No, community benefits agreements aren’t the solution to stadium subsidies

Here’s British journalist Ian Betteridge explaining his eponymous law of headlines:

Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word “no.” The reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bullshit, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it.

So when Deadspin runs an article asking, “Has Detroit Found An Answer To The Publicly Financed Stadium Scam?” you should probably approach it with a grain of salt. But for the record, allow me to answer Deadspin’s question:

No.

What the Detroit city council is considering is a law to require community benefits agreements for all development projects. CBAs, as they’re known, are agreements that developers negotiate with local residents, community groups, and other stakeholders committing to jobs and other local benefits as part of a project; as state assemblyperson Rashida Tlaib told Deadspin, “We are allowing these large corporations—companies that could build a hockey arena without our money—to get in the corporate welfare line and take resources away from us. In exchange for what?”

In theory, CBAs sound great: If developers want public money, they have to give the public something in return! In practice, they’re more problematic. While everyone loves to point to the CBA for development around the Staples Center in L.A., which got parks and job training for local residents impacted by the new construction, there are far more CBAs that haven’t worked out as well: The one the New York Yankees set up, for example, which arranged for a “charity” that handed out benefits to several groups that barely existed, and which didn’t bother to keep track of how many Bronx residents were hired at the new stadium. There’s also the problem of how the “community” is defined: then-New Jersey Nets owner Bruce Ratner famously paid to set up community groups that he could then negotiate a CBA with, over the objections of much of the rest of the community.

And even when CBAs are legit, more or less, there’s still the problem that they’re less a referendum on whether pumping public money into a development project is good for a city as a whole, and more a way for community members to demand a cut of the boodle. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — as Tlaib implies, at least if you’re shelling out all that money, you might as well demand something in return — but it can end up being just an easily applied fig leaf for developers, and an incentive for community groups to trade their support for what amounts to a cash payoff, rather than keeping the broader public interest in mind.

So, points to Deadspin for covering this, but more points off for a misleading clickbaity headline. Developers may hate the mandatory-CBA plan — developers hate mandatory-anything plans — but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good thing.

Markham still won’t release full economic impact studies on now-dead NHL arena project

Plans for an NHL arena in the Toronto suburb of Markham are long since dead, but the battle over them goes on: In the latest, the former head of the Markham Village Ratepayers Association, who in 2012 filed a freedom of information request for the economic impact studies conducted by the city for the arena, and who since then has been elected to the Markham city council, is trying to pass a bill to get the full reports released. But it’s not going that well:

She thought she had enough support to get the motion passed, [Karen] Rea says in an interview, but now isn’t sure. The city solicitor has warned councillors that releasing the reports could break confidentiality agreements.

This is the same thing that Markham officials claimed back in 2013, and apparently there hasn’t yet been a ruling on it. The especially weird bit is that not only has Markham already released parts of the reports that it felt bolstered its case for the arena, but the author of one of the reports said city officials “cherry-picked” his findings to make them look more positive. And yet the city lawyer still says the reports can’t be released, thanks to confidentiality agreements with the developer who the city hasn’t heard from in more than a year. Somebody just leak the damn things to Deadspin already, would you?

 

Quebec gets ready to open big empty hockey arena, mayor jokes that “my cousin Réjean” will play there

That Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume is such a card! Check him out talking about the hockey arena that he saddled taxpayers with between $270 million and $330 million in payments on, in order to get an NHL team, and which now persists in not having an NHL team:

“What are you going to put inside?” host Marie-France Bazzo asked the man who was the project’s biggest booster.

“Listen, we’ll have public skating,” Mr. Labeaume joked. “My cousin Réjean wants to play there too,” he added, struggling to contain his own laughter.

Hahahaha! Ha! Ha.

There will be a minor-league team playing in the new arena, but that’s still not exactly what Quebecois had in mind. (Though, you know, I did kinda tell you so.) But Quebec still might get an expansion NHL team, right?

In 2011, the average value of an NHL team was US$240-million, he said. By last year it had more than doubled to US$490-million. The huge investment required to acquire a team, whether through expansion or purchase of an existing team, would make it hard for owners to turn a profit in a small market like Quebec City. The plummeting Canadian dollar only aggravates the situation.

“I don’t see how it can be financially viable in a city of 700,000 people,” Mr. Richelieu said. “To make it past the first two or three years, when the novelty and enthusiasm of having the Nordiques back is past, will be hard. After that, people might find it hard to fork out the hefty ticket price to pay for a major-league-calibre show.”

Economics aside, the league is displaying little interest in returning to the Quebec capital. When possible expansion is mentioned, the names of Las Vegas and Seattle are at the top of the list as the league seeks to balance the number of teams in its Eastern and Western conferences. And NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reiterated on the weekend his opposition to moving an existing team.

Oh, well. Cue the “cold Kansas City” jibes!

NJ getting $2m from Devils to close Meadowlands arena, Devils getting everything else

As it turns out, the operators of Newark’s Prudential Center are indeed paying to have the Izod Center in the New Jersey Meadowlands close for two years: The owners of the New Jersey Devils will pay the state of New Jersey a whopping $2 million to shut their competition down, in addition to freeing the state from the responsibility of a projected $8.5 million in red ink for each of the next two seasons.

And for their money, the Devils owners are also getting the right to restrict how the Izod Center is used once it reopens, if it reopens, in 2017:

In the letter [from the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority], the sports authority agreed either to keep the Izod Center closed in 2017 and in 2018 as well, or alternatively to reopen in 2017 in a format that is not directly competitive with the Newark arena.

In the latter case, the sports authority would agree that from 2017-2021, the Meadowlands facility would only offer a “single theatrical residency production” — a series of performances such as Cirque du Soleil — or cut the capacity of the Izod Center in half, to a maximum of 10,000 seats. Popular family shows such as the traditional traveling circus and ice-skating events that are featured in most or all arenas in the region also would not be held at Izod Center at that time, with an exception for shows produced by a new operator.

The Prudential Center will also produce and get all revenue from the run of the Ringling Bros. circus in March that’s scheduled to be the last events at Izod before its closure. All in all, it seems like a pretty sweet deal for the Devils owners, but given that all New Jersey had was a mostly empty arena, a sea of red ink, and a governor who has wanted the place closed for a while, it’s not like the state had much leverage.

Some Jersey lawmakers have objected to the deal, with State Sen. Loretta Weinberg charging that this is just a ploy to help out Gov. Chris Christie’s pal Jerry Jones — owner of both the Dallas Cowboys and part of Legends Entertainment, which runs concessions at the Prudential Center — and threatening to sue to stop it. Presumably once the center is actually closed, this kerfuffle will die down and … oh, who am I kidding, Chris Christie is involved, this controversy will go on and on forever! Especially if Christie can’t keep a handle on his itchy texting fingers.

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?