Let’s get right to this week’s remainders:
- I read this headline from earlier in the week “Miami Open Moving to Dolphin’s Stadium” too quickly, and thought for a second “Yes! David Beckham has come to his senses!” But no, it’s the Miami Open tennis tournament that’s maybe moving to the Dolphins‘ stadium (and also not a single dolphin’s stadium as the punctuation might suggest), and anyway now the tournament probably isn’t moving to the Dolphins’ stadium because Miami-Dade County wants to get paid all that it’s owed for past tournaments first, and hell with that. The Miami Open could now move out of Florida or even the U.S., which … how does that even work? Can you just move a tennis tournament to Zurich or something and declare, “Now we’re the Miami Open of Zurich, everyone has to come play here instead”? Clearly I don’t understand tennis, which is just how I like it.
- St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green tried to stall the St. Louis Blues arena renovation subsidy agreement that she hates (with good reason) by signing the paperwork as a judge had ordered, but refusing to actually hand over the signed documents. That didn’t work.
- The Tampa Bay Times insists that giving the Lightning $61 million in tax money to upgrade their arena in exchange for a lease extension isn’t really a subsidy, because it’s tax money that couldn’t have been spent on teacher pensions anyway. Seriously, guys, how many times do we have to point out that money is fungible, so the hotel-tax money could be spent on some other tourism-related expense, and that could be used to free up cash for other things, including, sure underfunded teacher pensions? Didn’t the Iran-Contra affair teach you anything?
- One of the three contenders for Belmont Park property who is not the New York Islanders or NYC F.C. dropped out of the bidding this week, saying the requirements for the project “appear to create a selection process that has been predetermined.” That sounds like “too rich for my blood” to me, but Horse Race Insider insists it means the Islanders have this all but locked up, and who am I to question Horse Race Insider? If so, next question will be whether the team’s owners really go ahead with building a new arena there with their own money (presumably, since they haven’t yet hinted at asking for public funds), or just use it as leverage to shake down the Barclays Center owners for a sweetheart lease extension.
- A Nevada congressman is asking the conference committee deciding the final terms of the nightmare tax bill that if they won’t restore tax-exempt bond financing for stadiums (the House version would outlaw them, the Senate version wouldn’t), to at least include language grandfathering in the Las Vegas Raiders stadium on the grounds that “many communities across the country have benefited from the tax-exempt status of bonds for professional stadiums.” All the other kids’ moms let them!
- Things that didn’t pass the smell test this week: an affordable-housing deal in Brooklyn, Montana State University taking money from the Koch Brothers, the Edmonton Oilers losing a game to the Philadelphia Flyers, dog poop fines in Melbourne, Australia, opposition to marijuana legalization in Alberta, and Real Salt Lake‘s property tax assessment.
I’m busy trying to figure out whether Congress is really going to rewrite the tax code to give a couple of trillion dollars to rich people or will melt down at the last second like it did with healthcare repeal, so this’ll be in superbrief mode this morning:
- Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt may have to face a public vote if he wants to go ahead with plans to build a new soccer stadium in a public park in Austin and move the team there in 2019.
- The Rochester Rhinos will take a year off from the USL next year, while hosting other soccer events, as part of a showdown with the city of Rochester where the team’s owners are demanding more operating subsidies. At the same time, the team’s former owner claims he still owns all of the team’s office furniture and scoreboard video equipment. No, this whole thing is not going well at all.
- Qatar is going to build a World Cup stadium partly out of shipping containers, which would allow it to be disassembled and … turned into a bunch of smaller stadiums later, because that’s what Qatar really needs? I’m not entirely clear on the concept here, honestly, but there are some cool pictures if you like dystopian future architecture.
- Dave Zirin asked me if subsidy demands like Amazon’s have learned from sports stadium shakedowns over the past couple of decades, and I said no duh.
- Hamilton County may be again facing a sales-tax shortfall for paying off Cincinnati Bengals and Reds stadium debt, which means local property taxes will have to be raised to fund the difference. At least they won’t have to sell any hospitals this time.
- They’re going to blow up the Pontiac Silverdome on Sunday, since it’s taking too long to fall down itself.
- This actually was reported a couple of weeks ago, but I missed it at the time: Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg says he’s willing to pay about $150 million towards a new $800 million stadium, leaving — math time! — $650 million to be paid by somebody else. This week Sternberg said the team’s contribution “can certainly go up,” but warned that that would prevent him from spending to put a winning team on the field, and, sorry, why does he need a new stadium again if it would cost $800 million but only bring in $150 million worth of benefits? This really would be cheaper all around if he’d just ask St. Petersburg to buy him a first baseman.
- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said a New York Islanders stadium near Belmont Park would be perfect for the team, and there’s no Plan B if the bid isn’t successful, but the franchise won’t move out of New York regardless. Brinksmanship is hard! Also, a Twitter user named @IncarceratedBob tweeted a bunch of renderings of what he claims the arena would look like, though it’s kind of hard to see much past all the renderings of spotlights.
- Now it’s Dallas Cowboys fans showing up disguised as empty seats. Football fans really don’t like watching football with their own eyes, do they?
Crazed billionaires are shutting down our nation’s news media when employees try to assert their rights, so let’s enjoy journalism while we still have it with another week in news briefs:
- The Saskatchewan Roughriders‘ old stadium got blowed up real good.
- The developers who want to build a $15 million modular stadium for the NASL team San Diego 1904 F.C. haven’t actually filed a development plan yet with the city of Oceanside.
- The Atlanta Falcons‘ non-retracting retractable roof has already sprung a leak.
- Asked by the New York Post about the New York Islanders‘ bid to build a new arena on state land near Belmont Park, team owner Jonathan Ledecky replied, ““I think we’re circling the airport, just waiting to be given a landing clue,” which doesn’t actually mean anything at all that I can tell, but it sure is an evocative image. Then he pointed to the team’s new $7 million practice facility on Long Island, with a “world-class chef” for players, as “emblematic of what we can do if we were granted the right [to build] at Belmont.”
- Sacramento city officials want to use the Kings‘ old arena, now vacant after Sacramento built the team a new arena, as a temporary convention center while the city conducts a $125 million renovation of its regular convention center. The arena is an arena, not a convention center, and it’s still owned by the Kings owners, not the city, and I’m sure this is all going to go just swimmingly, no need to be concerned at all.
Happy fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, everybody! While you get ready to go to your anniversary parties and dress up as, um, hurricanes, and you know what, this riff isn’t going anywhere, let’s get to the news:
- Had you forgotten about former UNLV basketball star Jackie Robinson’s $1.4 billion retractable-roofed-arena-plus-hotel-plus-other-stuff project just because Las Vegas already has one new arena, he hasn’t — and now says it’s a $2.7 billion project that will include a 63-story hotel, a conference center, a 24-lane bowling alley, and a wedding chapel. No construction has begun yet, but Robinson says it will all be completed by 2020, or else maybe by then it will cost $5.2 billion and include a space elevator.
- Chris Hansen is trying a new gambit to turn attention away from Oak View Group’s KeyArena renovation plan and toward his SoDo new-arena plan, and it involves declaring the OVG plan a “public” and not a “private” process, which would require a longer environmental review process, and if your eyes are glazing over already I don’t blame you, skip to the next item, it’s got juicy if unproven allegations of political corruption in it.
- New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon has given Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2017 re-election campaign a $65,000 donation that’s twice as large as all other donations he’s previously given the governor combined, and with Wilpon in the midst of looking to get approval from the state for a new soccer stadium Islanders arena (sorry, had a brain fart on this one while typing) next to Belmont Park racetrack … well, you connect the dots. (Or don’t: An Empire State Development spokesperson snapped, “Participation in the political process has zero bearing on any of this and any of these ‘sources’ with questions are free to contact us instead of trafficking in conspiracy theories.”) Bigger question: Fred Wilpon has $65,000 to spare?
- The Atlanta Falcons‘ retractable roof is now set to finally work by March 2018. Probably.
- Nashville held a hearing on its proposed $75 million soccer stadium subsidy deal, and if you guessed that a self-proclaimed soccer mom said it would be a “feather in our cap” while a non-soccer-fan local resident said “you’re asking me to help fund a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar project for another sports team that most likely will not benefit me,” then you’re right on the money.
- The prospective NASL team San Diego 1904 F.C. is planning a stadium that will cost only $15 million because it will be built modularly elsewhere and shipped to the stadium site in Oceanside, but at least they didn’t skimp on the searchlight renderings.
- The chair of Rhode Island’s senate finance committee says he’ll put a halt to the Pawtucket Red Sox‘ $38 million stadium subsidy request if the team owners don’t provide more financial information. It sounds like this is over the team’s internal finances, and could be resolved with a non-disclosure agreement, but still, it’s something to keep an eye on, since projects have succeeded or fallen over pettier things.
- Louisville approved $30 million in bonds to help pay for a new Louisville City F.C. soccer stadium, in exchange for which the team will repay $14.5 million over 10 years, which comes to about $11 million in present value, so the city will only lose $19 million on the deal, unless there’s still plans for as much as $35 million in state property-tax kickbacks via a TIF, in which case this is really a $54 million subsidy for a minor-league soccer stadium. Maybe they should go with one of those modular dealies instead? Just a thought.
New York Islanders co-owner Jonathan Ledecky and his would-be development partner Peter Luukko of Oak View Group have revealed exactly where their planned new arena next to Belmont Park racetrack would be, and it’s … next to Belmont Park racetrack, does anyone really care exactly which parcel it is?
More interesting is this:
A full-time LIRR stop at Belmont would be necessary to meet the number of people who would be coming regularly to the arena, Luukko said. Currently, the Belmont LIRR station is used only when horse racing is taking place…
Ledecky said he isn’t concerned about the LIRR’s ability to accommodate such a plan, saying it has been amenable to adding extra trains after games at Barclays Center in response to the crush of people leaving Islanders games at the same time. He also noted how ridership increases on game nights…
LIRR and MTA officials have said as recently as last spring there were no plans to add full service to Belmont.
So, should the cost of adding full-time rail service to a new stadium be counted as a public subsidy? On the one hand, running trains for the public to get where they need to go is exactly what the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is set up to do, and presumably any development on the Belmont site would require increased service. On the other, it’s going to be at least a little bit galling to city transit riders putting up with abysmal service if the Islanders get to jump the line for new expenses just because they want to move from a place that already has tons of public transit to a place that doesn’t.
We’re still really early in the negotiating process, and of course we still have no clue what the financial details of the arena plan will be. This whole train cost thing is something to keep an eye on, though, once we have enough info to start building a cost-benefit spreadsheet.
We still have zero details on how the New York Islanders owners’ plan for an arena at Belmont Park would work, but co-owner Jon Ledecky nonetheless gave team beat writers the hard sell on it yesterday:
“We are locked and loaded on Belmont,” Ledecky said Tuesday at a luncheon with Islanders beat writers. “We have the blinders on for Belmont. We’re not looking at other places, other things, other opportunities. We want to make Belmont a reality.”
Great! Visualization is the first step, right?
More interesting is the tidbit buried deep in the article that the Islanders need to decide whether to opt out of their Barclays Center lease in January, but the state Empire State Development agency hasn’t announced when it will make its decision on the Belmont land. This means Ledecky and friends could be in the position of having to decide to terminate the lease without knowing when and if they’ll get a site for a new arena — which would at the very least leave the franchise having to negotiate a new lease extension in Brooklyn from a position of crappy leverage. Though since it’s a mutual lease out clause, I suppose if the Barclays Center owners want the leverage, they can just cancel the lease themselves and be done with it.
Meanwhile, Ledecky and Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark are keeping up their war of words over which is more economically useless, the arena or the Islanders:
While I’m dying to find out the financial details of the Isles’ Belmont plan, I’ve gotta admit that this is a lot more fun.
Here’s what you missed this week, or rather what I missed, or rather what I saw at the time but left till Friday because there are only so many hours in the week, man:
- The Oakland Raiders are negotiating with the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum Authority for a lease extension that would let them play in Oakland through 2020, despite a Las Vegas stadium being in the works to open that year. Which makes sense for the Raiders — they need to be sure of a place to play even if there are stadium construction delays — but for Oakland’s sake I hope the authority drives a hard bargain with Raiders owner Mark Davis, because if you’re going to charge through the nose on stadium rent, negotiating with a team that has literally nowhere else to go when you have no real incentive to want them to stay on a lame-duck deal is exactly the time to do it.
- The Los Angeles Rams are on pace to set a new record for the biggest ever season-to-season attendance drop for a team that didn’t move to a new stadium, and Fivethirtyeight thinks maybe it’s because people are going to see Chargers games instead. I’d go with “honeymoon wore off fast after the team went 4-12,” but either way it ain’t pretty.
- The city of Boise is considering spending between $33 million and $45 million on a minor-league baseball stadium for the Class A Boise Hawks that could also host soccer and it’d have other private development around it and generate “$1 billion worth of investment,” according to a study by Convention, Sports, & Leisure, which somehow keeps getting hired to study these things. No word yet on Boise seeking an MLS team to play there, but you just know that’s coming.
- Nashville Mayor Megan Barry is set to announce Monday a plan for an MLS stadium that she says relies on “private-public” financing, because “public-private” puts too much emphasis on the public part, and she doesn’t want you thinking about that, even though she hasn’t released any actual details yet of how much the public would be on the hook for. This isn’t going to make the Deadspin writers any happier, Mayor Barry.
- As promised, the New York Islanders and NYC F.C. both submitted bids yesterday for land near Belmont Park that they’d like to build an arena on, though neither the teams nor the state Empire State Development Corporation that solicited the bids would provide any details. (I asked.) NYC F.C. is also still looking at sites in Queens and the Bronx, and Nassau County also wants the Belmont site for that Amazon headquarters that every local government in the nation thinks it’s going to land, though given Chris Christie has started the bidding at $5 billion in tax breaks, suddenly a hockey arena or soccer stadium sounds fiscally responsible by comparison.
- Here’s an article on how Moline, Illinois changing the name of its arena from the iWireless Center to the TaxSlayer Center will help the city get big-name concerts because the new name “makes it sound a little more big time.” You’re welcome.
Today is the deadline for responses to New York state’s Request For Proposals for redeveloping a plot of land near Belmont Park racetrack just outside the New York City border, and it looks like the Islanders are going to have some sports competition for their arena plans after all:
New York City FC, the pro soccer team partly owned by the Yankees, is preparing the submit a bid to build a soccer stadium on the state-run property in Elmont, Long Island, near the Queens border, sources told The Post Monday night…
NYCFC would partner with developer Related Co. in its proposal, sources said. … The Islanders bid is expected to include teaming up with Sterling Project Development, which is controlled by the majority owners of the Mets; and Oak View Group, which is backed by Madison Square Garden, owners of the NHL’s Rangers and National Basketball Association’s Knicks.
The state Empire State Development Corporation told me it won’t be releasing the RFP responses, so we’re going to have to depend on whatever the Islanders and NYC F.C. tell us about their plans, which isn’t likely to be much. (Though I do eagerly anticipate some wacky renderings with lots of fireworks going off.) The prospect of two sports franchises going at it for the same land at least raises the possibility of a Seattle-style bidding war here, which could only be good for New York state taxpayers. More news, and pretty pictures, tomorrow, I hope.
We’ll get to the weekly news roundup in a minute, but first, I need to mention this editorial from yesterday’s Globe and Mail, which makes several eminently reasonable points about how Calgary shouldn’t capitulate to the Flames owners’ extortion attempts for arena cash (“using past bad decisions to justify terrible future decisions does not qualify as logic,” “arena financing is a hamster wheel, and here is an opportunity to jump off”), and then says this:
Everyone involved should take note of a remark this week by Neil deMause, renowned stadium boondoggle vivisectionist and creator of the fieldofschemes.com website: “The number of mayors who’ve been voted out of office for standing up to sports team subsidy demands remains zero.”
That’s right, I am a major-newspaper-certified renowned boondoggle vivisectionist, y’all. Clearly it’s time to order some new business cards.
Okay, the rest of the week’s news:
- The Los Angeles Rams aren’t the only California team having trouble getting fans to turn out for games in the September heat: The San Francisco 49ers are seeing so many empty seats on the sunny side of their stadium that they’ve hired architects to see if it’d be possible to add a sun shade. One problem: The stadium can’t get any taller, as it’s in the flight path of San Jose’s airport. Until then, the 49ers are handing out free water bottles and sunscreen to fans on the hot side of the stadium, which is nice and all, but probably isn’t what you want for your big marketing push. This once again points up how smart the 49ers management was to stick fans with PSLs before the team got lousy and people noticed how crappy the new stadium was for actually watching football in.
- And speaking of empty seats, the Cleveland Indians won their American League–record 22nd straight game yesterday, but they still can’t sell out their ballpark, which not that long ago saw a record sellout streak of 455 straight games. Indians GM Mike Chernoff blamed Cleveland’s small size, the start of the school year, and “weekdays,” three things that apparently didn’t exist in the ’90s. At least he didn’t blame the 23-year-old stadium or demand upgrades as a solution — yet, anyway.
- And also speaking of empty seats, the Ottawa Senators have begun tarping over part of their upper deck for every game, because they can’t sell tickets there. The Senators owner is already blaming his 21-year-old arena for that one (apparently the last owner built it in the wrong place), so team president Tom Anselmi was left to say: “We just need more of us to come to more games more often.” Can’t argue with that!
- And also also speaking of empty seats, the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics have only sold about 5% of available tickets so far to actual fans (ticket brokers have bought up another 18%), with less than five months to go before the games start. If you’re looking to snap up a bargain to watch curling, though, be forewarned: Not all the new hotels planned for the Olympics are finished yet.
- And speaking of seats that a team hopes won’t be empty, the Oakland A’s will be letting in fans for free to a game next April against the White Sox. Make jokes all you want about how dismal an A’s-White Sox matchup will be, it’s still free baseball, and you never know what you might see that you’ve never seen before.
- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman declared that that the scaled-down Nassau Coliseum is “not a viable option” for the New York Islanders, two weeks before the team is set to present plans to Nassau County for a new arena near Belmont Park. A total coincidence, I’m sure.
- The Rhode Island state senate started hearings on a new Pawtucket Red Sox proposal yesterday, with the team owners and their allies noting that “the team’s 54-percent share of stadium costs is the highest portion of private investment in 14 AA and AAA ballparks built over the last decade,” according to the Providence Journal. What was that someone was just saying about using bad decisions to justify terrible future decisions?
- Deadspin’s Drew Magary has come up with a new nickname for the Atlanta Falcons‘ new iris-roofed stadium: Megatron’s Butthole. Drew Magary needs to be put in charge of all stadium nicknames, starting immediately.