BY EVAN WEINER
THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
For the New York Islanders owner Charles Wang, the disappointment of losing an arena referendum in Nassau County last Monday was not the end of the road in terms of getting his Uniondale, New York-based New York Islanders a new arena. It was just a hiccup although if you read hockey writers accounts in both the New York and from the self proclaimed world's best hockey writers market, Toronto, it is all over for Wang. He should pack up and get out even if he has four years left on his lease because it will not happen for the Long Island businessman in Nassau County.
Wang, who spent part of his childhood in Queens, won't ever get a new arena in Nassau County according to the ones with supreme hockey knowledge and in fact one titan of the Toronto hockey writers Parthenon, the noted public policy and economic expert Damien Cox, suggested that the Islanders problems stem from Wang himself. Cox should stick to something he might know about — talking to hockey insiders about proposed trades, coaching or general manager changes — and leave the public policy writing to experts who understand property tax hikes, funding mechanisms for arenas and stadiums and whether a sports venue is an economic engine.
Cox probably has been to a New Jersey Devils game in Newark, New Jersey and if Cox and the rest of the enlightened thinkers who turn out daily rabble about hockey had any understanding of what they try and write about in the business arena of sports, Newark is a perfect place to start an urban policy lesson.
Newark was the apple of the eye of the former owners of the New Jersey Nets back in the 1990s and into the early part of the last decade. The Nets ownership planned to build an arena there and when it didn't happen, the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association David Stern called New Jersey politicians some names and said the politicians "blew it."
Funny thing, the New Jersey Nets franchise of Stern's NBA is using the very land on which the arena that was built after the Nets-Newark arena talk meltdown that the Nets ownership and Newark were planning. The team is renting dates at the building until a Brooklyn arena opens up. The New Jersey Devils ownership jumped into the void and worked out a deal with Newark to build a facility in a public-private partnership.
For Cox and the rest of the hockey hacks, perhaps some facts should be explained to them so they write better columns. In the sports stadium/arena game, no never means no even if voters say no.
Here are some examples of where the voters were sadly mistaken in the voter’s booth after rejecting a sports venue. Seattle, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Charlotte and Ramapo, New York eight miles north of the New Jersey-New York border at Montvale.
In the early 1990s, Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent was terrorizing cities in hopes of getting a new ballpark in places like Cleveland. No new park and your team will be moved. In an awful lot of places the threatening tactics worked. Cleveland can up with a "sin tax" with tax hikes on cigarettes and alcohol to help pay for a new Cleveland baseball park. The explosion of stadium and arena building in the United States started after the 1986 tax reform and owners noticed that a large loophole existed if a municipality put up funding for a building. The municipality could take as little as eight cents out of every dollar earned inside a facility and use that money to pay down the stadium or arena debt.
All the possible relocation threats worked as almost everyone got a new stadium between 1986 and 2011. Only two franchises in baseball are looking for new facilities, the Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff and the Tampa Bay Rays owners. Just about every minor league ballpark has been replaced or renovated since the 1990 Major League-Minor League development pact.
King County, Washington, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and Milwaukee residents said no to funding ballparks in votes. But the elected officials knew better and put new stadiums in those cities. Washington state lawmakers imposed tax hikes in restaurant, hotel and motel and restaurant tabs to fund a new Mariners home. There was a six county sales tax hike around Milwaukee to fund that city's new ball yard and A deal was crafted for Pittsburgh to build a new baseball facility and a new football stadium.
In the summer of 2010, Ramapo, New York voters overwhelmingly said no to a publicly funded minor league style baseball park only to see the Town Supervisor and the town council nullify the vote. Ramapo residents have no idea what the final tab on the stadium will be but they will be paying for years for a park that was built for a team in a financially shaky independent baseball loop, the CanAm League.
In the 1990s, stadium building was viewed as an economic engine which has over the decades proven to be false. The jobs created are mostly