Senators owner says new arena needed because 18-year-old one “was not built to last”

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is moving ahead with a full-court press (I know, I know, mixed sports metaphor, but I don’t actually know if there’s a hockey term for this) for a new downtown arena for his team, which he says would be a “game-changer” that “impacts the city in a huge way; it impacts the organization in a huge way.” And for those  wondering about why anyone needs to replace an arena that was just opened in 1996, Melnyk has this to say:

“This building, believe it or not, was not built to last 30 to 40 years like people think. We spent a lot of money to keep this building looking the way it is, but … you have to build a new one eventually. I hope in my lifetime,” Melnyk said.

That’s right: The Senators owner (not Melnyk at the time, but his predecessor Rod Bryden) may have spent $188 million and gotten a controversial rezoning of farmland and collected federal money and loan guarantees for a highway interchange and then dumped all its debt through bankruptcy, but he didn’t do that because he wanted an arena that would last! Everybody knows that arenas don’t last 30 or 40 years these days. Or even 20, apparently.

The backstory, of course, is that Bryden wanted to use the arena as the anchor of a suburban retail district, and then that didn’t work so well (see: bankruptcy), so it makes some sense that they’d be interested in moving downtown. Why Ottawa itself would want to chip in to make that happen — and devote municipally publicly owned land to the project as well, instead of dedicating it to another development project that might not require subsidies — is less clear, but Melnyk is sure to keep saying “impacts the city in a huge way” over and over until somebody starts to believe it.

Panthers could leave Florida without arena subsidies, says Broward ex-mayor pushing arena subsidies

And today in wild speculation about the future of the Florida Panthers, outgoing Broward County mayor Barbara Sharief says that Panthers co-owner Vincent Viola wants $78 million in operating subsidies over the next 14 years, or else he might take the team elsewhere. And that would be bad because AEG’s contract to bring concerts to the BB&T Center is with the Panthers, not the county, and without that “it would be very difficult for us to book shows and to fill up the arena. So essentially … we would have a concrete dinosaur just sitting there.” (Presumably there would be no way for the county to cut its own deal with AEG, because if the Panthers left there would be too many old memories for them to want to book concerts into Broward without breaking down in tears.)

You may remember Sharief as the mayor who earlier this year hired a consultant to see whether it would be cost-effective to meet Viola’s subsidy demands in order to keep the Panthers in town, notwithstanding that the Panthers’ lease runs through 2028 and Viola isn’t actually offering to extend the lease any if he gets his $78 million. County mayors rotate each year, so Sharief will return to being a regular county commissioner in 2015, but she took one last shot at some publicity with this Panthers announcement, which included “a preliminary study that shows the BB&T Center is worth $450 million, but would be valued at just $60 million without the Panthers.” Study not actually included on Sharief’s website, but she does give her phone number and suggest that readers call with any questions, so feel free.

Ottawa Senators to “actively” pursue new arena on public land, with public dollars

And we have our answer to why the Ottawa Senators sponsored an economic impact study earlier this year showing that the team’s presence is worth kajillions of dollars (with the exchange rate, that’s basquillions of dollars) to the city:

The group that operates the NHL team — Senators Sports & Entertainment — has confirmed to the Citizen that it is “actively considering the opportunity” to build a new hockey arena on the grounds of LeBreton Flats.

The Senators’ current home, the Canadian Tire Centre, is only 18 years old, but it’s also in the middle of nowhere thanks to an ill-conceived plan to make it the centerpiece of a suburban shopping district. (Now where have I heard that before…) LeBreton Flats is public property, and is likely to be the site of a bidding war for the right to develop it, so presumably at least the Sens owners wouldn’t have the gall to ask for public subsidies on top of

Of course, any plans for a new arena will require support not just from private investors but community support as well. Tax dollars at work, so to speak.

Oh, Canada.

Tampa homeless charity CEO on unpaid sports concessions labor: Who you gonna believe, “former addicts” or him?

The Tampa Bay unpaid homeless labor scandal fallout continues to fall out this week, with Hillsborough County officials calling for a federal investigation, the Rays and concessionaire Centerplate launching their own probe, and the Lightning saying hey, don’t blame them, they stopped using these guys in 2013 due to “reliability and consistency concerns.” (Though not “violating labor law” concerns, I guess.)

The charity at the center of the charges, meanwhile, New Beginnings, has responded with its own press release, and it is hi-larious. For starters:

“We don’t use homeless or the clients than are in our Emergency Shelter for sporting events”.

Assuming that “than” is a typo for “that,” this at first sounds like the dozens of homeless New Beginnings clients who the Tampa Bay Times witnessed lining up to work concessions at a Buccaneers game must have been imaginary. The key here, though, is that phrase “in our Emergency Shelter” — New Beginnings does use its clients to run sports concessions, it just does so with those in its “work therapy” program, where homeless people learn how to re-enter the work world by working and not getting paid for it! (Which, come to think of it, probably is a good acclimation to the work world these days.)

New Beginnings also posted a link to a softball radio interview with New Beginnings CEO Tom Atchison on a Christian radio station, in which he denied all the charges, mostly by saying, “Are you kidding me? Stop this nonsense!” Then he said this:

“Can you imagine using somebody that’s homeless off the street to cash out a register and serve hot dogs? They’d be eating the hot dogs, stealing the beer, taking the money out of the register, and running down the street!”

Your homelessness charity director, people!

Atchison went on to blame disgruntled ex-employees and “a few former addicts that are telling him how horrible we are” for the negative press coverage, without actually contesting the central point of the Times article, which is that New Beginnings is pimping out its homeless clients to Tampa Bay sports teams, not paying them anything beyond their food and shelter, and pocketing any proceeds. Instead, he appears to be falling back on the defense that he’s a good Christian, so why are you picking on him, already?

On first blush it will appear that New Beginnings is a horrible agency, but after the dust has settled the truth about the great work we do will prevail. We at New Beginnings feel like we are under attack by the powers of darkness, but God is at our side to walk us through this.

God better have one heck of a labor lawyer.

Concessionaire using unpaid homeless workers at Tampa sports venues, possibly illegally

And finally, this one really needed to run sometime other than Thanksgiving weekend:

Before every Tampa Bay Buccaneers home game, dozens of men gather in the yard at New Beginnings of Tampa, one of the city’s largest homeless programs.

The men — many of them recovering alcoholics and drug addicts — are about to work a concessions stand behind Raymond James Stadium’s iconic pirate ship, serving beer and food to football fans. First, a supervisor for New Beginnings tries to pump them up.

“Thank God we have these events,” he tells them. “They bring in the prime finances.”

But not for the workers. They leave the game sweat-soaked and as penniless as they arrived. The money for their labor goes to New Beginnings. The men receive only shelter and food.

That’s right: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (as well as the Rays and Lightning) have been using indentured servants to run their concessions. (Okay, not quite indentured servants, since these workers can — and do — quit their unpaid jobs and give up their shelter, but still pretty close.) That’s probably a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act — New Beginnings CEO Tom Atchison says the program is modeled on one used by the Salvation Army, but the Salvation Army doesn’t pimp its unpaid workers out to for-profit sports teams to make money — and undeniably skeevy. And it only gets skeevier:

[Victoria] Denton, the other New Beginnings employee who went to the FDLE, said she witnessed Atchison open homeless residents’ mail, take Social Security checks and deposit them in New Beginnings accounts, and use food stamp cards to buy food for himself…

“He would say, ‘They’re drug addicts, they’re alcoholics, they’re just going to spend it on cigarettes and booze,’ ” said Lee Hoffman, the formerly homeless minister who worked for Atchison off and on from 2007 to 2010. “The only way they get any of it is if they complain hard enough.”

Sports stadiums: your job-creation engines, everybody!

BREAKING: Flames owner says arenas are “places where people gather for pro sports”

Billionaire oil tycoon and Calgary Flames co-owner Murray Edwards spoke about his forthcoming demand for a new arena on Friday (it’s Canada, they have some crazy Canadian Thanksgiving in August or something, so Friday was just a regular news day), and here’s what he said:

“We’ve been looking at options for both new buildings and new sites. We haven’t finalized on anything but we’re getting close and what we’re trying to understand is what works as the best model that works for the province, works for the city and works for the teams,” he told reporters at a business forum in Lake Louise.

“And when I say that, I don’t mean that in the context of the financial support or contributions. We haven’t got to that model, but the concept of something that’s an iconic building for the province, an iconic building for the city, something that’s a gathering place. You know, arenas in cities are gathering places, where people gather for pro sports or concerts or conventions.”

So let’s see, that comes down to: We want a new arena, but we don’t know where or how to pay for it, but we want it to look really really cool and arenas are important because people go to them!

Wake me when Michael Eisner weighs in, okay?

Flames owner readying arena demand, Calgary mayor readying “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?”

The owners of the Calgary Flames haven’t been too aggressive with their hopes for a new arena, beyond occasionally griping about their old one. That all changed yesterday, though, thanks to a major package of articles in the Calgary Herald describing how:

  • Flames CEO Ken King “could be within weeks of announcing their vision” for a new arena
  • The arena will almost certainly require, in King’s words, “some sort of public-private” funding scheme.
  • Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and the city council are vehemently opposed to giving King any cash, though some on the council may be open to providing free land.

According to the Herald, the arena talks have been going on for three years, if by “talks” you mean “the Flames owner asking for money, and city officials telling him to get lost.” (At one point Nenshi’s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim emailed colleagues in frustration, “I think we can be fairly certain that [Flames execs] haven’t listened to anything they have been told.”) Public opinion in Calgary is massively against giving any taxpayer cash to King, and elected officials reflect that position, mostly:

“Land is also public funding, so we need to have a really good answer for why it makes sense,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi told reporters…

Coun. Peter Demong is also skeptical about free land for a hockey and concert venue. “I’m not going to give away anything. That’s not in my nature,” he said during a council break. “That said, come talk to us.”…

“Under no circumstances would I put tax dollars to a new arena, but if we can assist as far as of land and things that’s there and they may be able to use, I think we should,” Coun. Shane Keating said.

Asked if that includes West Village, the city’s largest land holding in the downtown area, Keating said: “Wherever, I’m saying across the board.” Other members like Richard Pootmans, Diane Colley-Urquhart, Ward Sutherland and West Village councillor Evan Woolley said land could be available as part of arena talks.

This sounds like a recipe for a California-style “give them some huge tracts of land to develop, and pretend it’s not really a subsidy” deal, except of course for the fact that the mayor just said that it’s a subsidy. Things are still very early in the arena battle process, notwithstanding that it’s already dragged on for years, but it looks like this could be an actual battle, of the kind that isn’t very common south of the border. I mean, check this out:

“I don’t think anyone disagrees that we need a new facility,” King said in an interview. (Nenshi has publicly questioned the need on Twitter.)

I’m not going to make my usual Canada joke, but mayors challenging whether teams “need” new buildings and newspapers actually making sure to report this? Yeah, they really are like a different country.

Red Wings owners decide they’re not ready for council zoning vote after all, get it called off

The Detroit city council was all set to vote last night on the rezoning plan for a Red Wings arena development that could lead to the demolition of two historic downtown hotel buildings, but backed off after Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch’s development company asked them to delay the vote:

Olympia Development of Michigan’s request to delay the vote followed a council committee meeting this morning where a handful of amendments to the zoning request were suggested. One amendment aimed to preserve the historic Hotel Park Avenue. Another suggested changes to the parking deck attached to the arena.

Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez said the council’s willingness to honor the developer’s request rather than vote on the changes “shows council’s commitment to wanting to see the project be successful and accommodating.”

Olympia didn’t comment themselves on the reason for the delay request, or even make the request themselves, instead sending a Detroit city planner, Marcell Todd, to pass the word along. Todd says that the proposed amendments presented “a number of obstacles” that the developer isn’t ready to address, so they wanted further council action to wait until they had a plan.

This is actually all pretty healthy — negotiations out in public! taking time to consider the implications of new proposals! — especially compared to how things work in some other cities. It’s still just a mite unnerving, though, to have the city council setting its agenda based on what developers tell them to do via the intermediary of a city staffer. Not surprising, mind you, just unnerving.

Red Wings arena could endanger two historic Detroit buildings, council responds by not showing up

The Detroit Red Wings arena plans have hit … not exactly a snag, but possibly a speed bump, as city residents have belatedly realized that the area Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch is asking to have rezoned for development includes two historic hotel buildings, and Ilitch hasn’t specified whether he’d preserve them or raze them. And the city council is desperately interested in this matter:

On Thursday, a crowd of residents, activists and representatives of the Ilitches’ company, Olympia Development of Michigan, packed the council chambers for a committee meeting on the issue, but only two council members — Brenda Jones and Andre Spivey — showed up. The predicament left the council without a quorum and unable to ask questions.

Okay, somewhat less than desperately, then. The council has a hearing on Tuesday at which it could vote on the rezoning, or could kick everything back to January, depending on how committed it is to this whole “asking questions before voting” thing.

Did Detroit let Lions and Red Wings stall on water bills while punishing residents? Definitely maybe

The Daily Show took a look last night at how Detroit is shutting off water to poor residents who don’t pay their bills, but has left the water on for the Red Wings and Lions despite delinquent payments. It got lots of attention, and because the Daily Show is a comedy show, much of it was of the “Ha ha, so amusing” variety:

The controversy over water shutoffs for Detroit residents unable to pay their bills was front and center Monday night on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

It was a story that took some humorous twists and turns, and it probably was deemed offensive or even inaccurate to some as well.

That article on MLive didn’t actually provide any details of anyone who thought the segment was offensive or inaccurate, but in a followup, the site provided this:

“I can say right now that the information was not accurate,” DWSD spokesperson Curtrise Garner told MLive.com…

Garner said she would send MLive more information via e-mail Tuesday afternoon to show that all the commercial accounts mentioned in the “Daily Show” report have been paying their bills and don’t have any overdue balances.

“I’m taking a look at the larger ones here in the city and they are all current,” Garner said over the phone.

So where did this report of overdue water bills come from in the first place? It looks like from a June article in the Guardian, which further linked to a blog post by Oakland University journalism professor Shea Howell that reported that “Joe Louis Arena/Red Wings Hockey owes $80,000 and Ford Field $55,000.” Howell didn’t provide a source for those numbers, but they’re pretty specific to be made up, leading to the likely conclusion that if everyone is telling the truth, the Red Wings and Lions were behind on their water bills in June, didn’t get their water shut off, and have since paid up. Which is, as the Daily Show segment makes clear, the same treatment that low-income water protestors are requesting from the city.

I’m trying to reach Howell to get more info on her numbers, but as MLive seems eager to show us, modern journalism doesn’t need to wait until we see the actual documents. Updates as needed.

[UPDATE: Okay, thanks to a couple of correspondents who wish to remain nameless, I’ve tracked the Lions/Red Wings water bill story back a bit further: This all dates back to an April WDIV-TV report that found that the two sports teams were behind on their water bills. As of July, the teams still hadn’t paid, but as the Detroit water department told Metro Times, it was because the Lions and Red Wings owners were disputing their past stormwater runoff bills, which the water department was “still in the process of trying to collect.”

So: Detroit’s sports teams aren’t being allowed to keep their running water despite not paying their bills for that; they’re allowed to keep their running water despite not having paid different water bills. Which is less black and white than the simplified version that the Daily Show presented, and they probably should have done their homework better, or at least explained the situation more fully. But the general “one system for poor folks and another for big corporations” vibe is still legit.]