The Sabres have "secured every approval they need" for their HARBORcenter project and are "poised to spend $172.2 million to create a magnet for hockey lovers, complete with indoor ice rinks, a hotel and parking ramp," according to a front-page piece by Terreri & Epstein of the BUFFALO NEWS. The project won nearly $37M "in tax breaks from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, got approval from the Common Council to purchase the parcel from the city for $2.2 million and received a favorable vote on its design from the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp." A ceremonial groundbreaking "will be held when the weather warms up," but Sabres officials said that they "expect to begin construction on March 1 and have the rinks and parking structure open by September 2014." HARBORcenter, financed by the Sabres and team Owner Terry Pegula, will include the NHL's "only three-rink complex and a bridge over Perry Street that will connect to First Niagara Center." Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Sabres officials said that they "believe the project will make Buffalo a regional hockey destination." Plans call for "two NHL-quality skating rinks; a full-service hotel with 200 rooms, possibly affiliated with the Marriott brand; a five-level parking garage with 845 spaces; and 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, as well as a center for excellence to train hockey players and coaches." The Sabres and city officials also have discussed "dedicating a 'certain amount of ice time' for public skating and community events." Under the plan, the hockey facility, to be "located on the sixth and seventh floors, would seat about 2,000 spectators and would include eight locker rooms, concessions, restrooms, a concourse, and administrative and maintenance areas." The team and Pegula in all would spend $149.2M "on construction, plus $10.8 million on equipment and another $10 million on 'soft costs'" (BUFFALO NEWS, 2/20).
Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana and Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell on Monday said that the Raiders "can't depend on the NFL chipping in for a new stadium in Oakland, as it did for the 49ers in Santa Clara, unless the team generates more fan and corporate support," according to Matthew Artz of the OAKLAND TRIBUNE. Santana and Blackwell said that the NFL is "concerned with the gulf between what the 49ers have been able to charge for premium seating at its future stadium and what the Raiders have been getting in Oakland." NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello yesterday said the Raiders "can apply for league loans" of up to $200M. Raiders Chief Exec Amy Trask "declined to address whether the team needed to shore up community and corporate support before seeking financing help from the league." Artz writes the Raiders "want to stay, but haven't had business leaders rally to their side." With only 10 home dates per season, the team is "hardly the ideal primary tenant for an entertainment center that needs to be buzzing most nights of the week." The "only proven model for limiting public funding" of NFL stadiums is for fans and businesses to "pay top dollar for luxury suites and the right merely to purchase season tickets." It was a "disaster for city and county taxpayers" when the Raiders moved back to Oakland in '95. Lackluster sales of "so-called personal seat licenses forced the public to cover the costs of renovating the Coliseum for the Raiders return" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 2/20).
Florida Atlantic Univ. yesterday announced that naming rights to its on-campus stadium “will go to a company that runs prisons, the GEO Group, for $6 million over 12 years,” according to Hal Habib of the PALM BEACH POST. The deal was “unanimously approved” by the university’s BOT with GEO Group Chair George Zoley, an FAU alumnus and former BOT Chair, in attendance. The GEO Group’s world HQs “are in Boca Raton, within sight of what is now GEO Group Stadium.” School and GEO Group reps “described the agreement as a philanthropic ‘gift,’ differentiating it from standard sports-facility marketing agreements.” FAU AD Pat Chun said that the money “will go a long way toward balancing his budget.” The university had “sought a naming partner for the two years the stadium has stood” (PALM BEACH POST, 2/20). In Ft. Lauderdale, Dieter Kurtenbach notes the naming-rights deal -- which is the athletic department’s “largest contribution -- brought closure to what Chun called his top priority upon accepting his position in July.” FAU advertised a “$5 million price tag for the naming rights, which would have been for 10 years.” Former FAU AD Craig Angelos “failed to secure naming rights in the year after building the stadium, one of the primary reasons he was fired last April” (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 2/20).
GRAY AREA: In N.Y., Greg Bishop writes the announcement perhaps “pushed stadium naming to its zenith, if only because the GEO Group is a private prison corporation.” There is “no obvious precedent" for this partnership. FAU President Mary Jane Saunders described the deal as “wonderful” and the company as “well run.” But it also “left some unsettled, including those who study the business of sports and track the privatization of the prison industry.” To those critics, this “was a jarring case of the lengths colleges and teams will go to produce revenue.” Univ. of Oregon Warsaw Sports Marketing Center Dir Paul Swangard said, “This is an example of great donor intent, terrible execution.” Grassroots Leadership Exec Dir Bob Libal, whose social justice group opposes private prison systems, said, “It’s like calling something Blackwater Stadium. This is a company whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents that really draw into question their ability to successfully manage a prison facility.” The company has “been opposed by civil liberty and human rights groups and immigrant rights organizations.” It also has “been cited by state and federal regulators and lost a series of high-profile lawsuits.” A GEO Group spokesperson in an e-mail wrote, “We have always adhered to the highest standards in our industry.” Saunders was asked if FAU “had looked into the allegations against the GEO Group.” She said, “We think it’s a wonderful company, and we’re very proud to partner with them” (N.Y. TIMES, 2/20).
WHAT IS THE DEAL'S END GAME? YAHOO SPORTS’ Frank Schwab wondered, “What's the upside for a prison company putting its name on a stadium? … We doubt FAU fans are going to want to end up in GEO Group prisons as a result of the sponsorship” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/19).
Since the September opening of Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the “apocalyptic predictions of crime, chaos and an entire way of life suddenly and irreversibly ruined have not come to pass,” according to Joseph Berger of the N.Y. TIMES. In spite of "years of vitriolic opposition from many residents,” the 19,000-seat arena has "enjoyed a remarkably smooth debut.” Most basketball fans and concertgoers visiting the arena "come and leave quickly by one of the 11 subway lines that stop at Barclays or by the Long Island Rail Road.” The Metropolitan Transportation Authority reported that in the three months after the arena opened, the four subway stations in the area had 6,400 more riders "on average after Nets games and concerts than on nonevent days.” Residents said that the traffic “flows as smoothly -- or as sluggishly -- as ever, with extra traffic agents posted to prevent gridlock.” A surge in crime that “some had anticipated has also not materialized.” The number of crimes has “turned out to be negligible, possibly because of a heavy police presence augmented by Barclays security guards.” While there have been “complaints of public urination, the posting of guards on streets along which fans stream to their parked cars seems to have curbed that somewhat.” The “continuing complaints" from area residents have “shifted from warnings of existential threats to gripes about everyday irritants” (N.Y. TIMES, 2/20).