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Subsidy StadiumJeff Berding continues to push for a new arena in Cincinnati, he cites other cities as successful. But are they?

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For the third year in a row, FC Cincinnati co-CEO, Jeff Berding, has gone in front of the Cincinnati Regional Chamber and pushed for a new arena to be built, with or without a sports team attached to it. This year, Berding spoke about how the size of Cincinnati and the fact that many other cities of Cincinnati’s size have arenas.

But I am writing this to discuss comments he made to the Regional Chamber last year about the need for a new arena. In 2023, he also repeated his request for a new arena and also brought in other cities to look at:

FC Cincinnati co-CEO Jeff Berding repeated his call Friday for the region to build a new arena…Other cities, including Omaha, Neb.; Des Moines, Iowa; Sioux Falls, S.D. and Wichita, Kan. have built ‘non-college’ arenas in recent years without NBA or NHL teams, Berding said, and have turned a profit. Berding did not say whether those cities have recouped the initial public dollars used to build them— Cincinnati Business Courier, 03/10/23

— YouTube

I got a bit curious when I saw this. Have these cities really done this? Why have I not heard about them being so successful and profitable? So, let’s see if this has really happened. Keep in mind the words spoken above…“recent years” & “turned a profit” & “non-college”.

Let’s dive in…

Omaha has three local arenas. The most recently built one was Baxter Arena, built in 2015. Liberty First Credit Union Arena was built in 2012 while Chi Health Center was built in the early 2000’s. At first, I assumed that he was talking about Baxter Arena, seeing as how that is the newest one out of the three. But this arena was built for and by a college. The description of the arena states, “Home of University of Nebraska Omaha hockey, men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball”.

— BloxImages.com

Even if we were to assume that he was talking about this arena, the financials of this place were never great:

Lots of elements made up last year’s red ink, starting with the school’s new arena (Baxter Arena) not generating the profits expected. Any arena profits were to flow into the athletic budget for other purposes. While the pro forma had called for the arena to make roughly $400,000, by the time Alberts put together his budget the expected gain had climbed to over $500,000. Those dollars never came in. Operating and personnel costs were $800,000 above projections— Omaha.com, 09/04/16

The university-owned arena recently ended its first fiscal year $1.5 million in the red, forcing campus officials to infuse $1.4 million in university funds into the operation to help cover construction bond payments. The disappointing results aren’t just a first-year blip. It’s expected that $1.5 million in university dollars will need to be tapped to balance this year’s books, with $1 million kicked in by UNO and $500,000 committed by NU central administration in Lincoln— Omaha.com, 01/13/21

Maybe Bearding meant Liberty First Credit Union Arena? A 3,500-seat venue, built in Omaha’s suburb? Well, that arena has “hemorrhaged millions since it opened in 2012”. I doubt he meant there.

I can’t find anything else. Where is this successful arena?

This one confused me. We have three arena’s to talk about.

  1. The oldest one was built in 1961 and still used today by some local teams. I am taking that one out as I can’t see how on earth he meant a 50+ year old place.
  2. Another arena is the Wells Fargo Arena that was built in 2005.
  3. Lastly, there is a new arena that was supposed to be built by now but has not been completed.
– KCCI

Let’s start with the most recent one. Two weeks ago, the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board (IEDA) received an update on the “stalled $60 million project” for a new arena. In 2021, the same IEDA gave $26.5 million in grants to build this new arena. The next year, a groundbreaking ceremony was held. Then, everything stalled “because of rising construction costs”. Nothing has happened since. In fact, now, the project’s designers are suing the team for nonpayment. Does the city have a lease with the team? No. Does the team have an agreement with the owner of the land that this was supposed to be built on? Oh, no to that as well. I did find it ironic how, in 2021, after being awarded the state money, the team owners told local media “We are ready to go” only to then stall for years moving forward.

Possibly, he meant Wells Fargo Arena? Again, that will be a 20-year-old building next year. This arena was built in 2005 at a cost of $217 million dollars, the largest publicly funded building project in state history. The construction of this Arena took over 5 years to build, and Polk County was forced to pay $7 extra million to cover the cost overruns. To be fair, this arena does seem to be doing solid work financially speaking. But, I would also argue that it has not brought anywhere close to some large profit either.

Maybe he meant Wells Fargo Arena since their finances are not terrible?

  • Sioux Falls, South Dakota

My confusion continues. We have two arena’s here. One was just built months ago. The other is going to be 20+ years old.

Anyway, the newest arena in this city was built literally weeks ago. Midco Arena cost $75 million to build. It was originally going to cost just $40 million, but costs went up. By all accounts, taxpayers did not pay a dime for the arena. So-called “founding donors” did because again, this arena had a college in mind when it was built.

— LetsPlayHockey.com

“In 2021, Augustana announced the $40 million project received funding from T. Denny Sanford, Midco, Sanford Health and several other major donors” — KeloLand.com, 01/25/24

“It’s estimated to be a $40 million project, with funds coming from Midco, T. Denny Sanford, Sanford Health and others” – SFSimplified.com, 10/21/21

But maybe he meant the Tyson Events Center? By all accounts, this arena is doing solid financially. But, it was built in 2003 for $53 million and just celebrated its 20th anniversary. In what world is this a new arena? Taxpayers did pay a portion of the cost to build this arena, but as one newspaper noted at the time, “Private funding was the key”.

Confusion is at an all-time high now.

Here, he has to be talking about the Intrust Bank Arena, which was built in 2005. Again, it is about to be a 20-year-old building. However, I can’t find anything else remotely close to another arena in the area that fits the bill. This arena has quite the history too. Let’s start with the cost of the building, which came out to $206 million. How much has been made or lost? We don’t know. In fact, there is a lot that we don’t know about this building because most of the documents for the arena can be kept secret by the private-group who run it.

— IntrustArenaBank.com

The Wichita-Eagle has repeatedly asked why the arena can be taxpayer-owned yet still keep so many financial documents secret.

As a taxpayer who helped pay for Intrust Bank Arena, you might want to know how much the downtown venue made on the Taylor Swift or Elton John-Billy Joel concerts. You’re out of luck. The arena…doesn’t report event-specific financial information to the public. SMG, the private company that manages the arena, says it doesn’t share all of its financial information because of competitive and proprietary concerns— Wichita-Eagle, 05/16/10

What a joke. Ok, let’s see the contract between the city and SMG, the operator of the arena. Oh, that’s right. We can’t because the “county’s contract with SMG contains a confidentiality agreement”. But it gets better. There are three city officials who can look at the secret, monthly reports from SMG about the arena. Except, ridiculously, one of the city officials told the Wichita-Eagle that “they are not allowed to take notes during those sessions”.

What in the hell is Jeff talking about? In what world would these examples be looked upon as successful projects? Maybe you could argue that 1-2 above have not been terrible financially speaking. But what he said about newer, non-college and profit-making arena’s was and continues to be wrong.

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