Friday stadium news: Warriors subway delays, MLS expansion scuttlebutt, ungrateful Hamilton

Oh hey, yeah, I forgot to mention that it’s the most important holiday of the year this week (and part of next), so posting may be a bit sporadic until Wednesday or so. But I could never ignore the weekly news roundup, so let’s get to it:

  • San Francisco’s new Central Subway likely won’t open until 2021, more than a year later than planned, which will mean a couple of seasons of Golden State Warriors fans walking or taking shuttle buses. Honestly, it’s not all that far, but I’m sure there will still be complaining.
  • David Beckham got some new minority partners for his MLS team that still doesn’t quite exist yet. Supposedly the league will issue an “update” on the Miami stadium situation soon, which maybe sounds ominous only to me because I think that way?
  • The city of Phoenix has now spent $200,000 on a Suns arena consultant, and still the city council doesn’t have any information yet even on what kinds of upgrades the arena might need, because the mayor says he has to keep negotiations with the team secret. From the city council. No, it sounds crazy to me, too.
  • The owner of the Hamilton Bulldogs junior hockey team offered to build a new arena and only ask taxpayers to foot half the bill, and he’s mad that the city hasn’t thanked him yet.
  • Cincinnati’s highway bridges are falling down, but the city is spending money on a new MLS stadium (maybe?) before addressing that, because hotel taxes and other money going to the stadium isn’t allowed to be used on highway infrastructure. You know, maybe cities and counties should start allowing things like hotel taxes to be used to improve other things that benefit tourists, like roads that don’t have overpasses fall on them when you drive under? Just a thought.
  • The Republican tax bill isn’t finalized yet, and we don’t know if the ban on tax-exempt stadium funding will survive, but the Detroit News speculates that if it does, it might help Detroit’s MLS expansion chances because it’s the only city that wouldn’t be building a new stadium. MLS already supposedly voted on the expansion cities yesterday, though, so you think the league owners called Congress for a sneak peek at the final bill? Does MLS have that kind of pull with Congress?

Friday news: Phoenix funds Brewers but not Suns, brewers float crowdfunding Crew, and more!

So, so much news this week. Or news items, anyway. How much of this is “news” is a matter of opinion, but okay, okay, I’ll get right to it:

  • Four of Phoenix’s nine city council members are opposed to the Suns‘ request for $250 million in city money for arena renovations, which helps explain why the council cut off talks with the team earlier this week. Four other councilmembers haven’t stated their position, and the ninth is Mayor Greg Stanton, who strongly supports the deal, meaning any chance Suns owner Robert Sarver has of getting his taxpayer windfall really is going to come down to when exactly Stanton quits to run for Congress.
  • Speaking of Phoenix, the Milwaukee Brewers will remain there for spring training for another 25 years under a deal where the city will pay $2 million a year for the next five years for renovations plus $1.4 million a year in operating costs over 25 years, let’s see, that comes to something like $35 million in present value? “This is a great model of how a professional sports team can work together with the city to extend their stay potentially permanently, which is amazing, and we’re doing it in a way where taxpayers are being protected,” said Daniel Valenzuela, one of the councilmembers opposed to the Suns deal, who clearly has a flexible notion of “great” and “protected.”
  • And also speaking of Phoenix (sort of), the Arizona Coyotes are under investigation by the National Labor Relations Board for allegedly having “spied on staff, engaged in union busting and fired two employees who raised concerns about pay.” None of which has anything directly to do with arenas, except that 1) this won’t make it any easier for the Coyotes owners to negotiate a place to play starting next season, when their Glendale lease runs out, and 2) #LOLCoyotes.
  • A U.S. representative from Texas is trying to get Congress to grandfather in the Texas Rangers‘ new stadium from any ban on use of tax-exempt bonds in the tax bill, saying it would otherwise cost the city of Arlington $200 million more in interest payments since the bonds haven’t been sold yet. (Reason #372 why cities really should provide fixed contributions to stadium projects, not “Hey, we’ll sell the bonds, and you pay for whatever share you feel like and we’ll cover the rest no matter how crappy the loan deal ends up being.”) Also, the NFL has come out against the whole ban on tax-exempt bonds because duh — okay, fine, they say because “You can look around the country and see the economic development that’s generated from some of these stadiums” — while other sports leagues aren’t saying anything in public, though I’m sure their lobbyists are saying a ton in private.
  • A Hamilton County commissioner said he’s being pressured to fund a stadium for F.C. Cincinnati because Cincinnati will need a sports team if the Bengals leave when their lease ends in 2026 and now newspapers are running articles about whether the Bengals are moving out of Cincinnati and saying they might do so because of “market size” even though market size really doesn’t matter to NFL franchise revenues because of national TV contracts and oh god, please make it stop.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says the proposed Oakland A’s stadium site has pros and cons. Noted!
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the Calgary Flames‘ arena “needs to be replaced” and the team can’t be “viable for the long term” without a new one. Not true according to the numbers that the team is clearing about $20 million in profits a year, but noted anyway!
  • Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley is set to announce his proposal for city subsidies for F.C. Cincinnati today, but won’t provide details. (Psst: He’s already said he’ll put up about $35 million via tax increment financing kickbacks.)
  • The Seattle Council’s Committee on Civic Arenas unanimously approved Oak View Group’s plan to renovate KeyArena yesterday, so it looks likely that this thing is going to happen soon. Though apparently the House tax bill would eliminate the Historic Preservation Tax Credit, which the project was counting on for maybe $60 million of its costs, man, I really need to read through that entire tax bill to see what else is hidden in it, don’t I?
  • The owners of the Rochester Rhinos USL club say they need $1.3 million by the end of the month to keep from folding, and want some of that to come from county hotel tax money. Given that the state of New York already paid $20 million to build their stadium, and the city of Rochester has spent $1.6 million on operating expenses over the last two seasons to help out the team, that seems a bit on the overreaching side, though maybe they’re just trying to fill all their spaces in local-government bingo.
  • There’s a crowdfunding campaign to buy the Columbus Crew and keep them from moving to Austin. You can’t kick in just yet, but you can buy beer from the beer company that is proposing to buy the team and then sell half of it to fans, and no, this whole thing is in no way an attempt to get free publicity on the part of the beer company, why do you ask?

Phoenix city council tells Suns owner to take his arena demands and shove them

Remember last week when the two leading candidates for Phoenix mayor said they didn’t want to spend public money on a new or renovated Suns arena, and I said let’s wait until the Phoenix city council finishes its secret meetings on the arena plans and see what the actual decision-makers have to say about it? Well, the council seems to have finished its arena meetings, or at least have decided it’s had enough talking about it:

The City of Phoenix has suspended talks with the Phoenix Suns over a proposed $450 million renovation of Talking Stick Resort Arena, according to people familiar the City Council’s action Tuesday behind closed doors…

The two sides are reportedly far apart on the terms of the deal…

Councilwoman Kate Gallego said [last week] it wasn’t “in Phoenix’s best interest to invest in an arena.” Councilman Daniel Valenzuela followed Gallego’s statement with his own: “Taxpayers have been expected to foot the bill for sports venues. That practice must stop now.”

According to people familiar with Tuesday’s executive session, Valenzuela called in via phone, but hung up when it was his turn to state his position on the renovation.

Oof, that is cold. But not entirely unwarranted, given that Suns owner Robert Sarver is demanding $250 million in public cash for a building that’s only 25 years old by hinting he’ll “explore other options” if he doesn’t get it.

This seems likely to slam the door on any chances that an arena will get pushed through before current team-friendly mayor Greg Stanton leaves office in 2018, which means Sarver is going to have to make some tough choices on how to play that move threat card once either Gallego or Valenzuela is behind the mayor’s desk. Could this end up being the Arizona equivalent of the Calgary Flames-Naheed Nenshi public faceoff? One can only hope, because that has been the best, especially for unvarnished commentary on how the arena sausages are made.

Suns owner is demanding $250m in arena renovation cash, shh, it’s a secret

Hey, I haven’t heard much about plans for a renovated Phoenix Suns arena lately. Why haven’t I been hearing about that?

You haven’t heard much about this deal because it’s being hammered out behind closed doors.

Oh, thanks, KPNX-TV! And thanks also for reporting on this, even though there’s nobody making press statements about it, which I know is the main way journalism happens these days. So what’s the scoop?

A source familiar with the project says a proposed overhaul of the 25-year-old city-owned arena could cost close to a half-billion dollars, with taxpayers picking up more than half the bill.

Oho, so we have someone making not-for-attribution press statements about this! Also, “more than $250 million in taxpayer money” is a hell of a lot, especially for just a damn renovation to an existing arena.

Both of the leading candidates in next year’s Phoenix mayoral election seem to agree, with Kate Gallego issuing a statement that “it is not in Phoenix’s best interest to invest in an arena,” while her opponent Daniel Valenzuela chimed in, “For too long, taxpayers have been expected to foot the bill for sports venues. This practice must stop now.”

Of course, neither of these statements is a guarantee that as mayor they wouldn’t support any kind of arena subsidies — or, for that matter, that current mayor Greg Stanton couldn’t sign off on a deal before he leaves office a year and change from now. But “things aren’t going any better for Suns owner Robert Sarver’s arena subsidy demands at the city level than they did in the state legislature” is probably a pretty fair takeaway, at least until the city council finishes meeting behind closed doors and we can get a public statement of some kind.

Friday roundup: Saskatoon soccer frenzy, Phoenix hotel sale to fund Suns, and more!

And more!

Suns owner: We want to stay put in renovated NBA-only arena, or else … something

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver said a whole bunch of stuff yesterday to AZcentral:

Suns owner Robert Sarver told azcentral sports Wednesday that it’s “highly unlikely” the Suns will pursue a joint basketball/hockey arena with the Arizona Coyotes…

Sarver said his focus is on an upgrade of Talking Stick Resort Arena.

“This facility was built for basketball,” he said…

Sarver said building a new arena would have “maybe made more sense” four or five years ago when the cost estimate was $450 million to $500 million. The costs now, Sarver said, are “significantly higher.” Thus his focus on upgrading Talking Stick, which soon will be the second-oldest arena in the NBA.

“I think it’s the most economically viable alternative for the city and us,” he said. “I like downtown Phoenix. That’s my first preference. I think the NBA is more of an urban game. That’s our demographic.”

Sarver added that he’d like to say in downtown Phoenix but that, “if we can’t, we’ll explore other options.”

During the news conference Sarver said the Suns “have no choice” but to either modernize Talking Stick Resort Arena or build a new arena.

“Our arena is becoming outdated,” he said. “… We have to have an NBA-quality facility. I know that. The city of Phoenix knows that. Hopefully in the next couple of years we can start construction on something.”

Let’s unpack that: Sarver doesn’t want to build a new arena with the Arizona Coyotes because it’d be too expensive, and also he wants to stay in downtown Phoenix, but if he can’t upgrade his current arena there he’ll have to build a new one elsewhere because they “have no choice.”

That’s a big ball of contradictions, unless you take it as all tactical: Sarver is putting all his cards on a renovation of his current Phoenix arena, and wants to use moving elsewhere as a threat, not an actual option. You’d think he’d at least consider sharing digs with the Coyotes as a way to cut down on competition for concerts and things with another arena, but maybe he doesn’t want to have to partner with a franchise that can’t draw flies, or figures maybe the Coyotes will leave town and he can have a monopoly on the winter sports market, either of which is a reasonable enough gambit.

Sarver still isn’t saying much about how to pay for an arena remodel, just restating the “this place is almost 30 years old, time to send it to the Carrousel” mantra he’s been holding to for the last three years. Either he’s working behind the scenes on a funding plan, or he’s hoping state legislators will do it for him — again, either way, an understandable strategy. But eventually he’s going to have to actually say something concrete, at which point you have to hope Phoenix city officials will say: You said you have no choice but to build an upgraded facility and that you want to stay in Phoenix, so what are you going to do if we don’t give you money for it, hold your breath and turn blue?

Coyotes owner buys out fellow owners, time to pretend this helps build new arena somehow

The Arizona Coyotes‘ mostly silent majority partner, hedge fund manager Andrew Barroway, has bought out the rest of his ownership partners, including the far less silent CEO Anthony LeBlanc, for an undisclosed price. And naturally, somebody thinks that regime change will mean a new life for plans for a new arena:

Sure, okay? KPNX-TV reports that “Phoenix insiders say Suns owner Robert Sarver wants nothing to do with the Coyotes [and] LeBlanc’s departure might change that,” so maybe Barroway is a more personable guy or something, and now arena partnerships will abound! Or at least Barroway will remember to invite his partners to his arena press conference, which would be a start!

The problem remains how to find money to pay for a new arena, when this whole thing started because the Coyotes ownership didn’t want to keep playing in their old new arena unless they were paid a hefty annual fee to do so. Sharing costs between the Suns and Coyotes owners will help some, but then they’ll have to share revenues as well (can’t sell naming rights to a building twice just because two teams play there), so it hardly is a panacea. Maybe it gives some new life to, or at least an excuse for new tweets about, Mayor Greg Stanton’s Rube Goldberg scheme of using tax money to pay for a new arena while pretending not to use tax money to pay for a new arena, but since it’s not like money operates differerently for Barroway than for LeBlanc, I don’t see where this changes much other than the names on the letterhead.

AZ legislators not actually all that stoked about approving $1b-plus in sports subsidies

So it turns out that giving Arizona Coyotes owner Anthony LeBlanc $170 million in state tax breaks to move from one part of the Phoenix area to another and also approving as much as $375 million in tax breaks for any other pro sports team that wanted a new stadium isn’t so popular in the Arizona state legislature after all. Or at least, isn’t quite popular enough to get a majority, probably:

A plan that would provide $225 million in public financing for a new $395 million Arizona Coyotes arena likely does not have the votes to pass the state Senate, key lawmakers told The Arizona Republic/azcentral Thursday.

Sens. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, and John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said they definitely were going to vote against the plan, while Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, said there is little support among the chamber’s 13 Democrats. Meanwhile, Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said he had “serious reservations” about the plan that would allow the National Hockey League team to build an arena in downtown Phoenix or the East Valley.

The utter stupidity of such a plan aside, this points up the political difficulty of getting state support for the subsidy deal: In addition to it becoming a partisan political issue (the sponsor of the bill is a member of the state’s Republican majority), there are regional splits as well, with West Valley legislators of both parties opposing a bill that would likely be used to subsidize a move of the Coyotes out of Glendale, which is in the West Valley. (Peoria is adjacent to Glendale, though Fountain Hills is in the East Valley.) Add in any legislators who are just opposed on the principle that throwing over a billion dollars at your state’s sports teams for no damn reason is a terrible idea — hey, it’s always possible — and the bill is “on life support,” according to the Arizona Republic.

Not that it won’t eventually happen, in some form. (You know how politicians love to haggle.) But it looks like it’s going to take a few more strands of spaghetti thrown at the wall before one of them sticks.

Arizona senators push to give Coyotes, Suns, D-Backs up to $1.1b for new arenas and stadium

Arizona Coyotes owner Anthony LeBlanc may not have any idea where he wants to build a new hockey arena now that Arizona State University pulled out of a planned venue in Tempe, but that’s not going to stop members of the Arizona state senate from pushing legislation to give him $170 million in sales- and hotel-tax kickbacks to help build one. And hey, while we’re at it, let’s make it easier for the Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns to get state subsidies, too:

The bill would allow creation of “community engagement” districts of up to 30 acres. Within them, up to half of the state’s share of sales taxes generated from retail sales and hotel stays would be dedicated to paying the bond debt for new sports or entertainment facilities. It also would allow an additional 2 percent district sales tax to be applied to all purchases within the district, with those revenues also dedicated to defraying the cost of facility construction.

In the case of the Coyotes, the plan envisions public funding covering 57 percent of a new arena’s cost, with new sales taxes covering $170 million and the host city contributing $55 million. The Coyotes said the team’s portion would be $170 million, amounting to a 43 percent contribution toward the $395 million total cost.

This is a bit of a hybrid bill, combining super-TIFs (where half of existing sales and hotel taxes would be kicked back to pay teams’ construction costs) with a new sales tax surcharge in the area around the new sports venue. The math on how much of a subsidy this amounts to gets dicey — virtually all of a TIF would be cannibalized from sales and hotel tax receipts elsewhere in the state, but a slice of a sales tax surcharge could come out of a team owner’s pockets, depending on how big the surcharge area is — but the vast majority of it would be a straight-up gift to team owners, all to allow cities in one part of Arizona to steal teams from cities in another.

You’ll note that I said “teams,” not just the Coyotes. That’s because the new super-TIF districts could be applied to help build any new sports and entertainment facilities. The only limit is that state money would only be allowed to pay for half of construction costs up to $750 million — meaning that if the Coyotes, Suns, and Diamondbacks all availed themselves of the legislation, as you know they would love to do, Arizona taxpayers could potentially be on the hook for $1.125 billion. (If the Coyotes stick to their $170 million demand, the max would be only $920 million, but as we’ve seen before, sports construction costs only tend to go up, and there’s nothing stopping LeBlanc from revising his ask as time goes on.)

Now, the bill has so far only passed one committee in one branch of the Arizona legislature — Sen. Bob Worsley of Mesa used one of those “gut an unrelated bill and insert your own language” tricks to get it on the agenda of his own transportation and technology committee — and none of the teams involved have identified places where they’d like to build new facilities, or how to pay for their halves. Still, it’s a pretty remarkable response to a “crisis” started by the Coyotes’ need to leave their nearly-new arena in Glendale because … hey, Coyotes ownership, why do you need to leave again?

“It does not work in Glendale,” Ahron Cohen,the team’s general counsel, told the Senate panel. “In 2013, our ownership group bought the team. The previous ownership chose to go out there.”

Oh. Well, if it “doesn’t work,” then it doesn’t work. I thought you were going to say something about how you couldn’t bear to be forced to compete for the rights to operate the arena instead of just being handed $8 million a year by Glendale in a no-bid contract. Good thing it’s not that, because asking the state of Arizona to pay you a couple hundred mil to get you out of that pickle would be chutzpah in the Nth degree, and only complete morons in state government would actually consider it.

Phoenix mayor explains grooviness of using taxes for Suns-Coyotes arena: It’s cheaper than two arenas!

Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton made his pitch for a new publicly funded arena for the Suns and Coyotes yesterday, and he didn’t provide much more specifics than when he leaked it the day before: He will use tax money, but he won’t raise taxes to pay for it, and he’s for it because he thinks it will bring more spending to downtown Phoenix.

“I as mayor will do everything I can to pursue a course that makes a new facility home to the Suns, the (Phoenix) Mercury and the Coyotes,” Stanton said, noting the WNBA franchise as well. “Building two new sports arenas in our region simply doesn’t make fiscal or common sense.”

He’s right there, as far as it goes: One arena is definitely cheaper than two, albeit a lot more expensive than zero. So does building one new sports arena make fiscal or common sense for Phoenix?

Stanton’s funding plan, based on what little he’s revealed about it, would be a bit of a Rube Goldberg scheme, avoiding new taxes by siphoning every last bit of value out of existing ones. Currently, Phoenix levies hotel and car rental taxes and uses the proceeds to pay off a bunch of past construction projects, including the Suns’ existing arena (opened in 1992), a Sheraton hotel, and other buildings. (Note: This is separate from the county hotel and car rental taxes that pay off the Arizona Cardinals stadium and which were partly ruled unconstitutional in 2014.) The current arena will be paid off in 2022, however, and the hotel plus a downtown biotech building are in the process of being sold off, which would free up those tax revenues to be used for something else.

Great, free money, right? Not exactly. First off, the “something else” could be pretty much anything — in the most extreme example, the city could just cancel the hotel and car rental taxes once the existing arena is paid off, and either leave taxes low as an inducement to visitors or levy new ones to fund other needs. And on top of that, selling the Sheraton to get out from under its debt load isn’t without a cost: The buyer is effectively getting the building for free by paying off $300 million in remaining debt, and the city will lose any future profits it would be getting from the hotel. (The Sheraton currently loses money, but that’s partly because any revenue it brings in goes right back out to help pay off its construction debt.)

In short, then, Stanton is saying that the city’s decision in 1990 to build a new arena for the Suns is an open-ended commitment to keep on building new arenas for the Suns into eternity, while selling off any city assets necessary to make that possible. That’s a legitimate political position, I suppose, but you can see why he chose not to frame it that way. Or to put a price tag on it. Because people are cranky enough about it already.