Friday roundup: Beckham stadium opposition, Arizona bill to block “disparaging” team names, and oh, so many soccer stadiums

So. Much. News:

  • F.C. Cincinnati CEO Jeff Berding says the team still hasn’t decided among stadium sites in the Oakley and West End neighborhoods and one in Newport, Kentucky, while it awaits traffic studies and whatnot, though the team owners did purchase an option to buy land in the West End to build housing for some reason? Still nobody’s talking about the $25 million funding gap that Berding insists the public will have to fill, but I’m sure they’ll get back to that as soon as they decide which neighborhood hates the idea of being their new home the least.
  • Here’s really sped-up footage of the final beam being put in place for D.C. United‘s new stadium.
  • Indy Eleven is officially moving this season from Carroll Stadium to the Colts‘ NFL stadium, but hasn’t figured out yet whether or how to lay down grass over the artificial turf. Might want to get on that, guys.
  • San Diego is looking at doing a massive redevelopment of the land around its arena, and as part of this isn’t extending AEG’s lease on running the place beyond 2020. This is either the first step toward a reasonable assessment of whether the city could be getting more value (both monetary and in terms of use) for a large plot of city-owned land, or the first step toward building a new arena in some boondoggle that would enable a developer to reap the profits from public subsidies — Voice of San Diego doesn’t speculate, and neither will I.
  • Some Overtown residents are still really, really, really unhappy with David Beckham’s Miami MLS stadium plans for their neighborhood, and have been getting in the papers letting that be known.
  • “Can stadiums save downtowns—and be good deals for cities?” asks Curbed, the official media site of tearing things down and building other things to turn a profit. You can guess what I say, but you’ll have to wade through a whole lot of self-congratulation and correlation-as-causation from the people who built the Sacramento Kings arena to get there.
  • Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg is still seeking as much as $650 million in stadium subsidies, with local elected officials holding secret meetings with lobbyists to make a project happen. WTSP’s Noah Pransky reports that “commissioners told 10Investigates there remains little appetite to make up the nine-figure funding gap the Rays have suggested may be needed to get a stadium built,” though, so we’ll see where all this ends up.
  • Arizona state rep Eric Descheenie, who is Navajo, has introduced a bill that would prohibit publicly funded stadiums in the state from displaying any team names or logos that local Native American tribes consider “disparaging,” which could make it interesting when the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Black Hawks, or Washington RedHawks come to town.
  • The U.S. Justice Department is investigating possible racketeering and other charges around bidding on major sports events, including American consulting firms that may have helped Russia get the Sochi Olympics and this year’s soccer World Cup. If they can’t find enough evidence to prosecute, they’re not watching enough TV.
  • I didn’t even know there was a surviving Negro League baseball stadium in Hamtramck, Michigan, let alone that there was a cricket pitch on it. Who’s up for a road trip?
  • The town of Madison — no, not the one you’re thinking of, the one in Alabama — is looking to build a $46 million baseball stadium with public money because “economic development.” They’re hoping to get the Mobile BayBears to move there, at which point the Huntsville region will undoubtedly become the same kind of global economic engine that is now Mobile.
  • An East Bay developer wants land in Concord (way across the other side of the Oakland Hills, though developing like crazy because everything is in the Bay Area right now) that’s owned by the BART transit system, and says they’ll build a USL soccer stadium if they can get it. Have you noticed that like half of these items are about soccer these days? Of course, half of all sports teams in the U.S. will be pro soccer teams soon the way league expansion is going, so that’s about right.
  • Here’s a map of failed New York City Olympic projects and how they helped Mayor Michael Bloomberg ruin neighborhoods. Sorry, did I say “ruin”? I meant “improve,” of course. This is from Curbed, after all.

NY Times business section cheers urban stadium trend, doesn’t seem to know why

The New York Times has a weird affinity for big sweeping articles about the stadium industry that don’t quite justify their declarative headlines, and the latest one ran in Friday’s business section under the headline “Welcome to the Neighborhood: America’s Sports Stadiums Are Moving Downtown“:

Across the country, in more than a dozen cities, downtowns are being remade as developers abandon the suburbs to combine new sports arenas with mixed-used residential, retail and office space back in the city. The new projects are altering the financial formula for building stadiums and arenas by surrounding them not with mostly idle parking lots in suburban expanses, but with revenue-producing stores, offices and residences capable of servicing the public debt used to help build these venues.

There is a germ of truth in this: Yes, more stadiums and arenas are being built near city downtowns instead of out in the suburbs, the Atlanta Braves‘ new ballpark notwithstanding. That’s true of everything, though, not just sports — we’re in the middle of what’s been dubbed the Great Inversion, a decades-long process where people are increasing moving back to cities instead of out of them. (For “people,” here, read “people with money and options” — plenty of people continued to live in and especially immigrate to big cities even in the 1960s and ’70s.) So yes, there are lots of mixed-use urban developments being built around sports venues, but there are plenty built even with no stadium, or even when a stadium was planned and not built. “America’s Sports Stadium Builders Jumping on Urban Land Rush Bandwagon” might have been a fairer headline.

On top of that, the Times article tries to counterpose the traditional business model where “owners threatened to move their teams if governments did not build them new stadiums along with the roads and public utilities needed to operate them” against the new downtown development trend. But plenty of urban ballpark districts have gotten public funding after team owners threatened to move — hell, the Sacramento Kings arena that is the article’s centerpiece is getting $226 million in public subsidies that were approved only after the team owners threatened to move the team to Seattle.

There are plenty of good things about building sports venues near urban centers: They’re easier to get to by public transit, they support more economic development in cities (such that they support much of any at all), and in general they promote the idea that cities are good places to live and work and go see high-priced entertainment. They also take up valuable land that could better be used on buildings that aren’t dark a couple hundred days a year, displace residents and businesses, and by promoting the idea that cities are good places to live and work and go see high-priced entertainment, spark gentrification and force out the city residents who are supposed to benefit from all this alleged economic development in the first place. The urban-stadiums trend is not a simple good, in other words — and it certainly has nothing to do with any shift away from public stadium subsidies, even if some urban stadium developers are using ancillary land grabs to help pay for their construction costs.

If you want one paragraph that neatly sums up the Times’s perspective, this quote from Kansas City city manager Troy Schulte on that city’s publicly funded downtown Sprint Center should do the trick:

M. Schulte acknowledges that although tax revenue from the district is steadily increasing, it is not clear that enough will be generated to cover the debt service. “But from the perspective of economic development and economic resurgence,” he said, “it’s the best $300 million we’ve ever spent.”

Urban sports venues: They don’t pay off for cities, but they’re still great! Your paper of record, people.

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.

Sacramento Kings arena to offer “rich door” for nearby condo owners

Sports venues with separate entrances for luxury-seat holders are old news by now, but sports venues with separate entrances for condo owners across the street from the building, like the Sacramento Kings are about to have — that’s a new wrinkle:

“I don’t want to sound snobby—you could go and stand outside, but why would you when you have the opportunity to go through a VIP tunnel?” asked Christopher Miller, vice president of The Agency Development Group, the broker handling sales for the building. “You’re not going to wait in line, you’re going to walk right in. It’s a level of exclusivity that you and your family are going to enjoy.”

The tunnel, which runs from the residents’ parking garage to the stadium’s VIP lounge, will be accessible to all residents and their guests. Ownership of any condominium at The Residences at The Sawyer, Miller said, comes with access to the VIP lounges and seating for Kings home games. (Concerts, which are generally run by a promoter that rents the arena, are a different story.)

(Nice touch, developer guy, for prefacing your pitch to give condo buyers a special tunnel to go to sporting events without having to rub elbows with the masses with “I don’t want to sound snobby.”)

The Bloomberg article on this is awfully vague, so it’s not clear whether condo owners are actually getting free admission to Kings games, or just the ability to buy tickets for Kings games and go there through your own private passageway. (If the former, presumably the developer is paying the Kings for the tickets.) Either way, this doesn’t seem like the best sales pitch, honestly — how many people are really going to pay enough extra for this to make it worth more than you’d get from just selling those tickets to the general public — but hey, knock yourselves out, developers. Unless any city of Sacramento money went to provide this tunnel access, in which case, ew.

Kings tripling what they charge Sacramento State for graduation ceremonies, thanks to new arena

It’s Friday, so let’s celebrate the end of a long week with a sad tale of how not to write an arena lease, courtesy of the Sacramento Bee:

The Sacramento Kings more than tripled the amount they will charge Sacramento State for commencement at the new Golden 1 Center compared to their old home, according to a document obtained by The Sacramento Bee.

Last spring, the university paid $59,842 to hold seven spring graduation ceremonies at Sleep Train Arena.

Sacramento State’s new contract with the Kings Arena Limited Partnership asks the university to pay a base fee of $50,000 plus “additional charges” not listed in the contract to have graduation at Golden 1 Center. University officials estimate those charges, which include traffic management, camera operators, lighting and stagehands will add another $140,595 to the bill – for a total cost of $190,595.

This is sad and bad for the state university campus, which will now be out an additional $130,000 that it could have used for, you know, school stuff. But hey, vagaries of the market and all, so what you gonna do, right?

Except that Sacramento’s deal with the Kings was that the city could use the new arena for nine “civic events” per year — and the Sacramento State graduation, which was previously held at the Kings’ old arena, wasn’t included. (It’s expected that all nine this year will be high school graduations.) So instead, one side effect of giving the Kings $255 million in city subsidies for their new arena is that the local university has to pay more for their graduation costs, because the venue is shinier now. It’s the kind of thing that the city could easily have remedied by demanding that Sacramento State get access to the arena in exchange for throwing public money at it, but Kevin Johnson had other things on his mind at the time.

Of course, another side effect is that the city of Sacramento is now out $255 million. You can spend the next three days determining which is the insult, and which the injury — happy weekend!

Sacramento paper says Kings arena won’t cost much in taxes, ignores tens of millions in taxes

Want to read a long, involved article about sports arena finance that tries to clarify things but is only likely to make readers much, much more confused? Dale Kasler and Tony Bizjak of the Sacramento Bee have you covered:

Welcome to Golden 1 Center. That’ll be $18.3 million, please.

That’s how much the city of Sacramento will pay each year to help fund the Kings’ new $556 million downtown arena, set to open Oct. 4.

So far, so good. The original projection was $21.9 million a year, but the city got a 5.67% interest rate instead of an even more extortionate 6.7%, so phew.

The Kings will pay an estimated two-thirds of the debt service through lease payments and property taxes generated by the new arena.

Errrr? The Kings’ lease payments start at $6.5 million a year, and do eventually escalate to $16.7 million by by the end of the lease. but while that may average almost two-thirds of the costs (57%, according to the Bee), it’s heavily skewed toward the distant future, and as anyone who’s taken out a loan (or, you know, handled money) should know, cash flow is way more valuable now than it is 30 years from now. (If you disagree, please lend me $10,000, and I will repay 100% of your costs with a $10,000 check in the year 2046.) So in present value terms, which is how one should be calculating this, it’s a whole lot less than two-thirds.

As for “property taxes” paying for the bonds, I have no idea where that’s coming from. Here’s the actual bond payment schedule, from the city council’s official plan:


I guess if you count the increased property taxes coming from the arena as a team “contribution,” then maybe that offsets some more of this. (The Bee counts them at $25 million, but doesn’t indicate if that’s present value or what.) But getting to use your property tax money to fund your construction costs is a rather special subsidy not available to normal humans, so shouldn’t be counted as something that is somehow reimbursing taxpayers for their costs.

Increased parking revenue only has to support about 10 percent of the debt, according to the city’s latest cash flow projections. About twice as much money will come from dollars that will get freed up when existing debt on city parking garages comes off the books several years from now.

What? Taking parking-garage debt payment money that otherwise would have returned to the general fund when the garages were paid off and instead funneling it to pay for the arena isn’t free money — it’s, well, money that otherwise would have been returned to the general fund. It’s good that it won’t have to come from parking meter fees, sure, but it’s still the public paying for it.

What this all adds up to is less “this won’t cost the public much” and more “don’t worry, the amount of public money we projected to pay off the arena will be enough to cover the bills.” Which, to be fair, is what Kasler and Bizjak say in the article, if you read carefully enough. (“City officials say Sacramento can handle the debt with room to spare, and without dipping into its general fund.”) Unfortunately, whoever wrote the Bee’s headline did not read carefully enough, and came up with this:

New Sacramento arena relies on city parking fees – plus lots of cash from Kings

And that, kiddies, is how journalism becomes spin.

Sacramento prepares to pay for new Kings arena with deluge of downtown parking fees

The new Sacramento Kings arena is set to open next month, at a cost of $556.6 million, $255 million of which will come from city coffers. And that also means the extension of parking-meter hours on downtown streets from 6 pm to 10 pm to raise money to pay for the public’s share. The Sacramento Bee has a good long article on how everyone is preparing for this (confusion, mostly), but I’d like to call out just one sentence of it:

Restaurant workers who now park on the street likely will have to adapt.

There are other considerations here for possible negative fallout — like, will some people start steering clear of downtown restaurants once they realize they have to pay for parking — and the city is offering discounted parking in downtown garages for some workers. Still, if you want one epitaph for the publicly funded sports venue era, you could do worse than “workers will have to adapt.”

Sacramento to flood downtown with lights and cops so Kings fans aren’t afraid of new arena

With the Sacramento Kings‘ new arena set to open in October, where’s that transformation it’s supposed to create for its downtown neighborhood, according to the standard pro-arena-development line? Part of it is coming, but it’s taxpayers who will be paying for it:

Likely beginning this week, the city will install 104 pedestrian-level streetlamps on dimly lit blocks leading to the arena as well as several parts of midtown. The $1.7 million lighting program will supplement added police patrols, new police cameras and volunteer guides who will work the streets around the arena during events.

The hope is to make newcomers to downtown feel safer, and to encourage more people to stick around at bars and restaurants before and after games when the arena opens this fall.

None of this is bad, per se. But the notion that sports venues automatically make people flock to an area takes a bit of a hit when the story becomes “build it, and then build new streetlights and flood the area with police patrols and cameras, and they will come.” The Sacramento Bee report adds that “the arena building itself has been designed to serve as a beacon, with glass walls allowing interior light to spill onto adjoining walkways and streets,” though that’s not going to do much for pedestrians on the 200+ nights a year where nothing’s going on at the arena.

If there’s another concern, it’s that the Bee reports that most of the arrests downtown currently are for drug possession, so this at least raises the specter of Sacramento police doing sweeps of downtown for unapproved citizens who might freak out the basketball-goers. “Revitalization” is a complex, murky concept, one that’s not always easily captured in a “does it look different than before?” snapshot, as much as boosters and journalists alike sometimes like to pretend it can be.

Seriously, how did Kevin Johnson end up running Sacramento like his own personal fiefdom?

The Baffler, the magazine that published what remains the best article I’ve ever seen on the scam that is the internship economy (and which remains even more of a scam today, if anything), has just published a long article by the Sacramento News & Review’s Cosmo Garvin on the disaster that has been Kevin Johnson’s political career, highlighted by spending $300 million on a new Kings arena that will open this fall. (Okay, also highlighted by charges that he’s a serial sexual abuser/harasser. Or maybe that’s a lowlight. Or maybe they both are.) It also talks about the lawsuit that Mayor KJ filed against Garvin and the N&R over his public records requests for city emails, and includes one of the best nut grafs you’ll ever see:

The lawsuit, the arena, KJ’s talent for diverting public resources for private gain, even the sex-creep stuff: to me, these facts seem to hang together under a common theme. The guy has boundary issues.

This gets into an area that I’ve always been curious about, which is: Why is it that so many local politicians, once they get into office, behave so much like, you know, politicians? Individuals who might have seemed perfectly sane in private life suddenly start mouthing platitudes and kowtowing to the usual moneyed interests and carrying out policies that are the exact opposite of what they’d promised. It’s incredibly common and fairly creepy, and a big reason why so many Americans don’t trust politicians as a group, even as they keep voting for them based on their promises.

Some of this, no doubt, is due to the political system itself: If you want to get re-elected, you need to say certain things and suck up to certain donors and make sure your daughter goes to a politically acceptable school, and so on. But I suspect that there’s a self-weeding aspect here as well. Think about it: There are thousands of former NBA players, many of which could use their celebrity to run for mayor of some city; why KJ? He certainly doesn’t need the money, or the fame. It takes a very special combination of ego, need for attention, and yes, lack of boundaries to decide that you’re going to merge your city with your personal brand, and declare that anyone opposed to one is opposed to both. And then sue them.

Obviously, not every mayor in the U.S. has set up their own secret government or molested teenagers — KJ is clearly special at this. But I think there’s a particular draw for people like that to run for public office: Anyone who can put up with the pressures of the political spotlight is going to require some, er, special characteristics, and they’re not necessarily ones that make for good management of the public interest. KJ is, by all accounts, a dangerous loon, but the system that put him in charge of a major American city is the bigger concern.

Not that I have any solutions to propose. Other than to ban unpaid internships, because that shit is seriously unethical and illegal.

Sacramento TV station stunned to find new Kings arena hasn’t cured homelessness

I’ve never seen it myself since I don’t live in Sacramento, but my impression is that FOX40 is a pretty bad news station, prone to reporting crazy-ass rumors as if they were true. (Though you could say that for most local newscasts, I suppose.) Anyway, last night they went to report on the new downtown Kings arena, and found that, glory be, it hasn’t cured homelessness:

One downtown with two very different faces. The drive to revive Sacramento is evident in a state-of-the-art arena. But that effort is facing a troubling problem on the streets.

One downtown, there is hope for a rebirth of a city and emergence from the shadows. The other: where people feel hopeless, forgotten in the shadows.

“They could spend $500 million on a basketball court, but they won’t put out a dime to help the homeless people,” said Larry, who lives on the streets.

The struggle on the streets juxtaposed to a downtown on the cusp of a rebirth.

It goes on and on like that, and on the one hand, using the Kings arena as a hook to examine chronic homelessness (though the examination doesn’t get much past “it exists”) isn’t the worst thing in the world. But on the other, this report reveals how deeply messed up local development reporting can be.

The key is that word “rebirth.” In developer-speak, all too often parroted by local news reports, rebirth or revitalization or renaissance is what happens to neighborhoods when you build new stuff. And new stuff is new, and newness is supposed to fix everything, whether it’s lack of jobs or a strained city treasury or the team being a chaotic disaster or, apparently, homelessness. We built you a new basketball arena, poor people, why do you persist in not being able to afford homes?

This is, frankly, an insane way to report on anything. If you want to go out and talk about how having homeless people sleeping downtown is an embarrassment to the elected officials who are trying to sell Sacramento as all cleaned up now, go for it. But noting all the new construction taking place downtown and then asking “Will it work?”, as FOX 40 does, shows a stunning misunderstanding of what redevelopment is supposed to accomplish — or worse, is an implication that the only “revitalization” that counts is the kind that makes the homeless disappear to somewhere else. After all, the Olympics get away with it.

I don’t want to come down too hard on the FOX40 reporters, really I don’t. But if you’re going to be a journalist, it’s vitally important that you not only think about what you’re covering, but about how you’re covering it, and what assumptions go into the way you frame your story. This news item ends up telling one story in its text — “homelessness bad and intractable!” — and another in its subtext — “how much concrete do we have to pour in order to fix social problems?” Sometimes good journalism is less about finding the right answers than asking the right questions.