Flames arena backer calls public debate “a poison pill”

Calgary city councillor Jeff Davison, the main public official advocating for a new Flames arena, has provided his latest thoughts on the process he hopes to see for getting one approved, and man, does he have feels aplenty:

“I wouldn’t see public debate as necessary in terms of this deal,” says the councillor.

“We’ve done our homework to do engagement up front. Engagement shouldn’t be used as a poison pill.

“And frankly, a lot of the people who want to engage after the fact want to shut projects down. They just want their vote to say: No, I still oppose this.”

That is definitely a bold policy position to take, telling your constituents that you don’t want to hear from them, because they might disagree with you! Did Davison temper his statements at all to admit that the public might have some role in democratic decision-making? Let’s find out!

“At the end of the day, through the channels that are already available to us, rather than just public debate people can call their councillor and they do.

“People can talk about it in the community and they do. People can engage where engagement has been available to them and they have.”

There we go: You can call your elected officials, and you can complain on Facebook. It’s 2019, people, what do you want, the right to make public decision by casting votes on broken pottery?

Davison’s view that democracy is about having your say on election day and then shutting up is actually a somewhat common one, at least among people who were voted in on election day and would now like everyone to shut up. Most memorably, then–New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani rejected proposals for a public referendum on building the Yankees a new stadium as representing “the absence of leadership”; though Giuliani also once said that “freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do,” so maybe he’s not exactly the go-to guy for dictionary definitions here.

Anyway, Davison also hinted that any Flames arena deal would include “a couple hundred million dollars being put into a public facility the city owns,” which if “a couple” means “two” would be a hell of a lot less than the Flames owners’ last proposal, but it’s probably best for Calgarians to believe it when they see it. And then if they don’t like it, call their councillors! That Jeff Davison seems like an open-minded fellow, I bet his staff will be happy to give their messages all the attention they deserve.

Calgary to discuss today giving Flames public funds for what is totally not a hockey arena, how can you even say such a thing

The city of Calgary has already released terrifying new Flames arena renderings, and now it looks set today to take up providing terrifying amounts of public money to help pay for one:

Calgary city council will discuss Monday how to prioritize and pay for mega-projects, including an event centre that would be the new home of the NHL’s Calgary Flames.

The event centre, estimated to cost between $550 million and $600 million, is one piece in a larger development puzzle proposed for the Rivers District east of downtown.

You will notice that the Associated Press report calls the arena an “event centre,” which is one of the surreal rhetorical battles going on in the Calgary arena fight: Advocates of a new home for the Flames say it wouldn’t be just an arena but rather an event centre, because it could hold events other than hockey … which is precisely what every other sports arena does. (Fun fact! The NBA was launched in 1949 largely as a way to fill empty dates at hockey arenas!) Nobody’s said yet how much the city would kick in for this building, beyond a single city document indicating that it could “substantially” be paid for by siphoning off property taxes from an arena district; hopefully we’ll know more after today’s council hearing.

A recent poll shows that Calgarians are evenly split on whether to provide public money for a Flames arena, which sounds like a pretty stupid poll, because did they really not ask how much public money they’d be willing to provide? I, for one, would be totally okay with providing $1 (Canadian) toward a new arena in my city, but less so with promising a gigasquillion dollars. (The poll writeup does not indicate how many Calgarians just stared at the pollsters, shook their heads sadly, then walked away.)

Friday roundup: Long Island residents yell at cloud over Isles arena, Calgary forgets to include arena in arena district plan, plus a reader puzzle!

It’s Friday (again, already) and you know what that means:

  • New York State’s Empire State Development agency held a series of three public hearings on the plan to build an Islanders arena on public land near Belmont Park racetrack (which the team would be getting at as much as a $300 million discount), and the response was decidedly unenthused: Speakers at the first hearing Tuesday “opposed to the project outnumbered those in favor of the plan by about 40 to one,” reports Long Island Business News, with State Sen. Todd Kaminsky joining residents in worrying that the arena will bring waves of new auto traffic to the town of Elmont, that there’s no real plan for train service to the arena, and that there’s no provision for community benefits to neighbors. Also a member of the Floral Park Police Department worried that the need for police staffing and more crowded roads would strain emergency services. Empire State Development, which is not a public agency but a quasi-public corporation run by the state, is expected to take all of this feedback and use it to draft an environmental impact statement for the project, which if history is any guide will just include some clauses saying “yeah, it’ll be bad for traffic” without suggesting any ways to fix it. I still want to see this plan from the Long Island Rail Road for how to extend full-time train service there, since it should involve exciting new ideas about the nature of physical reality.
  • Meanwhile in Phoenix, the final of five public hearings was held on that city’s $168 million Suns renovation plan, and “out of nine public comments, three involved questions, five voiced support and one was against the deal,” according to KJZZ, so clearly public ferment isn’t quite at such a high boil there. One thing I’d missed previously: The city claims that if it doesn’t do the renovations now with some contribution ($70 million) from Suns owner Robert Sarver, an arbitrator could interpret an “obsolescence clause” in the Suns’ lease to force the city to make the renovations on its own dime. I can’t find the Suns’ actual lease, but I think this just means that Sarver can get out of his lease early if an arbitrator determines the arena is obsolete [UPDATE: a helpful reader directed me to the appropriate lease document, and that is indeed exactly what it means], and he can already opt out of his lease in 2022, it’s pretty meaningless, albeit probably more of the “information” that helps convince people this is a good deal when they hear it. (Also important breaking news: A renovated Suns arena will save puppies! Quick, somebody take a new poll.)
  • Speaking of leases, the Los Angeles Angels are expected to sign a one-year extension on theirs with Anaheim, through 2020, while they negotiate a longer-term deal. It’s sort of tempting to wish that new Anaheim mayor Harry Sidhu would have played hardball here — sign a long-term deal now or you can go play in the street when your lease runs out, like the Oakland Raiders — but I’m willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt in his negotiating plans. Though if this gives Angels owner Arte Moreno time to drum up some alternate city plans (or even vague threats a la Tustin) just in time to threaten Anaheim with them before the lease extension runs out, I reserve the right to say “I told you so.”
  • The Calgary Planning Commission issued a comprehensive plan for a new entertainment district around the site of the Flames‘ Saddledome, but forgot to include either the Saddledome or a new arena in it. No, really, they forgot, according to city councillor Evan Woolley: “It should’ve been identified in this document. It absolutely should have. Hopefully those amendments and edits will be made as they bring this forward to council.” The 244-page document (it’s not as impressive as it sounds, most of them are just full-page photos of people riding bicycles and the like) also neglects to include any financial details, beyond saying the district would be “substantially” funded by siphoning off new property taxes, “substantially” being one of those favored weasel words that can mean anything from “everything” to “some.” Hopefully that’ll be clarified as this is brought forward to council, too, but I’m not exactly holding my breath.
  • Here is a Raleigh News & Observer article reporting that the Carolina Hurricanes arena has had a $4 billion “economic impact” on the region over 20 years, citing entirely the arena authority that is seeking $200 million to $300 million in public money for upgrades to the place. No attempt to contact any other economists on whether “economic impact” is a bullshit term (it is) or even what they thought of the author of the report, UNC-Charlotte economics professor John Connaughton, who once said he “questions the sincerity” of any economist who doesn’t find a positive impact from sports venues. Actually, even that quote would have been good to include in the N&O article, so readers could have a sense of the bona fides of the guy who came up with this $4 billion figure. But why take time for journalism when you can get just as many clicks for stenography?
  • The San Francisco Giants‘ stadium has another new name, which just happens to be the same as the old new name of the basketball arena the Warriors are leaving across the bay, and I’m officially giving up on trying to keep track of any of this. Hey, Paul Lukas, when are you issuing “I’m Still Calling It Pac Bell” t-shirts?
  • Indy Eleven, the USL team that really really wants somebody to build it a new stadium so it can (maybe) join MLS, still really really wants somebody to build it a new stadium, and hotels, office and retail space, an underground parking structure, and apartments, all paid for via “[Capital Improvement Board president Melina] Kennedy wasn’t available to discuss the proposed financial structure of the project.” It would definitely involve kicking back future property taxes from the development (i.e., tax increment financing), though, so maybe Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir is hoping that by generating more property taxes that his development team then wouldn’t pay but instead use to pay off his own stadium costs, that would look better, somehow? I mean, he did promise to keep asking, so at least he’s a man of his word.
  • “At some point in time, there’s going to have to be a stadium solution,” declared the president of a pro sports team that plays in a stadium that just turned 23 years old. “If we don’t start thinking about it, we’ll wake up one day and have a stadium that’s not meeting the needs of the fans or the community.” Want to try to guess which team? “All of them” is not an acceptable answer! (Click here for this week’s puzzle solution.)

Calgary councillor on Flames arena: We haven’t tried setting $600m on fire yet, it’s worth a shot

It’s generally not a good idea to base your perceptions of a major development plan on which of two elected officials has the best sound bite, but in the case of the proposed new Calgary Flames arena, it’s really hard not to when these are both contained in the same article:

“What I’ve been saying to proponents of the arena is, ‘Don’t sell me magic beans,’” [Calgary Mayor Naheed] Nenshi said in a year-end interview with Postmedia. “Just be really honest: This is the amount of public financing that it’s going to take to build this and this is why we think it’s a good investment in the city.”

And:

Some at the city, including the mayor, have questioned what sort of private development is likely to be spurred in an environment where office towers are already sitting empty and there exists an oversupply of condos and apartments.

“I dispute that a little bit, [that] putting an office tower there isn’t a good thing when we have vacancy,” says [city councillor Jeff] Davison. “It’s absolutely a good thing, because it’s a totally different model than what we have now. And what we’ve learned is that in this downturn, the model we have right now doesn’t work.”

Don’t sell me magic beans vs. we should build an arena in order to spark the creation of office towers in the middle of an office tower glut because not building arenas hasn’t worked great so why not try something different? is a first-round rhetorical knockout even before we get into the actual numbers involved. Which are, if you’re scoring at home: A new arena could now cost $600 million plus the price of land, which is a higher price tag than in the last plan that the Calgary city manager projected the city would lose $1.2 billion on (though that one would have included a CFL stadium as well).

The Calgary council is set to vote on January 28 on which projects to dedicate public funds to, and both Davison and Nenshi have votes. Expect a whole lot of public lobbying in the next four weeks, in other words, which means lots more opportunities for fun sound bite wars.

Calgary releases terrifying new arena renderings in advance of terrifying new arena vote

The Calgary city council is set to vote today on reopening talks with the Flames owners about a new hockey arena as part of an “entertainment district” — presumably this won’t include discussions just yet on how much the city would have to pay for one, since that only gets people upset — and just in time, the city-owned Calgary Municipal Land Corporation has issued some fresh renderings: Okay, that looks like an arena of some kind, certainly. It’s an unusual touch for renderings to show passersby bundled up against a driving snowstorm, but I guess that’s how we know that it’s Canada, if the Canadian flag didn’t tip us off.

Anything of the interior?

GAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Okay, so the plan is apparently for Calgary to build an arena not just for hockey, but also for portals into adjacent dimensions, from which will extrude a warped version of space-time that will inexorably start to cover the walls and ceiling of the new venue, en route to engulfing all of Calgary, and eventually, our entire universe. Fortunately a lucky few fans will be able to use their glowing wrist bracelets to teleport to safety just in time, but for the rest of us, there will be no escape. Also, those upper-deck seats look like they have terrible sightlines.

Friday update: Bad D.C. arena math, bad Bucks arena math, bad Columbus ticket tax math

It must be September, because my TV is filled with Jim Cantore and Anderson Cooper standing ankle-deep in water. But anyway:

  • Washington, D.C., is about to open its new Mystics home arena and Wizards practice facility, and Mayor Muriel Bowser says it’s a model of how the city would build a new NFL stadium as well. “We know [sports] can help our bottom line by attracting people to our city, but it also has a big impact when we’re winning on our collective psyche,” says Bowser of an arena that got $50 million in public subsidies for two teams that were already playing in D.C. anyway. Maybe she should go back to using her terrible soccer stadium deal as a model instead.
  • People in Calgary are starting to ask whether, if the city is looking to spend $3 billion on hosting the 2026 Olympics, maybe it should build a new Flames arena as part of the deal? Camels, man.
  • Buffalo Bills co-owner Kim Pegula says she’s going to wait until after the gubernatorial elections this November to start negotiating a new stadium with whoever ends up in charge of the state. It won’t be the lox-and-raisin-bagel lady.
  • Speaking of the Pegulas and New York’s current governor, they’re planning an $18 million upgrade of Rochester’s arena that hosts the Rochester Americans minor-league hockey team (which the Pegulas also own), with costs to be split among the owners and city and state taxpayers. Split how? Sorry, no room in the Associated Press article, ask again later!
  • The AP did find time to fact-check Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s claim that the new Milwaukee Bucks arena would return three dollars in new taxes for each one spent, and found that “Walker omits some of the state money spent on the 20-year arena deal and relies on income tax estimates that experts call unreliable.” I could’ve told them that — in fact, I did, three years ago.
  • “‘Ticket tax’ proposal could lead to higher prices on movies, theater, sports in Columbus” reads a headline on ‘s website, something that the station’s reporter asserts in the accompanying video without saying where he got it from. He’s at least partly wrong: Ticket prices are already set as high as the market will bear, so unless the ticket tax changes the market — in other words, unless people in Columbus are forced to spend more on movies and theater and such because the other options (staying at home and watching TV, going out to eat) aren’t good enough, mostly this will just mean prices will stay roughly the same but a bigger share will go to theater/team owner’s tax bills. (I could try to find an economist to estimate exactly how big a share, but isn’t that really WSYX’s job?)
  • Former Oakland A’s exec Andy Dolich says the team owners may be looking at buying both the Howard Terminal site and the Oakland Coliseum site, and using the revenues from one to pay the costs of prepping the other for baseball, which, if the Coliseum site is such a cash cow and Howard Terminal such a money pit, wouldn’t they be better off just buying the Coliseum site and developing that? Or is the idea that Oakland would somehow give up the Coliseum site at a discounted price in order to get a new A’s stadium done? I have a lot of math questions here.
  • With nobody wanting to spend $250 million on a major renovation of Hartford’s arena, the agency that manages the XL Center is now looking for a $100 million state-funded upgrade instead. Still waiting to hear whether this would actually generate $100 million worth of new revenues for the arena; if not, the state would be better off just giving the arena a pile of cash to subsidize its bottom line, no?
  • Cobb County is only letting the Atlanta Braves owners out of part of the $1.5 million they owed on water and sewer costs for their new stadium. Yay?

Flames demand secret arena offer from Calgary, city negotiator says yeah that seems fair

When the Calgary city council announced a new Flames arena negotiating committee without Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who was the guy on the old committee who clearly knew the most about negotiating arena deals, it was a worrisome sign. But hey, maybe the new committee was going to be smart, too, and they just wanted Nenshi out of the way because the Flames owners hated him and this way they could bargain without him being a lightning rod for criticism?

Turns out, not so much:

Reporters were told that on May 31, Coun. Jeff Davison sent a letter to Flames’ CEO Ken King, asking for a new round of talks.

King responded with a letter which started with: “While we would never decline your formal request for a meeting, we do have some concerns based on past practice.”

King requested a preliminary discussion so the Flames can see what’s changed in the city’s position, and then the team could decide if it’s worth returning to the table…

King’s letter also came with a caveat.

“If we are to proceed, a simple and preemptive imperative is media silence. Public and/or media involvement must only be rendered in the event of an agreement,” wrote King.

So the Flames owners’ official position is: Tell us your offer, and we won’t tell you our offer, and then maybe we’ll consider discussing things with you. But nobody is to talk to the media about anything, because we will only negotiate — by which we mean listen to you negotiating against yourself — behind closed doors, with any open democratic debate to take place after the deal is already done.

That is … what’s Canadian for “batshit”? Surely Davison could see that, right?

Turns out, not so much:

He said the letter is a good sign.

“We haven’t heard officially from the Flames in months and getting moving on a conversation quickly was important,” said Davison.

Also, the CBC reports that Davison says he “understands the condition” of not revealing anything to the media.

If you want to bend over backwards to give Davison the benefit of the doubt: Maybe he’s just trying to nod and smile to get King and the Flames execs back to the table, and at that point he’ll start playing hardball. (And he did release the letter to the media, which shows he’s not going to negotiate totally in secret, though he also noted that the letter was going to be subject to freedom of information requests anyway.)

But still, why is he so eager to get the Flames execs back to the table, when it’s the team, not the city, that is desperate for a new arena? Nenshi’s approach — show me why we should build you an arena, and we’ll happily listen — may not have led to progress toward construction, but that’s largely because building an arena that the Flames would profit from would be a terrible deal for the city, while building an arena that wouldn’t cost the city much would be a terrible deal for the Flames. So yeah, there’s an impasse, but that’s only because $1 billion–plus arenas in medium-sized cities that already have perfectly okay if lacking new-car-smell arenas are terrible investments, something that no amount of smiling and nodding and negotiating is going to change. It’s still early, but “Please let us negotiate with you for this thing that you are demanding from us” seems like a very, very, very bad sign.

Friday roundup: The news media are collectively losing their goddamn minds edition

It’s a full slate this week, so let’s do this!

Calgary council forms new committee for Flames arena talks, without pesky mayor who knew how this stuff worked

As rumored last month, the Calgary city council has gone ahead and formed a committee to reopen talks with the Flames owners on a new arena, a committee that will edge Mayor Naheed Nenshi out of a central role in negotiations. Nenshi, though, either thinks the rest of the council will hold a hard line or is just making a brave face of it, because he had this to say:

“I think hitting the reset button is a good idea, but the reset button has to be hit on both sides,” Nenshi said.

“Given that we were not the party that walked away I think it’s important everyone come back to the table and maybe with new faces around the table as well.”…

“It will be hard for the committee to convince me to put a lot more public money on the table,” Nenshi said Monday. “I think it will be hard for the committee to convince council to do that.

“I think it will be hard for the committee to convince Calgarians to do that.”

The concern here, ultimately, isn’t who does the negotiating on behalf of Calgary residents, it’s whether they give away the store. Nenshi still wields influence on the council, and obviously still has the bully pulpit to embarrass all concerned with facts, so it’s not like the Flames owners have carte blanche now. Still, this is something to keep an eye on, to be sure that it’s genuinely the Calgary council telling the team, “We’re willing to talk so long as you’re not asking us to give away the store,” and not “Okay, we pushed out the guy who understood economics, when do you want us to jump and how high?”

Some Calgary council members want Mayor Nenshi out of Flames arena talks, because he’s not “gung ho” enough

This article from the Toronto Star is really weird and convoluted and lede-burying, but if I get the gist of it, it’s that some members of the Calgary city council are trying to find a way to freeze Mayor Naheed Nenshi out of future negotiations with the Flames over a new arena, because he’s been too good at not giving away the store. The evidence on hand:

At least 10 councillors are directly involved in or aware of recent meetings in which elected officials have discussed drafting a notice of motion calling on council to strike a new committee — one that may exclude past brokers from both parties.

“Initially, it should be new blood that’s on it to give it a different perspective than we’re getting now,” said Coun. Ray Jones.

“The longer we leave it, the more it just kind of goes away,” he explained. “Everybody right now is gung ho to get going on it, and I think we should take advantage of that.”

And:

In addition to Jones, councillors Ward Sutherland, George Chahal, Sean Chu, Shane Keating, Peter Demong, Diane Colley-Urquhart, Joe Magliocca, Evan Woolley and Jeff Davison are directly involved in or aware of discussions to restart talks and form a new committee.

“We’ve got to get a few oars in the water here and moving in the same direction before we really can make any headway with it,” said Davison, who is leading the charge.

“Overall, you’re just seeing a different makeup on council,” he said. “There’s a lot of us that are new, and sometimes some of the ideas that failed in the past get rejuvenated.”

And:

Lori Williams, associate professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University, said councillors might be wary of voter backlash given many Calgarians supported Nenshi’s position.

“I suppose it does make sense to try to get new people to the negotiating table so that any animosities that may be lingering from the breakdown of negotiations in the past would not be part of this,” Williams said.

Okay, sure, “new blood” and “new ideas,” but otherwise this is just weird: The last round of negotiations “broke down” not because of any problems on the council side, but because Nenshi pointed out that the Flames owners’ plan could cost the city more than a billion dollars, and then the Flames walked away from the table and put all their energies into trying to defeat Nenshi in last fall’s mayoral election. When that didn’t work, they mostly sighed a lot about how now what were they gonna do with a mayor in power who didn’t want to give them lots of taxpayer money, and deployed NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to say that the Flames will lose money without a new arena, when that’s patently not true.

While Nenshi has been possibly the most prominent city mayor anywhere in holding the line on sports subsidies, he’s always been limited by Calgary’s weak-mayor system, in which he’s only one vote on the 15-member council. Given that the Star report only talked to a couple of council members, it’s hard to say whether this is an actual major revolt or just some people trying to trash-talk the mayor into getting out of the way and letting them get down to the business of shoveling money at the Flames — one councillor, Shane Keating, is cited as having said of Nenshi, “I’ll never be as intelligent as you are, but I’ve been smarter than you many times,” which is described as a “stinging rebuke.” Maybe it sounds different in the original Canadian?