Friday roundup: A’s stadium goes lopsided, another Cali soccer stadium stalls, plus how to skip rent payments and use them to fix up your own home

I’m very busy this morning, busy enough that one entire news item will have to wait till Monday when I can give it its due, but that means an extra post on Monday, so what are you complaining about, really? Anyway, there’s still plenty of stadium and arena news from this week, let’s have at it:

Friday roundup: Climate-doomed sports cities, a $500m video-game arena, and tax breaks to allay pirate fears

Happy Friday, everyone! If you’ve been thinking, Gee, what with vaccines rolling out and the end of the pandemic maybe finally imaginable, I could really use some other global catastrophe to experience existential panic about, Defector and I have you covered with an article about which U.S. sports cities are most likely the first to be made uninhabitable by climate change. No spoilers here, but suffice to say that if you’ve been holding out the last 64 years for the return of the Rochester Royals to the NBA, this might be your lucky century.

And in the newsier news:

  • Pittsburgh Penguins owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux were among the slew of developers and landholders who successfully lobbied the Trump administration last year to redraw Census maps to expand Opportunity Zones, earning who the hell knows how much money in tax breaks as a result. This may sound like a blatant cash grab that isn’t available to normal people who don’t have lobbyists on payroll, but just wait until you hear about the St. Croix hemp farmer who says that without tax breaks he would have trouble finding investors in the U.S. Virgin Islands because “people have ideas of pirates and all this sort of thing,” and then think about how little he probably paid for his land there after telling the seller, “I dunno, man, it’s probably infested with pirates,” and then you’ll know for sure.
  • The owner of two separate Toronto esports teams (one an Overwatch team and one a Call of Duty team, if you think I’m going to dignify them with boldface team names you’re nuts) has announced plans for a 7,000-seat venue to host them, at a cost of $500 million. Wut? I mean, it will also be able to host concerts (its designer called it neither “a sports arena nor an opera house” but “a new typology that straddles the two,” which he got “new” right, anyway), but still, half a billion dollars for a 7,000-seat theater with lots of big screens? Also, the developers already announced this last July, just without the $500 million price tag, so good job, guys, if you leaked the large number now just to get attention, as it’s working. No word yet on whether they’d want public money or tax breaks or anything for this, but you have to think they’d be crazy to spend all their own money on this.
  • Add the Pensacola Blue Wahoos to the list of minor-league baseball teams trying to use the downsizing of the minors to shake down cities for stadium improvements. Sure, it’s only $2 million, but it’s also only to secure a ten-year lease extension, which means they can demand more money in 2031 … if Florida is still above sea level by then. (Oop, damn, the spoiler thing again, sorry.)
  • The Oakland A’s owners may have won their lawsuit to fast-track any environmental challenges to their proposed Howard Terminal stadium (which, by the way, is in an area likely to be among the first to be inundated by sea level rise — oops, I said no spoilers), but lawsuits can be appealed! There, I just saved you $52 a year on an Athletic subscription.
  • I’ve been only marginally following Everton F.C.‘s plans for a new £500 million stadium on the Liverpool waterfront — holding 52,000 people, eat that, Overwatch barons — but there are some mostly dull new renderings out. Also the team’s owners are claiming that moving from one part of town to another will add £1 billion to the local economy, which just goes to show that even when all they’re asking for is a city loan that they’ll repay with interest, sports team owners can’t stop going to the “money will rain like manna from heaven” page in the stadium playbook.
  • The Columbus Crew have fresh renderings out of their new stadium, and do they include people throwing their hands in the air and gesturing wildly to things they want to buy at a bar to show how excited they are to be at a soccer match and ignoring the game so they can sit indoors with a bunch of other uniformly young and attractive people? You bet they do!

Friday roundup: More crazy stadium subsidy demands than can fit in one headline, you call this a lull?

Every couple of weeks, it seems, someone in the comments predicts that we are about to see the end of sports’ 30-year surge in stadium and arena subsidies, either because of Covid-depleted budgets or legislators smartening up or just everybody already having a new place. To which I say: If the stadium scam is slowing, why are my Friday mornings still so #$@&%*! busy?

Ahem. And now, the news:

  • A lawyer for the South Bend Cubs, saying the team owners were “shocked” to discover that a law allowing them to siphon off up to $650,000 a year in sales and income taxes for their own purposes had expired in 2018, has asked the state legislature to renew it. Oh, and also increase the cap to $2 million a year. You know, while they have the document open on their screens. “South Bend and every other city that has retained their relationship with Major League Baseball have to get to a certain level by 2025,” said attorney Richard Nussbaum. “If they don’t, they risk losing the team.” It’s an epidemic, I tells ya.
  • Speaking of which, Hudson Valley Renegades owner Jeff Goldklang got his $1.4 million in stadium renovation cash from Dutchess County, after emailing residents and fans warning them that the team could move if it was denied the subsidy.
  • Fort Wayne F.C., which I had to look up to be sure it actually exists and which turns out to be a “pre-professional” (much in the way that kids are “pre-adults”) USL League Two club, is seeking to move up to League One in 2023 and wants a $150 million soccer-stadium-plus-other-stuff project, to be paid for by mumble mumble hey look over there! It also features an instant classic in the field of fans-throwing-their-hands-skyward-while-fireworks-go-off-over-soccer-players-not-playing-anything-recognizable-as-soccer renderings, which is worth $150 million if it’s worth a dime:
  • The Oakland A’s owners (not the Oakland A’s, I still remember when I was an intern at The Nation Christopher Hitchens lecturing us on how one should always say “the U.S. government” and not “the U.S.” because just because the government approved something didn’t mean the populace did, but anyway) won their lawsuit to allow their Howard Terminal stadium project to have challenges to environmental impact reviews reviewed on a fast track, which is a big thing in California. “This is a critically important decision,” said A’s president Dave Kaval, who indicated he hopes the Oakland city council will be able to vote on a stadium bill this year, presumably after it’s figured out who the hell would pay for what.
  • Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin wants to talk about building a new hockey arena to keep the Carolina Hurricanes in town long-term — their “old” one opened just over 21 years ago — and Sougata Mukherjee, the editor-in-chief of the Triangle Business Journal, points out that maybe now is not the best time what with 7% of the state not having enough to eat, small businesses on the brink, and, oh yeah, a pandemic still going on. Cue Hurricanes execs or their political talking about how a new arena will mean “jobs” in three, two…
  • While we wait, here’s San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist Bryce Miller saying that San Diego should build a new arena to lure a nonexistent NBA expansion franchise because it would be “catalytic.” In the sense of the Oxford dictionary’s sample sentence for meaning 1.1, maybe?
  • Twenty years ago this week, the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ and Steelers‘ Three Rivers Stadium was blowed up real good, only a little over 30 years after it was first opened. I went to a couple of games at Three Rivers over the years, and I agree with former Pirate Richie Hebner’s review that “the graveyard I work in during the offseason has more life than this place,” and the Pirates’ new stadium is one of my favorites. Still, it and the Steelers’ new stadium deserve the blame for popularizing tax kickbacks in the stadium financing world, after Pittsburgh voters passed a referendum barring any new tax money from going to new stadiums, and the state legislature responded by “loaning” the teams stadium money that would be “repaid” by taxes the state would be collecting anyway — prompting Pittsburgh state rep Thomas Petrone’s timeless comment: “It’s not a grant. It’s not a loan. It’s a groan.”
  • Phoenix restaurants are hoping that having partial attendance at Suns games will provide more happy hour customers, something that seems not only ambitious given the proven not-so-robust spinoff effects of sports stadiums, but also slightly heedless of whether it’s such a great idea to encourage basketball fans to congregate indoors and take their masks off to drink and then go directly to congregating indoors to watch the Suns. In entirely unrelated news, restaurants around the new Los Angeles Rams and Chargers stadium in Inglewood are afraid of being driven out of business by new high-priced options gravitating to serve well-heeled football fans.
  • Finally a partial explanation of how funding for that new Des Moines Menace soccer stadium would work: In addition to city funds, it would be up for state hotel-tax funds designated for projects that “improve the quality of life for Iowa residents.” Other projects proposed to dip into the hotel-tax pool include a Des Moines Buccaneers junior hockey arena, a private indoor amateur sports facility, and a new mall; is it just me, or does “quality of life” seem to have been interpreted as “ways to put money in the pockets of Iowa business barons”?
  • Hey, remember the $200 million highway interchange that Las Vegas is building, totally coincidentally, near the Raiders‘ new stadium? It is now a $273 million highway interchange. But the city needed to build it anyway, because traffic was too bad at the old interchange and, shh, don’t tell them.
  • Okay, here’s one way in which maybe the pandemic has delayed some stadium spending: The Baltimore Orioles owners have signed a two-year lease extension on Camden Yards, while also working with the Maryland Stadium Authority “to establish a new long-term agreement that includes upgrades to the facility,” according to WJZ-TV. So it’s possible some 2021 and 2022 sports subsidies will end up getting pushed back to 2023 or so — yay?
  • If you wanted a live webcam of construction on the new Knoxville stadium for the Tennessee Smokies that hasn’t even been approved yet, let alone started construction, the team’s new stadium promotion website has got you covered.

Cuomo allows sports venues to reopen on February 23, because money

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared yesterday that sports and music venues that hold more than 10,000 people — both outdoor stadiums and indoor arenas — will be allowed to reopen to fans at 10% capacity starting February 23. Each building will first have to have its ventilation systems approved by the state department of health, but once that’s complete, the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres, New York Mets, and New York Yankees could all soon be playing before paying crowds.

The announcement came as a bit of a surprise in a state that, even with falling coronavirus rates, still has the fifth-highest positive test rate in the country, as new more transmissible variants threaten to create a renewed surge in coming weeks. But Cuomo said that with reduced capacities, improved ventilation, requiring mask wearing, and requiring a negative test result in the previous 72 hours, he could “get this economy open intelligently and in a balanced way.”

All that is well enough — if you’re going to start putting fans back in seats, it’s clear, keeping them masked and distanced is key. But the negative test certification — which Cuomo called “the key” to reopening — is what begins to paint this as hygiene theater: As we learned last year during the Miami Marlins fiasco, 40% of people will still test negative four days after being exposed to the virus, and 20% will test negative even three days after symptoms have started. Plus there’s the problem of people who get tested on a Monday and then contract the virus by Thursday. As one infectious disease expert put it to the New York Times:

“A test 72 hours prior to a game will help identify some cases, but that’s also three days in which an individual can become infectious,” [Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist from George Mason University,] wrote in an email.

Coming just one week after Cuomo announced that restaurants would be allowed to open to indoor dining, something that can’t be done while masked until chefs develop food that can be absorbed through diners’ skin, the sports reopening is a clear signal that New York state is prioritizing “getting the economy open” over actual safety concerns. As the Times editorial board wrote just hours before Cuomo’s sports announcement:

Too many leaders — not just Mr. Cuomo — are ignoring that call. Massachusetts and New Jersey are allowing businesses, including restaurants, to expand capacity for indoor services, and Iowa just lifted its mask mandate. The impulse behind these moves is understandable. Restaurants and the people who earn their living through them are in dire straits because they have not received sufficient government assistance. State and local economies are hanging by a thread, and everyone is exhausted by restrictions and desperate to return to some semblance of normal life.

But the number of people who get sick or die from Covid-19 in the coming year will depend on the outcome of a desperate race that’s underway, between human vaccination and viral mutation. … By relaxing restrictions now, state and local leaders are undermining their own vaccination efforts. To get a sense of what this looks like to scientists and public health experts, imagine a military general leading the fight against a foreign enemy — and then selling that enemy deadly weapons on the side.

Meanwhile, food critic Ryan Sutton of Eater came out against the restaurant reopening, noting that choosing Valentine’s Day weekend to resume indoor dining “feels chosen less for any health milestones and more for the fact that it is historically one of the biggest nights for restaurants.” While restaurant workers will soon be allowed to sign up for vaccinations, the slow pace of vaccine production means they could be waiting for appointments well into the spring or summer. (Cuomo didn’t say whether stadium and arena workers will be added to the vaccine priority list.)

Speaking as a New Yorker and a Mets fan eager to see how the team will screw up its winter of big-name acquisitions, I’m dying to get to a ballgame as much as anyone. But “dying” only metaphorically: If allowing a couple thousand lucky fans to witness the Knicks and Nets firsthand leads to an uptick in cases that allows new viral variants to take off, sickening and killing people across the city who have no interest in basketball, Cuomo’s sports reopening move could go down as one of the most poorly timed decisions in governmental history. And even if we get lucky and limited-capacity indoor sports turn out not to become superspreader events, seeking a “balanced” reopening — presumably between the full reopening many businesses would want and the continued shutdown of indoor activities that scientists recommend, meaning between profits and deaths — is, let’s just say, a telling reminder of how most elected officials see where their bread is buttered.

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:

WTF is up with that “vote” on a new Madison Square Garden: an investigation

Checking back in on a Friday afternoon because I have a bit more information about that new Madison Square Garden proposal that, according to a very bad website, “the City Council voted [on] this week in a Community Board Five meeting,” which is not a sentence that makes any sense.

Turns out the vote had nothing to do with the New York City council, but rather was of the Land Use, Housing & Zoning Committee of Manhattan’s Community Board 5, which is a just slightly less significant body. (Community board consideration is a required piece of the city’s land use process, but their votes are just advisory.) The meeting took place on Wednesday on Zoom, and can be watched in its entirety here.

The board’s unanimous vote was actually on several things, including endorsing including this project in the environmental impact study for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Penn Station expansion project, and also allowing for a shorter extension of MSG’s operating permit — you know what, let me just quote myself here by way of explaining what that is:

Madison Square Garden itself is privately owned, but an obscure section of city zoning law (Section 74-41, if you’re playing along at home) requires any arena of more than 2,500 seats to obtain a special permit from the city. MSG’s initial permit was issued in 1963, and for whatever reason was set to expire after 50 years; when that date rolled around in 2013, the city council, bowing to the wishes of Penn renewal advocates, granted only a ten-year extension, ostensibly to give the Garden’s owners time to make plans to decamp to a new site. (Technically, MSG could stay put, but only if it reduced its capacity to 2,500 seats—the arena can currently pack in over 20,000 spectators, depending on the event.)
Since 2023 is right around the corner, and it would almost certainly take years to get this mammoth project approved and built, CB5 has now formally endorsed the idea of a short-term extension to let the Knicks and Rangers hang out for a few more years at the current MSG in the meantime.

What happens next is not much, at least immediately. Committee member E.J. Kalafarski said during the meeting that a draft scope of the project, which is the very first step in the land use process, was “published on the internet this last week”; I haven’t been able to find it yet, but will keep digging. In any case, after that it needs to have a draft environmental impact statement done, and then it goes back to the community board for consideration, then to the borough president, then the city planning commission, and finally the city council. (If the state takes over the property, it would go through a different approval process — as the Brooklyn Nets arena did — but would still take a while.) So, nothing final for a year or two at least, but this is the beginning of the beginning.

As far as how much this would cost or who would pay for it, none of that is even remotely sketched out yet. And the design documents published by New York Yimby are just some sketches done by former Manhattan city planning director and current local resident and architect Vishaan Chakrabarti, which may or may not be adopted by whatever developer may or may not be interested in building this monster.

So, this is still very early days, but it does seem like there’s at least a little momentum for “clear out the current MSG space to make for better Penn Station access by building a new MSG a block away something something something.” This is very much worth keeping an eye on, but it’s also very likely that nothing much will be happening immediately, especially what with no one knowing whether big urban office buildings have a future anymore or not. More news as events warrant.

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:

Friday roundup: Titans seek overhaul of 21-year-old stadium, FC Cincy subsidy nears $100m, plus: bored sportswriters go rogue!

A quick programming note: The next two Friday roundups will be on Thursdays, since the next two Fridays are Christmas and New Year’s. Not that I’ll be doing much special those days — I’ve done pretty much nothing since March other than sit and stare at my laptop screen — but I’m doing this anyway as a courtesy to readers who may feel the need to go out and infect extended family members with a deadly disease or something.

And on to this week’s news remainders:

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:

Alberta paid NHL $4m during pandemic bubble to show pictures of Alberta wheat fields

If you’re an NHL fan, you’re possibly aware that much of this past abbreviated season’s Stanley Cup playoffs were held in a bubble in Edmonton. If you’re a diehard NHL fan, or just a diehard Canadian, you may even be aware that Edmonton is in Alberta, the province that is second in Canada in wheat production.

In fact, maybe you learned this by watching the NHL playoffs, because part of the deal to play games in Edmonton, it turns out, was a $4 million ad buy by the Alberta government to tell viewers that the province outside the arena walls is “free” and very wheaty:

Recently disclosed public documents show the Government of Alberta gave the NHL $4 million dollars in a sole-source contract between July 31, 2020 and October 1, 2020 in order to “promote investment in Alberta to provincial, national and international audiences through a unique partnership opportunity with the NHL.” But no public statement from Premier Jason Kenney or the Alberta government has made mention of the $4 million dollar payment…

What was purchased with that money is an important question and an inkling of what that money was spent on lies in a 30-second video message Kenney shared on Sept. 1, Alberta’s 115th birthday, ahead of the puck drop for the NHL playoff game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Vegas Golden Knights. The message was broadcast on the scoreboard at Rogers Place. Kenney touts Alberta’s low taxes, young population and “freest economy in Canada.” He closes by saying, “to hockey fans around the world, we hope you’ll follow the NHL’s lead and come to visit Alberta when you can.”

A short clip from an August 7 game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Chicago Blackhawks also gives a hint as to where that money was spent. In a break in the action prior to a puck drop, the camera shows several large screens in Rogers Place, on those screens are Indigenous people dancing, then it fades to a tight shot of several golden brown wheat heads against a blue sky. On another screen there is a static image of the Alberta watermark.

See for yourself:

Tourism agencies do these kind of ad buys all the time, of course, but promoting Alberta to an empty arena is a just slightly strange use of $4 million, even if the images did show up in the corner of TV screens on occasion. That doesn’t necessarily mean there was a quid pro quo here where the NHL demanded an ad buy as part of its decision to site games in Alberta, but it’s certainly a good question to ask; Progress Alberta, which first revealed the ad spending, has promised to follow up, and fans of both hockey and wheat should be very interested in their future findings.