Dear citizens of Pasadena, Texas:
If some dude comes up to you and says that he wants you to invest more than $70 million of your own money in a sports and entertainment complex to be built within your city limits, and that person says part of the deal is to build an arena for an AHL hockey team, then just say no.
Seriously, just say no.
I’ve checked with some of my hockey sources, and nobody has heard of even the slightest possibility of the AHL putting a hockey team in Pasadena, Texas. Sure, there’s been talk of Sugar Land being the home of an AHL team since the Houston Aeros split for Iowa. But nobody with whom I talked had heard even the silliest of rumors about a hockey team in Pasadena.
Of course, AHL would love to put a team back in the Houston area. The Aeros were a successful franchise with decent attendance and a loyal fanbase. Two major airports made travel within the league easy, and it made it really easy to get players up to the parent teams. And a new team here would work well with the franchises in San Antonio and Austin.
But the discussions I’ve heard always involve a team back in Houston at Toyota Center — which won’t happen as long as Les Alexander runs the arena (there are a lot of bad feelings around the AHL and the NHL arising from Alexander’s treatment of the Aeros). Placing a team at NRG Arena is also not possible as long as the team has to spend large parts of February and March on the road because of the rodeo.
The talk has been centered around Sugar Land because that is where the Aeros practice facility was located. Sugar Land is also home of the Sugar Land Skeeters and has shown a willingness to embrace a minor league franchise. But it lacks the one thing most needed by any AHL hockey team, an arena.
What’s supposedly happening in Pasadena is this: An organization that didn’t officially file with the State of Texas until March 2 of this year, named Western Spherical Developers, LLC, has approached city leaders in Pasadena about investing in a $357 million sports and entertainment resort. The 200-acre master planned development would be located around Pasadena’s existing convention center. The focal point of the development would be a 6,500-seat hockey arena that could also be used for monster truck events, gospel music shows, rodeos and school graduations.
The whole resort-type area will also contain an amusement park, theater center-grill, retail, restaurants and fast-food establishments, RV-parks, and two hotels. The overall deal would cost $357 million. And Western Spherical Developers is asking the city to contribute 20 percent of that cost.
Here’s the thing: Study after study after study has found that municipal investments in professional sports facilities are a scam. The only people who make money off such deals are the owners of the sports teams, while the municipalities are forever on the hook for the ever-increasing costs of running the facilities. Just look at how Bob McNair is constantly bilking taxpayers for improvements to NRG Stadium. Cleveland and Detroit are still hellholes despite the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in sporting arenas and stadiums while the taxpayers are out tons of dollars.
People should be especially leery when promoters talk about rising tax revenue and job creation, especially if they fail to mention who gets to keep things like naming rights revenue, or concession revenue, or luxury box revenue. This money goes to teams, not to the cities. The cities are generally worse off after it’s all said and done.
“After spending $700 million to build the nation’s most extensive sports infrastructure, [Cleveland] finds itself in a familiar place: trying to fix a downtown abandoned by businesses and the middle class, with neighborhoods gripped by despair.” This quote comes from the Newark Star-Ledger found as footnote in Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money Into Private Profit, which is probably the definitive study of the stadium scam.
Or just watch John Oliver tear this swindle apart:
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But then there’s this: Why would anyone want to go to Pasadena to see a hockey game? Sure, it’s possible that the AHL is considering a team for Pasadena, but since the AHL has been expanding into California, it’s more than likely that AHL officials have confused Pasadena, Texas, for Pasadena, California.
This is a bad deal to begin with. But if you’re that desperate, make the developer prove to you that there’s a hockey team for your arena. Because arenas for hockey teams are a lot more expensive than arenas not built for hockey — it’s not cheap building ice plants and refrigeration units to keep the ice from melting, or to keep that machinery operating after the arena is built.
So dear residents of Pasadena, make the developer prove there’s actually interest from the AHL in putting a team in Pasadena. Better than that, make the developer present an agreement that guarantees a team will be put in Pasadena, and better yet, make sure that agreement guarantees that the actual stadium revenue — naming rights, concessions, etc. — goes back to Pasadena.
Better yet, just say no.