Friday roundup: Atlanta Falcons’ non-retracting retractable roof now can’t even keep rain out

Crazed billionaires are shutting down our nation’s news media when employees try to assert their rights, so let’s enjoy journalism while we still have it with another week in news briefs:

  • The Saskatchewan Roughriders‘ old stadium got blowed up real good.
  • The developers who want to build a $15 million modular stadium for the NASL team San Diego 1904 F.C. haven’t actually filed a development plan yet with the city of Oceanside.
  • The Atlanta Falcons‘ non-retracting retractable roof has already sprung a leak.
  • Asked by the New York Post about the New York Islanders‘ bid to build a new arena on state land near Belmont Park, team owner Jonathan Ledecky replied, ““I think we’re circling the airport, just waiting to be given a landing clue,” which doesn’t actually mean anything at all that I can tell, but it sure is an evocative image. Then he pointed to the team’s new $7 million practice facility on Long Island, with a “world-class chef” for players, as “emblematic of what we can do if we were granted the right [to build] at Belmont.”
  • Sacramento city officials want to use the Kings‘ old arena, now vacant after Sacramento built the team a new arena, as a temporary convention center while the city conducts a $125 million renovation of its regular convention center. The arena is an arena, not a convention center, and it’s still owned by the Kings owners, not the city, and I’m sure this is all going to go just swimmingly, no need to be concerned at all.

Pacers owner prepares to add renovation demand atop $380m in prior subsidies, because he can

Indiana Pacers execs are once again talking about going back to the trough for yet another helping of public cash to help them, you know, make more money. The Indianapolis Business Journal reported over the weekend on how the Pacers’ publicly built and then publicly subsidized some more via “operating subsidies” Bankers Life Fieldhouse is doing in terms of booking concerts (better!) and in terms of making money on those concert bookings (they won’t say, and don’t have to, because they’re a private company and their lease doesn’t require them to report it!), before noting that:

Pacers officials are in the early stages of talking to CIB about improvements to the fieldhouse—although they haven’t specified what they want or how much it will cost. Some city officials have speculated the team will want to add more social gathering spaces and modernize the building…

[City officials] admit any renovation would certainly cost in the tens of millions of dollars. The fieldhouse cost $183 million to construct.

[Pacers president Rick] Fuson said it’s too early to determine a timeline or cost estimate on potential improvements. But he predicted that upgrades will help PS&E retain and draw more non-Pacers/non-Fever events as well as enhance the draw for Pacers and Fever games.

And then an IBJ editorial cited Pacers owner Herb Simon’s statement earlier this year that he wants a “major redo” of the arena, which sounds like it could be more than tens of millions of dollars.

The Pacers, to recap briefly, have been one of the most successful teams in sports history to turn an arena deal into the gift that keeps on giving, starting with $187 million to construct the building in the first place in 1999, then following it up with $33 million in subsidies to help pay to run the arena from 2010 to 2013, then another $160 million from 2014 through 2023, plus $3.5 million for a new roof to replace one that leaked, plus probably a few more sundries I haven’t kept track of along the way. And, because former Mayor Stephen Goldsmith is an idiot who wrote a terrible lease (or employed idiots who did so, anyway), Simon will once again in 2024 be free to threaten to take the Pacers elsewhere if he doesn’t get more taxpayer boodle.

One hopes that the increased concert revenue — all of which goes to the Pacers owners, because why would Indianapolis have asked for any of that in exchange for $380 million worth of public spending, right? — would help provide leverage for the city to tell Simon he should pay for a large chunk of his own damn arena costs, since he’s doing well now and he’s the only one who’d profit from any improvements anyway. But then, there’s that little problem that the Pacers only need to report revenues, not profits, so there’s no way for the city to do that. You think it’d be okay to rate Goldsmith without actually taking his Harvard course? Because some Pacers fans might want to say some things about him.

Cavs owner waits two whole months after getting arena money to dream about even newer arena

It’s been almost two whole months since Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert got approval of $70 million in taxpayer money to renovate his arena, just three years after getting his last batch of public arena money, so what’s a guy to do now? How about drop hints that he’d like to tear it down and build a whole new arena when his lease expires in 2034:

The headline on this — “Did Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert hint at a new arena for 2034?” — is fairly hilarious, given that he obviously hinted at it, though a Gilbert spokesperson insisted he didn’t hint at it, and we’re apparently in an age where you need to give important people the benefit of the doubt even when they’re obviously lying about things right in front of your face, so okay.

If you’re wondering about what that “Inverted Bowl” thing is, it’s the design firm Rossetti’s claim to attempted fame, which from the firm’s renderings appears to be “get rid of the upper deck and replace it with a wall of overhanging balconies and claim that this makes the upper deck ‘the best seats in the house.'” On the one hand, this is just reinventing cantilevering, which does indeed create better upper-deck seats, albeit cantilevering that doesn’t create an overhang over any of the lower deck, pretty much eliminating any significant benefit you’d get from it; on the other, with only a handful of rows of seating in each balcony, it’s going to be really tough to create as many seats in an “inverted bowl” arena as in a standard bowl. (This isn’t helped by the fact that the closer you get a ring of seats to the game action, the fewer seats you can fit in each row — try cutting a strip of paper and play around with it if you can’t picture why.)

Plus those top balconies are going to need to have a crazy rake so that the fans in the back rows can see the game over the heads of the fans in front of them … but you know what, Rossetti put together a really nice video, with talk about the “digital age” and animations of their staffers’ actual brains for some reason, so go watch it and repeat to yourself it’s just a show, you should really just relax.

Friday roundup: New soccer stadiums, yet another Vegas arena, Falcons roof still not done

Happy fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, everybody! While you get ready to go to your anniversary parties and dress up as, um, hurricanes, and you know what, this riff isn’t going anywhere, let’s get to the news:

  • Had you forgotten about former UNLV basketball star Jackie Robinson’s $1.4 billion retractable-roofed-arena-plus-hotel-plus-other-stuff project just because Las Vegas already has one new arena, he hasn’t — and now says it’s a $2.7 billion project that will include a 63-story hotel, a conference center, a 24-lane bowling alley, and a wedding chapel. No construction has begun yet, but Robinson says it will all be completed by 2020, or else maybe by then it will cost $5.2 billion and include a space elevator.
  • Chris Hansen is trying a new gambit to turn attention away from Oak View Group’s KeyArena renovation plan and toward his SoDo new-arena plan, and it involves declaring the OVG plan a “public” and not a “private” process, which would require a longer environmental review process, and if your eyes are glazing over already I don’t blame you, skip to the next item, it’s got juicy if unproven allegations of political corruption in it.
  • New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon has given Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2017 re-election campaign a $65,000 donation that’s twice as large as all other donations he’s previously given the governor combined, and with Wilpon in the midst of looking to get approval from the state for a new soccer stadium Islanders arena (sorry, had a brain fart on this one while typing) next to Belmont Park racetrack … well, you connect the dots. (Or don’t: An Empire State Development spokesperson snapped, “Participation in the political process has zero bearing on any of this and any of these ‘sources’ with questions are free to contact us instead of trafficking in conspiracy theories.”) Bigger question: Fred Wilpon has $65,000 to spare?
  • The Atlanta Falcons‘ retractable roof is now set to finally work by March 2018. Probably.
  • Nashville held a hearing on its proposed $75 million soccer stadium subsidy deal, and if you guessed that a self-proclaimed soccer mom said it would be a “feather in our cap” while a non-soccer-fan local resident said “you’re asking me to help fund a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar project for another sports team that most likely will not benefit me,” then you’re right on the money.
  • The prospective NASL team San Diego 1904 F.C. is planning a stadium that will cost only $15 million because it will be built modularly elsewhere and shipped to the stadium site in Oceanside, but at least they didn’t skimp on the searchlight renderings.
  • The chair of Rhode Island’s senate finance committee says he’ll put a halt to the Pawtucket Red Sox‘ $38 million stadium subsidy request if the team owners don’t provide more financial information. It sounds like this is over the team’s internal finances, and could be resolved with a non-disclosure agreement, but still, it’s something to keep an eye on, since projects have succeeded or fallen over pettier things.
  • Louisville approved $30 million in bonds to help pay for a new Louisville City F.C. soccer stadium, in exchange for which the team will repay $14.5 million over 10 years, which comes to about $11 million in present value, so the city will only lose $19 million on the deal, unless there’s still plans for as much as $35 million in state property-tax kickbacks via a TIF, in which case this is really a $54 million subsidy for a minor-league soccer stadium. Maybe they should go with one of those modular dealies instead? Just a thought.

Detroit is now spending $70.5m on a furshlugginer practice facility for the Pistons

Here’s an article from yesterday’s Detroit News about how the state of Michigan approved giving $16 million in brownfield tax credits to Pistons owner Tom Gores for his team’s new downtown practice facility. Which, okay, brownfield incentives, you’re kind of just giving developers the cash to clean up pollution on a site and ready it for a new use, so that’s not so bad.

Except that not mentioned anywhere in the article is that Gores is already getting $20 million in regular old tax breaks, plus $34.5 million in city bonds to be repaid with future property tax revenues. So really this increases the amount of public cash being spent to $70.5 million — on a practice facility, mind you. Which is on top of roughly $300 million that the state and city spent on the new arena where the Pistons (and Red Wings) will actually play games.

For this price, Detroiters at least get to enjoy watching sports in a state-of-the-art arena. Or not watching sports, as the case may be:

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

Okay, let’s do this thing:

The Pistons held their home opener at their new arena, and an L.A. Chargers game broke out

Everything I learned about great web headline writing I got from Deadspin, and this is one of their best:

The Pistons Couldn’t Give Tickets To Their First Game At Detroit’s Dumb New Arena Away

That’s right: Much like the Los Angeles Chargers, the Detroit Pistons dedicated their first game at their new home with tons of fans arriving disguised as empty seats. Here’s a lovely photo of the opening tip:

Okay, so this was a new arena, with all the new-arena bells and whistles — maybe everybody was still wandering around in the concessions concourses, looking for a bacon-wrapped hot dog. Those empty seats are pretty evenly dispersed around, not in entire empty sections, so that suggests people who bought seats but just aren’t sitting in them, right?

Except that Deadspin also reports that Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who is partners with Pistons owner Tom Gores in an attempt to get Detroit city subsidies for a new soccer stadium — if all this owner fraternizing is starting to remind you of syndicate ball, you’re not alone — had his Quicken Loans staffers send out an email to employees offering 50 free tickets to the game for free to anyone who asked, “to celebrate our new Marketing partnership with the Detroit Pistons.” (Goofy capitalization in original.) In other words, Quicken Loans got a bunch of free tickets to the game as part of being a Pistons sponsor, but no corporate clients wanted to be wined and dined by being taken to a damn Pistons game, even at a new arena, so instead anybody who wanted got to go for free.

Most of this, clearly, is about the fact that the Pistons were terrible last year and will likely be terrible this year, and nobody wants to go see bad basketball. (Except for New York Knicks fans, apparently.) Still, it used to be that you could just throw open the gates of a new building and people would clamor to get in; now, there’s clearly some stadium fatigue going on, to the point where any new-arena honeymoon period for attendance may be measured in weeks, not years. Which is fine — we really shouldn’t have team owners trying to build stadium after stadium just to recapture the new-car smell — but still a significant change to the heyday of Camden Yards and the like.

About the most positive thing you can say about the new Detroit arena is maybe it’s got so many cool things to do that aren’t watching sports with your own eyes that fans are all off doing that during the game — that’s what seems to have happened during the Red Wings‘ home opener, which likewise saw seas of unoccupied seats. (Red Wings tickets are still holding their prices pretty well on the secondary market, a good sign of actual fan demand; Pistons tickets not so much.) I’m not sure “our arena is so great, you won’t want to stop to watch our team play!” is really the sales pitch I’d go for if I ran a sports franchise, but then, I’m one of those old-fashioned fans who goes to a basketball game to watch basketball.

Orlando officials hate bill to halt land giveaways to sports teams, for all the wrong reasons

From the Department of Maybe Well-Meaning Ideas That Probably Should’ve Been Thought Through a Little More, we have Florida House bill HB 13, which, as the Orlando Sentinel notes, would “ban teams from building or renovating stadiums on publicly owned land and also bar governments from leasing existing facilities to teams below ‘fair market value.'” The bill’s sponsor, Broward/Miami-Dade state rep Manny Diaz Jr., says he introduced it because of anger over the Miami Marlins stadium deal, and that it “aims to do is to try to curtail abuses that have gone on, where cities … are being held hostage.”

Orlando city officials are griping that the Diaz bill would make it harder for his city to lure or retain sports teams by gifting them with generous lease terms to hide from the public how big the subsidies are offering competitive deals, and that this is an unforgivable intrusion by the state on cities’ right to throw money away for no good economic reason determine their own development policies. But to note that the objections to the bill are dumb does not preclude acknowledging that the bill itself is pretty dumb, too.

As I told the Sentinel (it didn’t make the cut, though other of my quotes did), the “no leasing land below market value” bit is reasonable enough, though it’s going to be tough to enforce: If you determine “market value” by what other sports teams are paying in rent, you get into the problem that most franchises have sweetheart lease deals. And in any event, there’s nothing that I can tell in the bill that would stop a city from charging “market rent” and then handing the money back under the table through “operating subsidies” or somesuch.

The bigger problem is with the first half of the bill, which sets out to solve a problem that doesn’t exist: the unwarranted use of public land for sports facilities. Unless you’re the hardest of hard-core libertarians, there’s nothing wrong per se with government land being used for sports stadiums any more with it being used for housing developments or libraries or whatever — the public just should get some benefit from the deal, whether it’s lease payments or a cut of stadium revenues or discounted tickets or something. If “can’t renovate buildings on public land” means that the Magic, say, are restricted from paying for improvements to their arena on government property and end up using that as an excuse to demand public funds or tax breaks (which aren’t addressed at all in this bill) to build a new arena on private land, that’s not exactly a step in the right direction.

A well-written bill would have provided an ironclad prohibition on deals that directly or indirectly gift public land to teams, and maybe ruled that sports facilities run for private profits should be subject to property tax even if they’re owned by the public or on public land, to get around that subsidy loophole as well. I don’t know enough about Diaz to know whether he wrote his bill this way because of his own ideological beliefs (there are a surprising number of conservatives who consider government cash a subsidy but not government tax breaks, on the Casino Night Principle) or just because he has sloppy bill-drafters in his office. Or maybe he’s just tired of being confused with the other Manny Diaz, who was mayor of Miami when the Marlins deal was approved. Either way, before this sails through the state legislature on “sounds good enough to me!” grounds, let’s hope somebody goes in there with a red pen and does some judicious editing.

Friday roundup: A’s pollution woes, Falcons roof woes, Hansen email woes, and more!

Whole lot of news leftovers this week, so let’s get right to it:

  • It’s not certain yet how serious the environmental cleanup issues at the Oakland A’s proposed Peralta Community College stadium site are, but anytime you have the phrases “the amount of hazardous materials in the ground is unclear” and “two possible groundwater plumes impacted by carcinogens” in one article, that’s not a good sign. Meanwhile, local residents are concerned about gentrification and traffic and all the other things that local residents would be concerned about.
  • There’s another new poll in Calgary, and this time it’s Naheed Nenshi who’s leading Bill Smith by double digits, instead of the other way around. This poll’s methodology is even dodgier than the last one — it was of people who signed up for an online survey — so pretty much all we can say definitely at this point is no one knows. Though it does seem pretty clear from yet another poll that whoever Calgarians are voting for on Monday, it won’t be because of their position on a Flames arena.
  • The Atlanta Falcons‘ retractable roof won’t be retracting this season, and may even not be ready for the start of next season. These things are hard, man.
  • Nevada is preparing to sell $200 million in bonds (to be repaid by a state gas tax) to fund highway improvements for the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium, though Gov. Brian Sandoval says the state would have to make the improvements anyway. Eventually. But then he said, “I just don’t want us to do work that has to be undone,” so your guess is as good as mine here.
  • Pawtucket is preparing to scrape off future increases in property tax receipts for a 60- to 70-acre swath of downtown and hand them over to the Pawtucket Red Sox for a new stadium, an amount they expect to total at least $890,000 a year. Because downtown Pawtucket would never grow without a new baseball stadium, and there’s no chance of a shortfall that would cause Pawtucket to dip into its general fund, and nobody should think too hard about whether if minor-league baseball stadiums are really so great for development, this wouldn’t mean that property tax revenues should be expected to fall in the part of the city that the PawSox would be abandoning. Really, it’ll all be cool, man, you’ll see.
  • Somebody asked Tim Leiweke what he thinks of building a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays for some reason, and given that he’s a guy that is in the business of building new stadiums, it’s unsurprising that he thinks it’s a great idea. Though I am somewhat surprised that he employed the phrase “Every snowbird in Canada will want to watch the Toronto Blue Jays when they come and play,” given that having to depend on fans of road teams to fill the seats is already kind of a problem.
  • The study showing that spending $30 million in city money on a $30-million-or-so Louisville City F.C. stadium would pay off for the city turns out to have been funded by the soccer team, and city councilmembers are not happy. “There’s something there that someone doesn’t want us to find,” said councilmember Kevin Kramer. “I just don’t know what it is.” And College of the Holy Cross economics professor Victor Matheson chimed in, “I expect for-profit sports team owners to generate absurdly high economic estimate numbers in order to con gullible city council members into granting subsidies.” I don’t know where you could possibly be getting that idea, Victor!
  • Congress is considering a bill to eliminate the use of federally tax-exempt bonds for sports facilities, and … oh, wait, it’s the same bill that Cory Booker and James Lankford introduced back in June, and which hasn’t gotten a committee hearing yet in either the House or the Senate. It has four sponsors in the House, though, and two in the Senate, so only 263 more votes to go!
  • A Miami-Dade judge has dismissed a lawsuit charging that the sale of public land to David Beckham’s MLS franchise illegally evaded competitive bidding laws, then immediately suggested that the case will really be decided on appeal: “I found this to be an extremely challenging decision. Brighter minds than me will tell me whether I was right or wrong.” MLS maybe should be having backup plans for a different expansion franchise starting next season, just a thought.
  • The New York Times real estate section is doing what it does best, declaring the new Milwaukee Bucks arena to be “a pivotal point for a city that has struggled with a decline in industrial activity,” because cranes, dammit, okay? Maybe somebody should have called over to the Times sports section to fact-check this?
  • And last but not least, Chris Hansen is now saying that his SoDo arena plan missed a chance at reconsideration by the Seattle city council because the council’s emails requesting additional information got caught in his spam filter or something. If that’s not a sign that it’s time to knock off for the weekend, I don’t know what is.

Hansen to Seattle: Okay, how about if we build two arenas?

Would-be Seattle arena builder Chris Hansen seems to have resigned himself to the city approving Oak View Group’s plan to renovate KeyArena, which appears to be a fait accompli despite its main backer resigning in disgrace last month. That doesn’t mean Hansen is giving up on his own arena dreams, though, not when Seattle could just have two pro sports arenas, amirite?

Hansen says he also now believes the city could move forward on KeyArena and his proposal.

“I think it would work better when you consider the purchase price for NBA teams. Look at Houston as an NBA comp,” said Hansen.

The NBA’s Rockets just sold for $2.2 billion.

“A venue with an NHL partners and music partner and NBA partner is inherently going to lead to issues,” he said, “with how to divvy up the pie.”

There are several things wrong with this argument. First off, one doesn’t “divvy up an arena pie,” because there is no pie: Arenas don’t bring in money, NBA and NHL games and concerts bring in money. I suppose one could argue that there are a few things about an arena you can only sell once regardless of how many events you hold there (naming rights and some ad signage, maybe), but those are unlikely to make up for the fact that you only have to pay to build one arena.

Secondly, the history of urban areas building multiple arenas for multiple pro teams is not great: They end up competing for concerts to fill the dates around the sports schedule, and something often ends up being demolished or abandoned. Sure, there are exceptions, especially in cities larger than Seattle where there are tons of concerts to go around. But again, putting in twice (or close to twice) the construction costs to get back the same amount of total sports and concert revenues is a pretty dumb business plan all around.

Plus, does it really make sense for Seattle to devote two parcels of land to sports arenas when one will do? You get the idea.

But hey, if Hansen wants to go up against Tim Leiweke in an arena marketing war, more power to him, I guess. This guy clearly really wants to own an NBA team in Seattle, and really thinks the best way to do that is to build an arena in SoDo. And I’m on record as saying I think Seattle should do everything in its power to keep both Hansen’s and Oak View’s bids alive to see if they’ll keep upping the ante, so really, all good here.