeles Rams are set to join the San Francisco 49ers and Golden State Warriors in building new sports venues without much in the way of public money, and declares this a trend, in California, at least. Though the authors then note that the Sacramento Kings got plenty of public cash, and the San Diego Chargers could yet get a bunch from that city, “despite a wealth of academic studies showing that stadiums and arenas are poor investments when it comes to economic development.” I’m not exactly sure what this all is supposed to add up to, but it does provide a nice roundup of the stadium landscape for anyone who’s been living under a rock.
  • The San Gabriel Valley Tribune asks if the new Rams stadium in Inglewood will provide a big economic boost to the region, and cites a couple of economists and the finance director of Foxborough, Massachusetts in answering, “Nah.” In particular, Vanderbilt’s John Vrooman replies: “The net local impact of a professional sports team is zero, if not negative sum, particularly for an NFL team playing in a monolithic space-eating stadium. … The local sports bars will probably rock, but most direct spending at the stadium stays at the stadium. The injection of new cash flow into the local economy is negligible because it’s coming at the expense of local spending someplace else. The indirect spin-offs are also small because most of the spending leaks out of the economy like a sieve and so the urban/regional multipliers are usually zero, zip … nada.” Stan Kroenke’s poor poor people are going to be awfully disappointed.
  • Milwaukee’s Fox6 looks at the “arena district” the Bucks are promising to create around their new taxpayer-subsidized arena, and notes that in Columbus, while restaurants around that city’s new arena indeed did great, restaurants in other parts of town saw business decline: “Other restaurants went out of business and a lot of people started moving out of the neighborhood and into newer apartments,” said Tony Scartz, a restaurateur in the Brewery District across town from the new arena. “And most importantly, for me personally, was the office space vacancy that was created because people moved out of the Brewery District and into the newer office space down around the Arena District.” This is exactly what you’d expect from the substitution effect, as explained in the Fox6 piece by, um, me.

Tune back in tomorrow, when some city official somewhere will tout the massive economic benefits available from building a new sports venue! They will fight eternally…

Bucks arena district plan moves ahead, despite lots of unanswered questions

The Milwaukee Plan Commission has given its unanimous approval to the Bucks‘ arena district plan, which will now move ahead to the Milwaukee Common Council for a vote there. While the $450 million in subsidies for the $500 million arena have already been approved, elected officials still need to approve a bunch of zoning changes for the arena and surrounding “entertainment district” that the Bucks owners are promising to build, which will be easily distinguished from surrounding buildings by not being shapeless gray blobs.

The controversial bits of the redevelopment plan include tearing down an existing parking garage before building a new one (Bucks execs say they’ll provide shuttle buses for fans in the meantime) and closing a block of N. 4th Street to provide the Bucks with a public plaza. Both of those elements have raised the hackles of alderperson Bob Bauman, so expect more debate on them once the plan hits the council next month.

Meanwhile, there’s still no sign of a lease agreement on the arena, which needs to address such humongous issues as how to pay maintenance costs and whether the Bucks can break their lease before the term is up. The Bucks owners still say they hope to break ground in April, but hey, they can always leave some details to be figured out later — because that’s worked out so well in the past.