End-of-year lists: The lazy journalist’s way to earn a paycheck while sucking down eggnog

It’s the Christmas-to-New Year’s interregnum, which means it can be time for only one thing: end-of-year lists! (Okay, really for two things: end-of-year lists and waiting impatiently for post-Christmas technical glitches to get resolved.) And already we have the clear front-runner for most outrageous end-of-year-list lede, courtesy of our old friend, the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Rich Kirchen:

The year 2013 may be remembered as the launching pad for Milwaukee’s new downtown arena.

I say that despite the fact that metro-area leaders are nowhere near reaching a decision on whether building a new arena or upgrading the existing BMO Harris Bradley Center would be best. Weighing heavily on those decisions, of course, is how to pay for any arena project.

Right, so no one knows where or whether to build a Bucks arena, or how to pay for it, but … the local chamber of commerce organized a task force! Which “didn’t do much at the first confab, but the fact that nearly all 48 members participated shows they are serious.” That’s perfect attendance, people! What more can you ask for?

In addition, Kirchen notes that incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver told Bucks sponsors in September that “the league views the BMO Harris Bradley Center as unfit for the league’s current standards,” which is practically in the commissioner job description, but which Kirchen made a big deal of at the time, so I suppose it’s not surprising that he’s making a big deal of it again now. Sure, it might have been nice if he’d mentioned how Milwaukee-area counties are lining up to refuse to contribute to arena costs, but that wouldn’t do much to help create the air of inevitability that Kirchen is going for, now would it?

Meanwhile, PolitiFact Georgia marks Boxing Day by celebrating its top Atlanta Falcons and Braves fact-checks of the year, from how Georgia appraises stadium property to the economic impact of a new stadium. Sadly, PolitiFact doesn’t actually fact-check its own fact-checks, but given the project’s propensity for finding partial truths on both sides on just about every issue — its four stadium rulings were one True, two Mostly Trues, and one Mostly False, though in the last case this seems to indicate that claims of job creation used real numbers, it just lied about what they mean — I feel comfortable grading PolitiFact’s work this year as Mostly Truthy.

Falcons stadium to cost an extra $200m, nobody bats an eyelash because stadiums

This morning on my weekly KUCI radio spot, host Heather McCoy asked me why it is that stadiums keep getting more and more ridiculously expensive to build. I replied that it has less to do with the price of raw materials or anything than the increasingly grandiose designs — like, just look at the new Atlanta Falcons stadium, which will cost $1 billion thanks to giant video screens and seats that vibrate when players make tackles and a roof that will close like an iris camera shutter.

And right on cue comes word that the cost of this monstrosity work of destination architecture will actually be $1.2 billion, because octagonal sliding iris roofs don’t come cheap. But not to worry, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reassures us, the public won’t be on the hook for the extra $200 million: “As specified in the deal struck early this year, bonds backed by Atlanta’s hotel-motel tax will cover $200 million of the cost of building the stadium. The rest will come from the Falcons, the NFL and personal seat license sales.”

Of course, the Falcons will also have about another $300 million in future tax kickbacks with which to defray their costs. But that’s not something that daily newspapers like to mention in polite company.

Still, this is undeniably $200 million more than Falcons owner Arthur Blank was expecting to spend, which makes you wonder: When told that he needs to write an extra $200 million in checks, does a guy like Blank really go, “Sure, what the heck, it’s only money”? Or does he figure that he’ll make it back on fans who’ll shell out more for tickets if only they can sit in vibrating seats? As usual, I’m not sure whether to assume that sports team owners have a secret plan for making money or are just as short-sighted as the rest of us. Not that it would matter, if they weren’t spending our money on their wacky dreams.

Falcons’ stadium site finally settled, state can get back to shoveling money at team

No surprise here since we’ve pretty much known it for a couple of weeks, Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay has declared it to be “definite” that the team will build its new stadium on the so-called south site, the one with the two churches that were holding out for more money for their land.

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority will end up spending $6.2 million toward purchasing one of the sites, while the Falcons will kick in the other $27.8 million. Which when you add in the rest of the tax money being funneled to the Falcons over the next 37 years, you get a taxpayer cost of … oh, let’s call it an even $560 million. Which may come as a surprise to Minnesota Public Radio, but now they know.

Second Atlanta church approves land sale, Falcons stadium saga almost finally done

The congregation of Friendship Baptist Church has agreed to sell its property to the Atlanta Falcons for $19.5 million, finally putting an end to one of the longest-running, most boring stadium battles ever. (For those who were away this summer, the new Falcons stadium was going to require relocating two 100-year-old-plus churches, and they didn’t want to sell at the Falcons’ price, and if they didn’t sell the stadium would still be built but across the street and … bored yet?) Now all that’s left is to settle the problem of bankrupt Morris Brown College, which the city has decided will be the new home of Friendship Baptist, even though the college and its alumni are arguing otherwise.

This will no doubt get resolved eventually too, but it’ll likely mean even more headlines about the deal in the coming weeks. Headlines, conveniently enough for the Falcons, that won’t involve questions about the $554 million in tax money that the team will be getting for their new stadium. Hey, you don’t think they could have planned it that way, do you? Naah.

Atlanta Mayor adds $8.3m to church land offer for Falcons stadium, won’t say who’s paying

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has now revealed how much more money he’s found to offer Mount Vernon Baptist Church for its land: another $8.3 million, bringing the total offer to $14.5 million to displace the church to make way for a Falcons stadium. That’s just $1 million less than the church’s last asking price.

Reed wouldn’t say, though, what the church’s reaction to the offer was, or even where the money came from:

“I’ll be happy to share that if we get a deal. I’m not going to have a conversation about where the resources to fund the $14.5 million offer are coming from until the church gives us their decision. I have a sense of where their leadership is, but I never pre-judge a vote because you never know how a vote’s going to turn out,” Reed said.

If Mount Vernon does approve the sale, then there will just be the little problem of the bankrupt college that doesn’t want to sell its land to the city in order to allow another church to move there and make way for the Falcons. Get comfortable, we could be here a while.

Atlanta either buying church site for Falcons or not buying church site for Falcons

Stop the presses! Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says that he’s found the money to buy Mount Vernon Baptist Church so that it can be relocated to make way for a new Falcons stadium. Or some of the money, anyway. He won’t say how much, or where it came from, or really much of anything:

The private money “has materialized,” Reed said. “I’m not prepared to discuss it yet. But we’re much closer on the Mt. Vernon transaction.”

Reed wouldn’t say whether the new private money is coming from the Atlanta Falcons. A Falcons spokeswoman did not respond to an email requesting comment.

An attorney for Mt. Vernon, Bill Montgomery, wouldn’t comment except to say that he is “cautiously optimistic” about the discussions to sell the church. Reed echoed that.

“I think in five to seven days we have to get a deal, or we don’t. And at that point, I’ll be fine with supporting the north site if we’re unable to come to an agreement,” Reed said.

I guess stay tuned. But not for more than five to seven days.

Reed’s claim on Falcons stadium land spending limits ruled false, overturned on instant replay review

Hey, everybody, I’m back! Let’s see what we missed while I was gone … hey, it looks the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Truth-o-Meter has called into question Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s statement that the state is limited in how much money it can spend on land for a Falcons stadium:

The mayor said the state, specifically the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which is in charge of negotiations with the church, can only offer a certain amount of money. Reed explained during an Aug. 7 interview with Sports Radio 680 The Fan.

“The state has some limitations on what they can pay above the appraised price. … We’re not going to be able to pay Mount Vernon $19.5 million because of the constraints that the state has in what they can pay,” Reed said on the station’s The Front Row program…

Reed’s statement is based on an interpretation of a portion of the Georgia Constitution, purportedly long-held best practices and an almost two-decade-old attorney general’s opinion on property leases. The mayor and others have turned to the opinion and language in the state constitution as case law.

The mayor, however, specifically said this: “State law says that once the state appraises a piece of property, they can only pay it a certain amount above appraisal.”

That’s a precise statement. And our research found no laws establishing this limit.

We rated Reed’s claim False.

So that’s big news if the state isn’t actually limited to paying the appraised value for the church land, since it means that that $9.3 million funding gap might be fillable after all. Gee, I wonder what else I might have missed while away…

PolitiFact originally rated Reed’s claim False. But state Attorney General Sam Olens disagreed, saying the mayor was correct. Reed, too, asked us to rethink our rating. PolitiFact decided to do more digging and reconsider its original ruling, drawing in more expertise…

Olens said in an email to PolitiFact that his office has for decades interpreted the Gratuities Clause in the state constitution as limiting the state to “paying fair market value for property, absent some additional source of value that the state receives from the transaction.”

The Attorney General’s Office believes there’s no gray area concerning state guidelines on appraisals, said Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for Olens.

“It’s a black and white issue,” she said…

Given that, we reverse our earlier ruling.

We rate Reed’s statement True.

The truly hilarious part here — other than that the AJC seriously has a column called the “Truth-o-Meter” — is that Reed is the guy advocatingfor the state buying the church land, so presumably would have a vested interest in trying to make the case for the state being able to kick in more to do so. So it’s not exactly surprising that he knew what he was talking about here, since what politician lies in order to undermine his own interests?

Anyway, we’re back to where we started: The state can only legally pay $6.2 million for Mount Vernon’s land, Mount Vernon wants $15.5 million, and only Reed and the Atlanta city council seem to care whether the stadium gets built there as opposed to on the competing north site. Meanwhile, Reed has apparently promised to relocate Friendship Baptist Church, the other church in the way for the stadium, to the campus of a bankrupt local college that is currently trying to sell itself off to pay its debts, and now Friendship has delayed its membership vote on the sale while college supporters are holding pray-ins to try to keep the campus intact. Maybe the AJC should really be running a “Bizarr-o-Meter” instead.

The “operating subsidies” epidemic: How sports teams get cities to throw good money after bad

I’m on the road the next couple of days, so posting will be lighter than usual. First, though, I’ll leave you with some reading material: My debut article for Al Jazeera America’s relaunched website, examining how teams like the Phoenix Coyotes, Indiana Pacers, and Atlanta Falcons have extracted sweetheart leases that pay them millions of dollars a year in public “operating subsidies” even as their host cities slash services and raise taxes. Here’s a sample:

To pay off the initial Pacers arena cost — plus the $650 million that it sank into a new stadium for the Colts football team — Indianapolis’ Capital Improvement Board had already cut off all of its arts and tourism grants the year before. To help fill the new gap, Mayor Greg Ballard funneled city property-tax revenues to the board, even as he asked city agencies to reduce library hours and close public pools because of budget shortfalls.

“Indianapolis might be a great place to visit, but it should be a better place to live,” says Pat Andrews, a longtime Indianapolis community activist and blogger who has closely followed the Pacers deal. In addition to cuts to parks, transit and other services, she notes, the city police force has stopped recruiting new officers because of budget cuts, and murders have risen dramatically this year. “The basic services of the city are suffering at the same time the Simons and [Colts owner Jim] Irsay are making out like bandits.”

Read, and discuss.

Atlanta mayor still negotiating to buy church that Falcons don’t want

Yes, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed really really wants to build a Falcons stadium on his preferred south site, even if nobody else does. On Friday he announced triumphantly that Mount Vernon Baptist Church has lowered the requested price for its land from $20.4 million to $15.5 million — which is still $9.3 million more than the state can pay for it under state law, but hey, compromise!

No word from the state Georgia World Congress Center Authority on all of this yet, but apparently city chief operating officer Duriya Farooqui, Gov. Nathan Deal, and GWCCA director Frank Poe are all going on a trade mission to China this week, and Reed is hopeful they’ll be able to work something out during the trip. Or maybe find $9.3 million that someone inadvertantly left in the seatback pocket.

Falcons referendum bid falls short, Falcons site squabble carries on

Common Cause Georgia has conceded defeat in its attempt to force a public vote on the Atlanta Falcons stadium plan, after collecting only about 10,000 of the needed 35,000 signatures. This is a pretty sad showing for a referendum on a project that pretty much everyone in Atlanta hates, made only sadder by the painful football metaphor used in CCGA’s press release announcing its concession (“As the clock runs out, it appears the ‘Hail Mary’ pass we threw up will not result in a touchdown…”).

If there’s a silver lining for opponents of the Falcons plan, it’s that the city seems to be headed to all-out war with the team and state over the stadium site, with city council president Ceasar Mitchell now refusing to let the stadium funding advance out of committee. The proximate cause of Mitchell’s action is that there’s no community benefits agreement in place — “We have significant impediments that are preventing us from having significant conversation about community benefits,” he said — but one of those impediments is that Mayor Kasim Reed and the state and Falcons are squabbling over where the stadium will actually go, which makes it tough to determine which community needs to talk about getting benefits.

This may all get worked out sooner than later, but right now it’s an unexpected obstacle to what looked like an all-but-finalized stadium plan. Though I guess that’s what the “all-but” is for. Hail Marys aren’t the only unexpected ways that football games can end.