Friday roundup: Charlotte approves $35m in soccer subsidies, NYC spends $5m on stadium upgrades for team that may disappear, NBA joins NFL in welcoming fans back to giant virus stew

Even after dispensing with that crazy San Jose Sharks move threat story, there’s a ton of leftover news this week. So put down that amazing Defector article about how the British have fetishized the Magna Carta as a declaration of citizen rights when it’s really just about how the king can’t unreasonably tax 25 barons, and let’s get right to it:

Ilitches offer Detroit quarter-acre of vacant lots to make up for Red Wings arena being surrounded by vacant lots

This article in the Detroit News on developments surrounding development surrounding the Red Wings and Pistons arena requires a bit of unraveling to get to the bottom of, so bear with me for a minute:

Once upon a time, a city named Detroit gave the local pizza barons $261.5 million in city and state funds plus $50 million in free land to build a new hockey arena, then another $34.5 million to the local basketball team to move into the new arena, then $74 million more to build themselves two parking garages, a pizza company headquarters, and a Google office with all of 100 workers that’s actually inside the arena itself. All this was in hopes the arena would spur lots of additional development, but in reality it’s surrounded by vacant lots, lots and lots of lots.

The pizza barons felt bad about this, possibly because they’d agreed in their deal with the city to already start developing this land two years ago. (The Detroit News article is silent on whether there were established penalties in place for missing this deadline; a Crain’s Detroit article from last month says the Ilitch family was “in violation” of the 2013 agreement to start construction by the end of 2017, but not what the consequences of this were.) So they came up with a new plan: Buy another three years of time to come up with a plan — making them five years late in total — by giving the city two pieces of vacant land totaling a quarter of an acre:

The Brush Park lot that may become a city park is at 242 Watson. It’s 0.172 acres. The Ilitch-linked entity bought it for $3,000 in 2009. It is currently valued at $390,000, according to property tax records.

The other property that may become a park is a 0.065-acre  lot at 3118 Fourth. The land is valued at $111,600, according to property tax records.

So that’s $500,000 in vacant land in exchange for a three-year extension on meeting the requirements of a deal that got the Ilitches $385.5 million in cash and land. You can sort of see why Detroit is handing them more rope — city officials want the promised development, and the Ilitches are their best hope for making it happen — but you can also see where this will be the exact same case three years from now, meaning the Ilitches can always offer up another 100-by-100-foot lot (that’s how big a quarter of an acre is) then if they still don’t feel like building anything.

All of which is a excellent cautionary tale about handing over control of your city’s land, plus hundreds of millions of dollars in arena money, to a single developer in hopes that they’ll make it bloom, especially if you have no Plan B for what to do if they decide, “Enh, the real estate market isn’t hot enough this decade.” A spokesperson for Mayor Mike Duggan told the News that the latest deal includes “potential penalties” if the Ilitches blow off the new deadline, including possibly having the city retake ownership of the property that was sold to the Ilitches as part of the arena deal — that’s something of a hammer, anyway, but even so it will have allowed the Ilitches to control most of downtown and hold it hostage to their own business whims for nearly a decade, which isn’t really the best way to get people interested in moving to your hollowed-out city. And there were almost certainly more effective ways to spend that $385.5 million — but then, those ways weren’t being pushed by the local pizza baron, and that’s what makes all the difference.

Friday roundup: Red Wings owner touts his “passion” amid sea of parking lots, cities are terrible stadium negotiators, newspapers are terrible newspapers

The cryptocurrency-based journalism startup Civil couldn’t have gone much worse, but it did spawn a couple of successes, none more welcome than Hmm Daily, the news commentary site from former Gawker and Deadspin editor Tom Scocca. Or as I will always think of him, the co-founder of Funny Paper, the now virtually unfindable-on-the-internet weekly(ish) political analysis of daily comic strips that was the greatest such enterprise until the great Josh Fruhlinger elevated it to an even higher art form. I’ve been enjoying Scocca’s excellent columns on the militarization of language and how big a giant bee is for months now, but I didn’t feel compelled to bite the bullet and kick in any money until I spotted this photo caption in an article by Scocca’s Funny Paper co-conspirator Joe MacLeod: “I have no beef with the M&M’s homunculus infesting the menu.” If you know me at all from reading this website, you know that I immediately pulled out my wallet and became a paying Hmm Daily subscriber (at the $5 a month level, though the reward at the $50,000 level is truly amazing).

Anyways, on to the sports stadium and arena newses:

  • The District Detroit development around the new Red Wings arena still consists mostly of some state-subsidized parking lots, but Red Wings exec Christopher Ilitch says that’s okay because “Our timelines may change. Our passion, the energy, the way we feel about this community has not.” And truly, who can put a price on feels?
  • The Voice of OC cites “experts” as saying that Anaheim may not be driving a hard enough bargain with Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno on a price for stadium parking lot development rights, and oh hey look, it’s me. Also Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson, who says, “Cities tend to be remarkably bad negotiators when it comes to professional sports,” which, yup.
  • Politifact Wisconsin did a fact-check on claims that the state of Wisconsin will get a “tremendous” payback on its Milwaukee Bucks arena subsidies and found that that’s only if you assume the Bucks would have moved without them, and assume that Bucks fans would have all stopped spending their money in Wisconsin without them, and assume that NBA salaries will quintuple by the 2040s, and further found that Villanova sports stadium researcher Rick Eckstein calls the revenue estimates “fantasy figures,” and concluded that this makes the claim Mostly True. It is just slightly possible that having staff members of the local newspaper that has a record of overarching credulity on the arena deal do fact-checking on it might not be the best idea.
  • The people trying to get an MLB franchise in Portland are running out of momentum as MLB waits for the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s to work out their stadium situations before considering expansion, but at least they got a meeting with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred — no wait, the news report has corrected itself, they didn’t even get that. Well, at least they have weirdly non-Euclidean renderings.
  • Speaking of MLB expansion hopefuls, Montreal’s would-be neo-Expos owner Stephen Bronfman has a deal in place on land for a new stadium … not on buying the land, mind you, but with a developer to help develop the non-stadium part of the land once they buy it. This could be a while.
  • And speaking of the Rays and of terrible newspapers, the Tampa Bay Times’ John Romano wants to know when St. Petersburg and Tampa officials will stop bickering and get to work on throwing money at Rays owner Stuart Sternberg already?
  • The New York Times is a significantly less terrible newspaper, but a profile on A’s president Dave Kaval with the headline “Can This Man Keep the A’s in Oakland?” is not only pretty sycophantic in its own right, but it assumes a lot about the team owners moving without a new stadium when they’ve already gone a couple of decades demanding a new stadium and not getting one and still not moving.
  • Henderson, Nevada, is giving $10 million to the owners of the Vegas Golden Knights to build a practice rink, which is dumb but less dumb than some other cities’ expenses on similar projects.
  • The Arizona Coyotes are getting a new majority owner and the Phoenix Suns are up for sale, according to Sportsnet’s John Shannon, who added, “as one NHL official told me yesterday, when I asked that very question, I said, ‘Does this new owner mean that there’s an arena closer to fruition?’ And the answer was, if you get a new owner, there’s a better chance of a new arena. So you can put two and two together, Steve.” Then the Suns owners and a report in The Athletic on the Coyotes completely refuted what Shannon said, so maybe you’re better off putting two and two together without his help.
  • I was about to write up this news story about a potential rezoning approval for Austin F.C.‘s new stadium, but then I saw that KXAN managed to write “Austin’s Planing Commission” and “this ammendment” in the first three paragraphs, and now I gotta go cry all day about the death of copy editing, sorry.

Red Wings owners to get $74m bonus subsidy for building parking garages for themselves

If you’ve been remotely awake the last couple of weeks, you’ve no doubt heard about the controversy around the Detroit Red Wings arena, which the team’s owners the Ilitch family promised would create tons of new development in the surrounding district and which instead led mostly to lots of parking lots. Injury, get ready to meet insult: The Ilitches are about to pocket $74 million in bonus subsidies from the city because they built, among other things, parking garages:

Ilitch-owned Olympia Development has made at least $200 million in building investments within the arena district, popularly known as District Detroit. That spending fulfills the organization’s minimum legal commitment for so-called “ancillary development” around the new sports venue where the Red Wings and Pistons have played since fall 2017…

The $200 million goal was met by development of two parking decks, the Google office at the south side of the arena and the still-under-construction Little Caesars headquarters on Woodward.

That Google office, which opened last year, employs all of 100 people and is actually in the arena itself, so it’s hard to call it additional development. The parking decks are for the Red Wings (and their tenants, the Pistons), while the Little Caesars headquarters is for the pizza company owned by the Ilitches. (One garage will feature some ground-floor retail stores, at least, if anyone rents the space.) So while that’s all certainly an “investment” by the team owners, it’s an investment in their own business, for which they’ll now be collecting a check from city taxpayers covering 37% of their $200 million cost.

The Detroit Free Press has this as increasing taxpayers’ total arena outlay to $398 million; there are so many moving parts to this deal — stadium construction bonds, demolition costs, free city land, etc. — that I can’t confirm that independently, but it sounds about right. The lesson here, as the lesson pretty much always is, is for god’s sake don’t sign leases allowing team owners to rake in additional subsidies for easily attainable goals that gain local residents pretty much nothing. It would have been easy enough to tie the bonus subsidy to jobs created instead of money spent, or exclude spending on the Ilitch’s own businesses, or any number of other requirements, but the state officials running Detroit when the arena deal was agreed to during the city’s bankruptcy seem not to have been interested in any of that. I would say that I hope at least future elected officials in Michigan and elsewhere would learn from this mistake, but given past experience, really I don’t hope that hard at all.

HBO Real Sports is latest to notice that Red Wings arena development promises were a lie

I just this morning got around to watching Tuesday night’s episode of HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel on District Detroit, the development that was supposed to spring up around the new Detroit Red Wings arena, but hasn’t — something that’s been covered by other outlets in the past. While trying to remember how to log in to HBO Go, I had already learned that the Ilitch family, owners of the Red Wings and Tigers, had called it “a self-interested, sensationalized and inaccurate report designed to attract viewers instead of a balanced report on the rebirth of Detroit and our contributions to City’s turn around,” so needless to say I had high hopes.

And I can now say that … it’s fine. It lays out all the main plot points of the District Detroit saga — rich family meets struggling city, rich family that kept property blighted for years promises city new development in exchange for public money, rich family builds parking lots for its own profit instead of new development — in that breezy eyebrows-furrowed narrative style that’s been familiar ever since 60 Minutes launched back in the late Paleozoic. Aside from a debatable dig at how the city’s literally crumbling schools were denied funding as a result of the arena subsidies (the state claims that it reimbursed the city schools, but it’s complicated), there’s nothing that hasn’t been reported many times before, let alone that could be considered “inaccurate.”

The most enlightening parts are the segments interviewing former state representative John Walsh, the sponsor of the Red Wings bill (and now president of the Downtown Detroit Partnership), who is helpfully unrepentant about helping to birth this whole mess:

Real Sports correspondent David Scott: “Did you consult any independent economists about it?”

Walsh: “I didn’t consult any, but I did plenty of research. I am known as a data-driven person.”

Scott: “The North American Association of Sports Economists — I don’t know if they came up in your research? They concluded that sports subsidies have no consistent positive impact on jobs, income, or tax revenue.”

Walsh: “If they’re only looking for dollar-for-dollar return, I agree with them—”

Scott: “But they’re not. They’re talking about job creation, they’re talking about local economic development.”

Walsh: “How do you quantify that? At some point you have to have a level of faith in a project.”

My expectations of American elected officials, especially American elected officials who immediately jump from public office to working for local business lobbying groups, couldn’t be lower, but still hearing one say “I am known as a data-driven person” immediately followed by “At some point you have to have a level of faith” is impressively horrifying. This isn’t going to displace John Oliver’s report on stadiums as my favorite YouTube video on the sports subsidy scam — especially since HBO hasn’t put it on YouTube, though I’m sure if you dig around you can find it somewhere — but if it convinces some future legislator somewhere that “hmm, maybe we should have checked to see how this worked out in other cities first, using actual math,” then it’s 17 minutes of air time well spent.

Friday roundup: Raiders’ Oakland deal still not done, A’s stadium plan gets rounder edges, Flames arena vote delayed

Let’s get right to the week’s news roundup:

  • NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on Monday that Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis was on the verge of an agreement with Oakland officials to stay put in Oakland for 2019 and possibly 2020, and four days later, they still appear to have moved no closer than the verge. More news as events warrant, if they ever do.
  • We have new renderings for the proposed Oakland A’s stadium at Howard Terminal, and they look slightly less doofy than the old renderings, or at least somewhat less angular. Odds that any ballpark will look remotely like this if a Howard Terminal stadium is ever built: two infinities to one. Odds that a Howard Terminal stadium is ever built: Somewhat better, but I still wouldn’t hold your breath.
  • The Calgary city council put off a vote on a term sheet for a new Flames arena on Tuesday, after a marathon meeting that the public was barred from. They’ll be meeting in private again on Monday, and still plan not to tell anyone what the deal looks like until they’ve negotiated it with the Flames owners, which Calgary residents are not super happy about.
  • Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer still really really wants a new arena of his own by 2024, and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times show that he met with Inglewood Mayor James Butts as early as June 2016 to try to get Madison Square Garden to give up its lease on his preferred arena site before they found out he wanted to build an arena there. This is mostly of interest if you like gawking at warring sports billionaires, but if you do you’re in luck, because the battle seems likely to continue for a long time yet.
  • The Miami Marlins are turning the former site of their Red Grooms home run sculpture in center field into a “three-tier millennial park” with $10 standing-room tickets, because apparently millennials are broke and hate sitting down? They’ve gotta try something, I guess, and this did help get them a long Miami Herald article about their “rebranding” efforts, so sure, millennial park it is.
  • Building a football stadium for a college football team and hoping to fill it up with lots of Bruce Springsteen concerts turns out, shockingly, not to have been such a great idea. UConn’s Rentschler Field loses money most years, and hasn’t hosted a major concert since 2007, with the director of the agency that runs it griping, “The summers are generally slow, the springs are generally muddy, and the falls are UConn’s.” And nobody built lots of new development around a stadium that hosts only nine events a year, likewise shockingly. It still could have been worse, though: Hartford could have spent even more money on landing the New England Patriots.
  • Speaking of failed sports developments, the new Detroit Red Wings arena district is “shaping up to be a giant swath of blacktop,” reports Deadline Detroit, which also revealed that the city has failed to penalize the team’s owners for missing development deadlines, and has held out the possibility of more public subsidies if he ever does build anything around the arena. At least the Ilitches are finally paying for the extra police needed to work NHL games, though, so that’s something.
  • Oklahoma City is considering using up to $92 million to build a 10,000-seat USL stadium that could later be expanded for MLS, because of course they are.
  • Here is an article that cites “an economic development expert” as saying that hosting a Super Bowl could be worth $1 billion in “economic activity” to Las Vegas, saying he based this on the results of last year’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis. Actual increased tax receipts for Minneapolis during the game: $2.4 million. It took me 30 seconds to research this, but apparently the Las Vegas Review-Journal is too high and mighty to use Google. Do not reward them with your clicks.

Newspaper sends reporter to look at Detroit’s arena district renaissance, finds mostly vacant lots

Hey, remember how the Detroit Free Press reported the week before last that the new Red Wings and Pistons arena had turned its neighborhood into “a dynamic, connected stretch that has grown and attracted new businesses and investment with the promise of much more to come”? Well, the Guardian actually sent a reporter to look at the arena district, and found that the reality doesn’t match up with the press release:

There are few places to live in the District, and little to eat. Vacant, decaying buildings make up entire city blocks. There are almost no lights, save for those illuminating surface lots and parking garages.

Okay, then! But what do Detroiters themselves think?

Sean Swierkosz, general manager of the longstanding sports bar Harry’s, watched the Ilitches make progress, “but then it stalled”, he said. “I feel like I’m looking over the fence at my neighbor’s yard at his half-finished project or garage.”

Sure, but, you know, it’s Detroit, right? Isn’t a half-finished project better than none?

Notably, the landscape looks much different just a few blocks across The District’s borders, where Detroit’s neighborhoods are alive with redevelopment. Lofts list for as much as $650,000, and large residential projects are under way in the adjacent historic Brush Park neighborhood. Further up Cass Avenue, new restaurants, bars, and shops flourish on streets resembling the Ilitches’ banners’ renderings.

Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson remarks that while it’s common for sports venues to have little or no impact on their surrounding neighborhoods, “it is extremely rare to see a stadium cause a neighborhood to go backwards.” But then, it’s also extremely rare for a new arena to replace all its seats just one year after it opened because the original ones made it too obvious when nobody was sitting in them.

Friday roundup: Chargers L.A. move still a disaster, Raiders still lack 2019 home, Rays still short of stadium cash

I’ve been busy getting my post-Village Voice life rolling this week — here’s my first article for Gothamist, on how to fight Amazon’s monopoly power, and I’ve also started a Twitter account for following ex-Voice news writers as we keep up our work for other outlets — but Friday mornings are sacred, for they are stadium and arena news roundup time:

Friday roundup: Bad MLB attendance, bad CFL loans, bad temporary Raiders relocation ideas

And in other news:

Friday roundup: Pistons disguise empty seats as other-colored empty seats, Olympics tourism is bad and likely to get worse, Suns have no clue about arena plans, and more!

Off we go! In my case, literally: I’ll be traveling all next week, so if you don’t hear much from me around here, hold tight and I’ll catch up with all the news on my return. In the meantime, keep yourself warm at night with this week’s worth of fresh items:

  • Pyeongchang’s surge in tourism for the Olympics is unlikely to be sustained in future years, according to a study that shows tourism levels quickly drop back to normal, when they even have an Olympic uptick in the first place. (Overseas visitors to London were actually down in the summer of 2012.) Given that you can still walk up and buy tickets to most of this year’s Olympic events, I wouldn’t count on it being an exception to the rule. Hope the locals enjoy all those new hotels!
  • Phoenix Rising F.C. is designing a new MLS-ready stadium on the site of its current temporary stadium on the Salt River Pima reservation, and claims it will pay the whole $250 million cost. That would sure be nice, but then that’s what we were told in Sacramento, too.
  • The Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity is sponsoring bills in state legislatures that establishing bans on spending public money on pro sports stadiums, which would kick in as soon as 25 states agreed to join the compact. Better they spend on that than on trying to buy Congress, certainly, but as sports economist John Vrooman noted to the Arizona Republic, this wouldn’t stop the other 25 states from continuing to spend to try to lure teams, at which point the whole system would break down. Vrooman said really any legislation needs to happen on the federal level, and “unfortunately for local taxpayers held hostage, that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.” You gotta believe, John!
  • The projected cost to restore Miami Marine Stadium — remember Miami Marine Stadium? — has risen from $45 million to $59.6 million, and Miami has only $50.4 million set aside to pay for it, and yeah, that’s not good.
  • If you were wanting a long, fawning profile of the Golden State Warriors COO in charge of building their new arena, the Associated Press is here to serve. I’m more interested in the accompanying photo of a giant model of the arena, which makes the upper deck seats look kinda crappy thanks to an intervening clot of suites and club seats, but other images that show the end seats make it look not so bad, so I’ll withhold judgment until somebody (maybe even me!) sees the new place with their own eyes.
  • Hey, Phoenix Suns president Jason Rowley, how are your arena plans going? “‘What’s the best solution?’ It hasn’t been figured out yet.” Are you thinking of going in on an arena with the Arizona Coyotes? “There really hasn’t been a whole lot of conversation between us and the Coyotes.” Any hints at all about what your plans might be? “There are so many pieces to an arena conversation that it’s very difficult to identify one thing that would either be a go-forward situation or one thing that would impact where you’re ultimately going to end up.” The Suns have an opt-out in their current arena lease in 2022, so expect more heated rhetoric once we get closer to that date.
  • The Detroit Pistons are putting black seat covers over the red seats at their new arena during their home games, to make it less obvious how many empty seats there are. The covers are removed for Red Wings games, because the Red Wings’ team color is red, so I guess for them it’s not embarrassing, it’s promotion of their brand? The Pistons are also letting fans move down from the upper deck to the lower at no cost to make the empty seats look less bad on television. Hope Detroit is enjoying all that economic development!
  • At least Detroit got lots of local construction jobs from the arena, and that’s one thing no one can take away! Unless you believe the claims of a local construction worker’s lawsuit against one arena contractor, which says he was only hired to meet the project’s 51% local hiring quota and then immediately fired, while at the same time suburban workers were brought in under fake addresses. And even then, city data shows that only 27% of total workers on the arena project lived in Detroit.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says he approves of the Tampa Bay Rays‘ preferred Ybor City site for a new stadium — it’s literally his job to say this, so no surprise there — and has told Tampa business leaders that they need to be “engaged in this effort” because “it’s good for community over the long haul.” He then added, “It’s crucial that we get a facility here that allows the Rays to get more toward the middle of the industry in terms of their revenues,” which pretty much sounds like, Hey, local corporate titans, one of your brethren isn’t making as much profit as he’d like, please give him a bunch of your money so his bank balance looks better, okay? More power to him if that sales pitch works, I guess, but I’m in no way confident it will take a significant bite out of that $400 million-plus funding hole, and remain concerned it’s mostly misdirection so that whenever the Rays eventually go to taxpayers hat in hand, they can say, Look, the business community is already chipping in, you gotta do your part too, capisce?