Friday roundup: Tokyo Olympics back on, NFL doesn’t understand vaccines, and other hygiene theater stories

It was yet another one of those weeks, where you finally look up from the news that’s obsessing everybody only to find that while you weren’t looking, monarch butterflies had moved to the verge of extinction. There doesn’t seem to be an end to this anytime soon — which is pretty much the motto of this website, so let’s get on with it:

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Jacksonville kills $200m Jaguars Lot J subsidy, Khan says he’ll ask for money for some other project instead

So! Last Thursday the Jacksonville city council’s committee of the whole voted 15-4 in favor of granting more than $200 million in subsidies to Jaguars owner Shad Khan for his Lot J development project, making it a fait accompli that the plan would get the needed 13 votes for approval when the full council (the exact same people as the committee of the whole) voted on it last night. And then this happened:

The Jacksonville City Council on Tuesday rejected a $233 million development deal with Jaguars owner Shad Khan to build his proposed Lot J development next to TIAA Bank Field, as the deal was unable to overcome a barrage of criticism that it required too much of taxpayers and offered too little in return

Supporters of the bill defeated an attempt made Tuesday by Council President Tommy Hazouri to strip a controversial $65.5 million interest free “breadbox” loan from the deal, which Khan’s development team said was a necessary condition for them to build the development.

However, their efforts were a pyrrhic victory. Without the removal of the loan, the deal lost supporters and died in a 12-7 vote, one shy of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.

Wha’ happened? In last night’s vote, councilmembers Randy DeFoor, Garrett Dennis, and Joyce Morgan switched sides to join Al Ferraro, Matt Carlucci, Danny Becton, and Tommy Hazouri in opposing the deal. Media reports aren’t entirely clear on what caused the defections — the Jacksonville Daily Record cited concerns about “an expected low return on investment for the city, lack of hard construction costs and a financial viability gap analysis being withheld by Cordish and what the public perceived as a lack of transparency in the deal,” but all that was as true last week as this one. (A financial analysis of the deal by the city auditor way back in November projected that the city would only get back 44 cents in revenue for each dollar it spent on subsidies.) It surely didn’t help when Dennis and Mayor Lenny Curry had a Twitter war last week accusing each other of cheating on their wives, but that still doesn’t quite explain why all three members voted one way last week and the other way yesterday.

Anyway, since the council still approved more than $155 million in Lot J subsidies (the $65.5 million interest-free loan would have only been worth maybe $30-40 million in value to Khan), what normally happens next is that the team will go back to the drawing board to see if it can rework the deal, maybe splitting the difference to, wait, what’s that now?

“We’ve pulled the plug on Lot J. It’s dead, but it doesn’t change the way we started this,” [Jaguars president Mark] Lamping said…

Lamping said Khan now will shift his focus to negotiation with the Downtown Investment Authority for his proposed Four Seasons hotel and medical, residential and retail development on the St. Johns riverfront at Metropolitan Park and the Shipyards.

There are a couple of things that could be going on here. The first, and less likely, one is that Khan is trying to grease the skids for a move out of Jacksonville by making a series of crazy demands and then throwing up his hands when the council rejects them, saying, hey, I tried. Or, the Lot J scheme was genuinely such a money-loser that Khan really only was into it if he could get a huge pile of city cash to do so; and now that the city has only offered a chintzy $155 million, he’ll move on to his next project and see if that raises less of a stink with the council. (And/or helps him revive interest in his Shipyards plan, which was fading as of last summer.) And, of course, the as-yet-unspecified amount of money he’s seeking for renovations to his stadium, which was just renovated in 2014 and again in 2017. Shad Khan is determined to have his publicly supported payday someday, somewhere, it’s just a matter of figuring out where to squeak his wheel.

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Friday roundup: Jacksonville doubles down on $200m+ Jaguars subsidy, MSG replacement vaportectured, Norfolk arena sabers rattled

So, yeah, some stuff happened this week, and is continuing to happen now. But let’s not let rampaging Viking cosplayers distract us from the fact that the new year has also brought a resurgence in sports subsidy activity, with a whole lot of news that normally I might write individual posts about if I hadn’t been up too late refreshing Google News, so instead you’ll have to bear with me through some long bullet points:

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Friday roundup: Phoenix to get USL stadium with giant disappearing soccer ball, plus more fallout from MLB slashing minor league teams

Too much going on this week to have time for more than a brief intro, but I do want to note that “’Company announces advertising campaign’ is not a story, no matter how easily that campaign can be metabolized by the publications it’s aimed at” is something that should be tattooed on the foreheads of all journalists, even if it is a quote from an article about Pantone colors.

And now, how sports team owners and their friends are trying to rip you off this week:

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The only thing Jacksonville residents hate more than Jaguars Lot J subsidies is Jaguars stadium subsidies

The polls are in from Jacksonville — well, one poll is, anyway — and local residents are strongly opposed to spending $200 million in public money on Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s Lot J development project, even more strongly opposed to funding a $250 million stadium renovation, and even more strongly in favor of Khan’s plans going to a public vote:

When registered voters were asked whether they support or oppose the city’s [Lot J] spending proposal, 54% of respondents said they strongly or somewhat oppose it with 43% supporting strongly or somewhat.

A strong majority of all respondents, 80%, said the question should be put to Jacksonville voters in the form of a referendum…

Respondents were also asked whether they support or oppose the City of Jacksonville splitting the cost of major improvements to TIAA Bank Field with the Jaguars, costing the city $250 million. A large majority, 62%, were opposed to this idea, with just 37% supporting the proposal. An even greater majority opposed building a new stadium for $700 million, at 77%.

None of this is surprising: It’s very common for local residents to be opposed to handing over hundreds of millions of dollars to local sports team owners, because, well, duh. It almost certainly doesn’t help that the Jaguars have been terrible in recent memory (when I just Googled “Jacksonville Jaguars record,” the first “People also ask” suggestion was “How bad are the Jacksonville Jaguars?”) and that Khan has already been to the well on this before: According to Jacksonville Business Journal, 49% of poll respondents said “previous public-private partnerships failed to live up to expectations.”

In the halls of political power and the adjacent corridors of sportswriting, though, it’s usually seen as appropriate to kowtow a bit to the local billionaire, which can make it difficult when determining how to balance the 800-pound gorilla asking for cash with the constituents (or readers) who are clamoring not to give it to him. This brings us to this amazing Florida Times Union column by former Jacksonville sports anchor and Jaguars preseason play-by-play announcer Sam Kouvaris, which bends over backwards to say that the Khan deal is both terrific and terrible at the same time:

Between the election, the reporting on the pandemic, lockdowns and everything else, it’s hard to figure out who to believe.

Great start! Of course, it’s always hard to figure out who to believe — figuring out who to believe is pretty much the whole point of journalism — but blaming “the reporting on the pandemic” makes this point topical, somehow, maybe?

This Lot J situation has me confused. I’m not sure I believe anybody. Not the media, not politicians, pollsters, nor businessmen involved.

A pox on all their houses! But do tell, why is everyone wrong?

I liked everything about it. It’s vibrant, it’s supposed bring people downtown and start to revitalize that side of the river.

The problem, it seemed, as the plan was fleshed out and scrutinized, was how to pay for it?

Well, yes. I can’t say I’ve read every line of media coverage of the Lot J plan, but I’m fairly certain no one would be opposed to replacing a parking lot with new development if it didn’t cost anyone any money.

If it’s Shad’s plan to work on downtown by starting at the stadium and marching west, then so be it. I’m all for hitching our wagon to Shad and seeing where he takes us.

Billionaires always have the best city planning ideas! Especially billionaires who used to sign your paychecks!

Keeping the Jaguars here is important on a lot of levels.

Especially especially billionaires who are threatening to move the team you’ve spent much of your career making a living by reporting on!

Winning at a 29% clip over the last eight years isn’t any way to build leverage.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are very bad. Do not give them money until they win games!

Perhaps the whole deal is on the up and up. Maybe it’s a way the city will continue to prosper and flourish at a new level, Shad will make money, and everybody will be happy. I sure hope that’s the case.

But all along, something just doesn’t feel right.

Definitely one of those!

You’ve got to agree with Council President Tommy Hazouri when he said, “If it’s going to take seven to nine years to build this project, what’s another two or three weeks?”

An actual opinion! It contradicts Kouvaris’s earlier statement that he doesn’t believe anybody, but let’s be happy for any conclusion we can get.

What never has made sense to me is how these negotiations get played out in public here in Jacksonville. Do we ever hear about the Steelers and Pittsburgh squabbling about a lease extension or stadium improvements? The Chiefs and Kansas City? Chicago and the Bears?

You’re joking, right?

If we’re going to be an NFL city, we’ll have to pony up the money to keep improving the stadium and perhaps at some point, build a new one.

Another actual opinion, one that somewhat contradicts the earlier one. Though I suppose “Let’s think about this for a few more weeks, then approve it” is a valid position, even if kind of a stupid one.

There’s more, including how the Jaguars management needs to better understand “ticket-buying fans” and “eat in their restaurants,” and how Khan’s lobbyist (“who has represented me in the past,” writes Kouvaris, with no explanation) is warning that a deal needs to be approved soon to avoid “deal fatigue,” and how Kouvaris ultimately wants “something where everybody wins.” That’s a lovely thing to want, but maybe not entirely realistic when you’re talking about who’s going to pony up $450 million toward a stadium development when most stadiums can’t even repay their own construction costs. Dividing a pie evenly is tough when you start out with negative pie — which is maybe why so many sportswriters prefer to go with “This is all too confusing for my puny little brain, I hope someone else can work it out! Also, listen to ticket-buying fans! But not pollsters, those guys are bad news.

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Friday roundup: More Jaguars move threats, more bad convention center spending, time is an endless loop of human folly

It’s Friday again! And December, how did that happen? “Passage of time,” what manner of witchcraft are you speaking of? Time is an eternal, unchanging present of toil and suffering under the grip of unending plagues! Thus has it ever been!

This notwithstanding, there was some news this week, though in keeping with the theme, it looks an awful lot like the news every week:

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Jacksonville mayor tells council to “stop stalling” and vote on $200m Jaguars subsidy

If you were still wondering if Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan is really asking for public funding for “major” stadium renovations at the same time as he’s demanding $200 million in subsidies for a new development in his stadium parking lot, we now have confirmation that yes, he really is:

[Jacksonville city council finance committee chair Matt] Carlucci said a vote on Lot J should only happen if the development is bundled with stadium improvements and an extension of the Jags’ lease at TIAA Bank Field, set to expire in 2030. He said if the Jags were to leave Jacksonville in the future, the city would still be on the hook for Lot J.

“The stadium, Lot J and a lease extension are all linked together, and if we don’t do that right, the taxpayers will never forgive us,” Carlucci said.

That’s an excellent point, in that giving Khan $200 million without even asking for a lease extension seems, I believe the technical city-planning term is “nutso.” Though giving him $200 million for the Lot J development plus maybe an equal amount for stadium renovations at the same time would be equally nutso, unless he agrees to a lease extension until the 32nd century.

Carlucci is also asking for more time to evaluate the deal(s), as the Lot J plan is currently scheduled to be voted on by the Downtown Investment Authority tomorrow, discussed by the council on Thursday, and then voted on as early as next week. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who designed the deal, is having none of that “due diligence” balderdash:

Do you want to take your time to think about devoting hundreds of millions of public dollars to a private stadium development project, or do you want to be an NFL city? Don’t think too long, there are plenty of other cities who would love to … what’s that, which cities? I said to stop stalling!

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Jaguars owner demands “major” stadium renovations, or NFL will shoot this team

Remember just last week when we discussed the $200 million-ish that Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan wants to subsidize a giant development in his stadium’s parking lot? At the time it seemed like a perfect example of the new wave of sports subsidy demands: If you can’t get public cash for a new or renovated stadium, then ask for a sweet deal on some related project, since that’s easier to fudge the numbers on.

Until Monday, that is, when Jaguars president Mark Lamping told the Florida Times-Union that oh yeah, Khan wants a renovated stadium, too, or else:

“If you’re going to be making a long-term extension of a lease, there needs to be certainty that you’re going to have an NFL-quality stadium during the term of that extension,” Lamping said. “That’s obvious, no different than when the Jaguars came to Jacksonville.”

Lamping elaborated on this yesterday:

“If Shad [Khan] were to ask fellow NFL owners and the league to approve a lease extension right now, there are really two questions that are unanswered that need to be answered before you even consider that,” Lamping said.

Lamping said 75% of NFL owners have to vote “yes” to any lease extension. One of those outstanding items, Lamping said, would be asking: “Does the stadium meet the needs of NFL fans and other stakeholders?”

These statements move the goalposts in a bunch of ways at once: They declare that TIAA Bank Field, which was opened in 1994, is no longer “NFL-quality”; that without renovations, the Jaguars won’t sign a long-term lease; and that if they don’t, it’s not because Khan doesn’t want to, heaven forfend, it’s those nasty old NFL owners that won’t let him stay in a substandard stadium. And, of course, that the team could leave town without stadium upgrades — Lamping said he wanted to make sure “that there will be NFL football in Northeast Florida for generations to come,” proving that he’s well-versed in the Army Protection Racket sketch.

How much money Khan is looking for as part of a lease extension isn’t clear. He just got $45 million from the city of Jacksonville for stadium upgrades in 2015, and Lamping said what’s now needed is a “major stadium renovation,” so presumably it would require a lot more money than that. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has already responded that he’s willing to talk:

That could be just boilerplate of course we’re willing to sit down and talk, but it’s still a slightly alarming response to the local billionaire doubling down on his under-consideration $200 million subsidy demand by asking for maybe a couple hundred million more, or else he’ll leave town. Sorry, or else the other NFL owners will forcibly remove him and his team, maybe to London? Did Lamping neglect to mention London? Oh well, there’s always next week.

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Friday roundup: Jacksonville council holds screaming match about Jaguars subsidy, Braves to charge county for fixing anything that wouldn’t fall out of stadium if you turned it over, plus Texas cricket wars!

I admit, there are some Fridays where I wake up and realize I have to do a news roundup and it just feels like a chore after a long week, and, reader, this was one of those Fridays. But then I looked in my inbox and there was a new Ruthie Baron “This Week In Scams” post for the first time in months, and now I am re-energized for the day ahead! Also despondent about how the fossil fuel industry is trying to catfish us all into thinking global warming isn’t real, but that’s the complex mix of emotions I have come to rely on “This Week In Scams” for.

And speaking of complex mixes of emotions, let’s get to this week’s remaining sports stadium and arena news:

  • Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on complaints that Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s $200 million development subsidy deal is being rushed through the city council: “What does that mean, it’s rushed? What does that mean? We are following the process we follow as a city. The administration has put forth legislation that includes the development of Lot J. The City Council will take their time and do their work. And then they’ll ultimately have to press a green button or a red button — a yes or a no.” Now I really want to know if the Jacksonville city council actually votes by pushing a green or red button, and if so what they do if a city councilmember has red-green color blindness, and oh hey, what happened at yesterday’s council hearing? “Finger-pointing, name-calling and what some members say was a big embarrassment for government”? Excellent, keep up the good work.
  • The Atlanta Braves owners have tapped their first $800,000 from their $70 million stadium repair fund, half of which is to be paid for by Cobb County, to pay for … okay, this Marietta Daily Journal article doesn’t say much about what it will pay for, except that one item is a new fence, and there was dispute over whether a fence counted as a repair (which the fund can be used for) or an improvement (which the team is supposed to cover). It also notes: “Mike Plant, president & CEO of Braves Development Company, described capital maintenance costs in 2013 by using the example of taking a building and turning it upside down. The items that would fall out of the building represent general maintenance, which is the responsibility of the Braves, while the items that do not fall out, such as pipes, elevators and concrete, fall under capital maintenance.” This raises all kinds of questions: Would elevators really not fall out of a stadium if you turned it upside down? What if furniture, for example, fell off the floor but landed on an interior ceiling? Would you have to shake the stadium first to see what was loose and just stuck on something? So many questions.
  • The Grand Prairie city council has approved spending $1.5 million to turn the defunct Texas AirHogs baseball stadium into a pro cricket stadium, which the Dallas Morning News reports “could cement North Texas as a top U.S. market for professional cricket.” (If this sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of nearby Allen, Texas, which thought about building a cricket stadium a couple of years ago but then thought better of it.) I went to a pro cricket match in the U.S. once, years ago, and there were maybe 100 people in the stands, and later the league apparently folded when none of the players showed up for a game, but surely this will go much better than that.
  • Angel City F.C. has announced it will be playing games at Banc of California Stadium, which made me look up first what league Angel City F.C. is in (an expansion team in the National Women’s Soccer League) and then what stadium named itself after Banc of California (the Los Angeles F.C. stadium that opened in 2018, I’m pretty sure at no public expense but you never know for sure with these things, and which is not supposed to be called Banc of California Stadium anymore since Banc of California bailed on its naming-rights contract in June) and then why Banc of California insists on spelling “Banc” that way (unclear, but if it was an attempt to put a clean new rebranding on the bank after its creation in a 2013 merger, that maybe didn’t go so well). So now, burdened with this knowledge, I feel obligated to share it — if nothing else, I suppose, it’s a nice little microcosm of life in the early Anthropocene, which may be of interest to future scholars if the cockroaches and microalgae can figure out how to read blogs.
  • The Richmond Times-Dispatch says that even if the Richmond Flying Squirrels get eliminated in baseball’s current round of minor-league defenestration, “Major League Baseball’s risk is our gain” if the city builds a new stadium that … something about “a multiuse strategy”? The editorial seems to come down to “Okay, the team may get vaporized, but we still want a new stadium, so full speed ahead!”, which is refreshing honesty, at least, maybe?
  • When I noted yesterday that the USL hands out new soccer franchises like candy, I neglected to mention that a lot of that candy quickly melts on the dashboard and disappears, so thanks to Tim Sullivan of the Louisville Courier Journal for recounting all the USL franchises that have folded over the years.
  • Six East Coast Hockey League teams are choosing to sit out the current season, and that’s bad news for Reading, home of the Reading Royals, according to Reading Downtown Improvement District chief Chuck Broad, who tells WFMZ-TV, “There is lots of spin-off, economic development, from a hockey game for restaurants and other businesses.” Yeah, probably not, and especially not during a time when hardly anyone would be eating at restaurants anyway because they’re germ-filled death traps, but why not give the local development director a platform to insist otherwise, he seems like a nice guy, right?
  • In related news, the mayor of Henderson, Nevada, says the new Henderson Silver Knights arena she’s helping build with at least $30 million in tax money is “a gamechanger” for downtown Henderson because “it’s nice to have locations where events can happen in our community.” This after she wrote a column for the Las Vegas Sun saying how great it will be for locals to be able to “attend a variety of events that create the vibrancy for which our city is known” — a vibrancy that apparently Henderson was able to pull off despite not having any locations where events can happen, because that’s just the kind of place Henderson is.
  • In also related news, the vice president of sales and marketing at New Beginnings Window and Door says that the Hudson Valley Renegades becoming a New York Yankees farm team could be great for his business (which, again, is selling windows and doors) because “the eyeballs are going to be there” for advertising his windows and doors to people driving up from New York City who might want to pick up some windows and doors to take home with them, okay, I have no idea what he’s talking about, seriously, can’t anybody at any remaining extant newspapers ask a followup question?
  • And in all-too-related news, here’s an entire WTSP article about the new hotel Tampa will have ready for February’s Super Bowl that never even mentions the possibility that nobody will be able to stay in hotels for the Super Bowl because Covid is rampaging across the state. Journalism had a good run.
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Jaguars owner’s $200m-plus subsidy demand would be massive money loser for Jacksonville, says council audit

The Jacksonville city council is meeting this Thursday to discuss Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s request for a couple-hundred-million-dollars-ish (more on that in a second) in subsidies and tax breaks for a ginormous development project in his football stadium’s Lot J, including a Live! entertainment district, office and residential buildings, a hotel, and new garages. When Khan proposed the deal last month, the subsidy figures were still kind of squishy; now the Florida Times-Union has crunched them and come up with this list:

  • $50 million in city cash toward building the entertainment district
  • $77.7 million in city “infrastructure improvements” (mostly the new parking structures)
  • a $15.1 million city contingency fund for cost overruns on the infrastructure
  • $12.5 million in cash after the hotel is completed
  • a $65.5 million no-interest loan to Khan’s development team
  • a complete tax exemption on the Live! district, which would be owned by the city and leased to Khans group for a nominal fee of $100 a year

This is hard to come up with a total for, since there are a lot of apples on that list and then two extremely large oranges, or maybe an orange and a quince. The first four items are pretty straightforward: $155.3 million in city cash.

The last two are trickier. The value of the no-interest loan depends on when Khan would have to pay it back and what interest rates on normal loans are right now (pretty darn low, but still nowhere near zero); if I’m calculating right, for a 30-year interest-free loan at a 3% discount rate, this would be worth about $40 million.

As for the Live! area’s property tax break, it would be 75,000 square feet, which is about 1.7 acres. The property tax rate in Jacksonville is about $11 a year per $1,000 in value; Texas Live!, the similar entertainment space next door to the Texas Rangers‘ stadium, cost about $200 million to build, which if we take that as the value for Jacksonville would be $2.2 million a year in savings, or about $30-40 million in present value. But that’s a lot of assumptions, so it could be less.

Regardless, it seems pretty clear that this is north of $200 million worth of city money that Khan is asking for. And what would the city get in return? Jacksonville’s Office of Economic Development estimated the city would get $1.69 back for each $1 it spent, which sounds good; City Council Auditor Kim Taylor estimated a return of 44 cents in revenue for each $1 spent, which sounds awful. The difference: The OED didn’t count either the $50 million in city cash payments or $92.8 million in garage costs (because reasons), and did count as a benefit the $50 million in private money that Khan’s group would be spending on the Live! project (which Taylor excluded as double-counting, since she already included the tax revenue that Live! would generate — and the city owning $50 million in private development but not getting any direct revenue from it isn’t really a net benefit).

Clearly somebody needs to sit down with a spreadsheet and figure out whose numbers are correct, and Councilmember Matt Carlucci is hoping to make that somebody the Downtown Investment Authority, which normally vets projects like this but would be excluded in the legislation being discussed. (“They were waived out and I’m trying to waive them back in,” Carlucci told the Times-Union.) Absent that, I would go with the above numbers to say that Jacksonville would be spending more than $200 million on a private development project by a billionaire NFL owner and getting back less than half that in new taxes — and that’s only if you assume that all Jacksonville Live! spending would be new, and not include some locals who otherwise would spend money elsewhere in the city.

We’ll have to check back in on Thursday to see how this goes. In the meantime, let’s enjoy some vaportecture of Jacksonville Live!:

There’s nothing too hilarious here, though I do appreciate how many people are just standing around impatiently or staring at their phones, which is indeed my experience of entertainment malls. Also, Tavern & Beer Hall features some unfortunate typography/lettering placement that makes it appear to be a Tavern & Beer Fiatt. And it’s sponsored by Professional Bull Riders for some reason? I guess it makes sense: When you think giant construction projects in football stadium parking lots funded with hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money because the city says it will pay off by resorting to dubious bookkeeping, you think professional bull.

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