No, Columbus Blue Jackets’ future isn’t actually threatened by county’s arena loan woes, yeesh

Mike Ozanian, aka the guy who’s been overseeing the Forbes sports team valuations since before Forbes was even doing them, took a look at the Columbus Blue Jackets arena loan payments mess yesterday, and declared that the team may be “economically nonviable” in its current home.

On the face of it, this doesn’t make a lot of sense: Franklin County has skipped out on paying off its debt on the Blue Jackets’ arena (which the Blue Jackets initially took on, then decided it’d be way better if somebody else were stuck with paying for) because money from taxes on new casinos is running way below expectations. That doesn’t say anything about whether people in Columbus like hockey, just about how much they like spending their money at casinos — and about how rose-colored the glasses were that Franklin County officials donned before approving this deal.

What Ozanian seems to be getting at, though, isn’t anything about the current arena payments mess, but rather what it will reveal about the Blue Jackets’ shaky underlying finances. Team execs demanded the money in the first place, after all, because they said they couldn’t possibly pay off the arena that they themselves built while also running an NHL franchise in Columbus, and Franklin County agreed to bail them out. Now that the bailout money is on hold, Nationwide (which originally built the arena with the team) will have to wait on its loan payments. The Blue Jackets owners, meanwhile, will be on the hook for arena operations and maintenance, which are … actually just barely being paid off by what casino tax money is coming in, but, you know, if that number drops, then they might have to pay something toward running their own arena!

Certainly, any cost for the Blue Jackets will be a lot, given that Ozanian’s own figures for Forbes show that the team was losing larger and larger sums of money until the arena operating costs were taken off their hands in 2013. On the other hand, the team did make an estimated $4.9 million profit last year under the new deal, and casino revenues would have to drop by an awful lot before the Blue Jackets’ share of operating costs would make a significant dent in that. And anyway, under the bailout deal the Blue Jackets are committed to playing in Columbus through 2039, so it’s not like they could do much even if they were “nonviable.”

So mostly Ozanian’s article comes down to “County’s Threat to Make Blue Jackets Pay Own Arena Costs Reminds Everyone How Broke Team Was Before Public Bailed Them Out.” Poor, sad Blue Jackets. Hey, I know what would cheer them up — a nice fun trip to a local casino! Because that always helps!

This is what “renovation” of Wrigley Field looks like

It’s what Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said he was going to do, but still, ouch:

The happier thought is that these are simple bleachers, they’ve been rebuilt a bunch of times before, and the hope is that Ricketts will be able to put up new ones that look pretty much the same (he did hire an architect to focus on maintaining historical details like the right kind of railings) except with enough supports underneath to hold up a big-ass video board. Still, in the meantime, those with a squeamish nature around wrecking balls and landmarked structures should probably avert your eyes.

 

Franklin County not making payments on Blue Jackets arena, because turns out there’s no money, oops

Hey, everybody, remember when Franklin County refused to let residents vote on whether to stop payments on the Columbus Blue Jackets‘ arena because if the county voted to pay for things and then didn’t that would make them look terrible? Turns out the county has stopped making payments after all, for a simpler reason — they don’t have any money! It’s irony!

The city-county authority financed the $52 million deal through loans from Nationwide and the State of Ohio in March 2012. To make the payments, the city and county pledged to use a portion of casino tax revenue.

But casino revenue is far below projections. And Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority Executive Director Bill Jennison said no payments have been made to pay off either loan. More than $3 million remains unpaid.

County officials say that if casino taxes don’t start rolling in, they’re not going to fill in with general revenues, but rather will just make bondholders sit and wait for their cash. Wait how long?

[Activist Jonathan] Beard ran his own numbers and expects the city-county authority to be paying on the loan far beyond 2039 based on current casino-tax revenues returns.

“We showed a $1.8 billion deficit at the end of 100 years when we’d still be paying on the [arena]. So it’s this huge albatross,” Beard said.

Yep, that’s a while. I’m guessing at some point somebody is going to suggest selling a few hospitals to save the county’s bond rating in the meantime.

Detroit moves ahead with plans to preserve Tiger Stadium field, surround it with buildings

Pictures are in of what the Tiger Stadium site could look like under a redevelopment plan from the Detroit Police Athletic League:

And also this one:

That seems sorta okay, I guess, in that the field (which is still heavily used for softball) is preserved, and the buildings around it aren’t too ugly. I don’t know what’s up with the video projection system in that second image, but maybe kids today like watching their YouTube videos on the sides of buildings now.

The Detroit city council still needs to sign off on the deal, and I believe the PAL and the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy still need to finalize using the conservancy’s old $3 million federal earmark for youth baseball to help finance the plan. Yes, that’s public money, but a public ballfield isn’t the worst way to spend $3 million.

West Palm votes to pursue alternate plan for Astros, Nats spring site, and what’s up with that graphic?

The West Palm Beach city commission voted Tuesday to pursue the other offer for land that the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals want for a spring training site, since that proposal wouldn’t require piles of public subsidies, and … you know what, while this is all very interesting, I’m more concerned with what’s going on with the image illustrating the South Florida Sun-Sentinel article on this:

Seriously, what exactly happened here? Did graphics staffer Cindy Jones-Hulfachor supply two alternate images, one with a bluish stadium site and the other in straight greyscale, and then the web production staff mistakenly used both? If so, why are both images cut off at the outside edges? It’s been a day and a half since this went up — isn’t anyone paying attention at the Sun-Sentinel to what’s actually on their site?

Anyway, Nats and Astros still want stadium subsidies, West Palm Beach is still saying no, blah blah blah. That graphic sure is strange, though.

AEG to LA: We will gladly give you NFL team Tuesday for a hamburger today (LA to AEG: Sure!)

And here’s superduperbrief:

The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday granted developer Anschutz Entertainment Group another six months to find a team for its proposed downtown NFL stadium, while also giving it more influence over any backup plan for the site.

On a 12-0 vote, the council agreed to make AEG a participant in what city officials have been calling Plan B — the effort to figure out how to upgrade the Los Angeles Convention Center if no stadium is built.

Why? Because an AEG exec said they’d been engaged in a “renewed dialogue” with the NFL on a franchise, so that’s apparently worth another six months of rope. And dealing in AEG on what to do with the site if there’s no stadium, so that the next six months isn’t entirely spent twiddling everyone’s thumbs. Though really, they could have spent the time RFPing out the site in case the stadium doesn’t happen, but then AEG would keep sitting outside pressing its face against the window and making sad puppy eyes, so nah.

Hartford council okays $56m in Double-A stadium subsidies, state-of-the-art clause could add more

I’m in superbrief mode this morning, but in, um, superbrief: The Hartford city council voted as expected last night to approve about $56 million in subsidies (give or take a mess of free land) for a stadium for the double-A baseball New Britain Rock Cats.

“It is exactly a road map to how we move forward as a city,” council President Shawn Wooden said at the meeting Tuesday. “There is no reward, there is no benefit, without some level of risk. … It’s appropriately risky for the return.”

Risky it certainly is: The initial plan contains no provisions for what happens if the private part of the $350 million project doesn’t get built, which is kind of important given that that’s where all the economic benefits are supposed to come from. Also, there’s apparently a state-of-the-art clause included, of sorts: The city of Hartford needs to pay for any future stadium improvements to keep the building on par with new Double-A venues in Birmingham and Tulsa. That’s better than the El Paso state-of-the-art clause that it looks like Hartford lifted the language from — El Paso just says it must be kept on par with other “first-class” facilities, which opens things up to all kinds of shenanigans — but still means Hartford’s costs here will only go up.

And now, over to you, city planning and zoning commission. I’ll skip the obvious joke.

Sporting News went to a Florida Panthers game, and the Miami Marlins’ attendance broke out

The Sporting News has been publishing since 1886, but never let it be said they haven’t learned how to update their headlines to the way the kids today like them:

Oh boy, the Panthers’ arena is empty again (PHOTOS)

And here’s one of the promised PHOTOS:

It got a bit better once the game actually started, but still, it’s never a good thing to have the Sporting News writing: “Part of the reason for all this: the team ended its long-running practice of ‘giving away tickets for free just so the building will have people in it’ for this season.”

Panthers owner Vincent Viola still wants $80 million from Broward County to make it worth his while to keep the team in town — despite a lease that runs through 2028 and the fact that he still makes money on the arena operations despite nobody going to hockey games — but at this point you have to wonder what he’d do with it to get people interested, unless he just stands at the doors handing out twenties to anyone who agrees to watch this strange “hockey” thing.

UW-Milwaukee on possible Bucks arena site: Um, guys? We’re still playing here?

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Don Walker’s obsession with to build a new Bucks arena is everlasting, but sometimes there’s actual news to be covered on the “Where do we put the arena that we don’t know how to pay for?” front. For example, this:

In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, interim Chancellor Mark Mone said building a new arena on the site would not just displace the men’s basketball program, but disrupt other university programming planned over the 10-year agreement to rebrand the arena.

“The larger reason for us to be there is really about more visibility and our brand image and making a statement,” Mone said. “We are not just the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, but the University of Wisconsin for Milwaukee.

“We want this to be a win-win for the community. We just don’t want to be displaced.”

So, basically, UW-Milwaukee doesn’t want to be evicted from its old arena to make way for a new Bucks arena. Whether this will hold any sway with lawmakers deciding on where (and whether — please, let someone remember that it’s also whether) to build a new Bucks arena, who knows, but it’s another small fly in a very, very large pool of ointment.

Hartford council votes tonight on $56m for stadium in exchange for promised new buildings, because that always works

Tonight is the Hartford city council vote on the New Britain Rock Cats stadium-and-other-crap project, which means it’s time for frequently asked questions!

How much will this cost Hartford taxpayers? Starting with a hard one, eh? The Rock Cats owners would actually be building the stadium, but then paying for it by leasing it to the city for $4.67 million a year, and then paying the city back $500,000 a year in rent. Plus the developers would be getting a bunch of land for free. Public estimates have generally put this at $60 million in cash value, though without attempting to factor in how much the free land is worth.

Is that definitely it? Yes, now that the council has decided to establish a hard cap on construction costs of $56 million. Except that the council has also ruled that the stadium will have to be built with union labor, which the developer insists will add 10% to the cost. That seems high (stadiums are pretty materials-intensive, not labor-intensive), but regardless, it does raise the question of who will pay for cost overruns if they can’t be made up for by using cheaper bathroom tile, which honest to god is what the developer suggested for saving money.

What does Hartford get in return?More than 1,000 jobs“! Not from the stadium, of course, but from the other crap, including a brewery, office towers, residential buildings, and a space elevator. (Possibly not the space elevator.) If all of that gets built, which will totally definitely happen, because development around a sports venue never just stalls completely without warning. Everyone involved seems to agree that the council needs to put in some kind of contractual requirement that all the bits that the city wants will actually get built — ideally, by cutting off public stadium payments if they’re not — but the council doesn’t seem to be planning on actually doing that, not tonight, anyway.

If the council approves this, is it definitely happening? The city planning and zoning commission, which already voted against this project once for going against the city’s downtown development plans, has to sign off on a special zoning permit for it, and could still say no. What they’ll do is anyone’s guess — anyone’s, I guess, aside from the developers’ lobbyists who are no doubt following the commission members around Hartford even as I type this.