The Two-Arena Circus

Two greedy billionaires, two publicly funded arenas, two crappy teams, one burning question why?

While sports-talk radio has felt a few ripples of anger at the pathetic Panthers and the horrible Heat, two of the worst teams in professional sports, Undercurrents thinks you haven't gotten quite angry enough. As Pavel Bure shakes the cobwebs from his pretty, little, concussion-addled head, as the sad spectacle of Alonzo Mourning's willing spirit and weakened flesh plays toward its inevitable conclusion, Undercurrents submits a few numbers for your consideration.

First, no matter how poorly each team is playing, the counties that bent over for the teams' billionaire owners must continue to repay the bonds that financed the facilities. In the case of the National Car Rental Center, the Panthers' palace in Sunrise, Broward County shells out $14 million annually for the construction bonds. Some $8 million of that comes from the county's convention tax, which delivered about $28.5 million into county coffers in the fiscal year that ended in September.

The operation of AmericanAirlines Arena, where the Heat plays in downtown Miami, is financed by Miami-Dade County's 3 percent tourist tax. That tax generated about $31 million last year. The county's total annual bond service load is approximately $22.5 million; $6.4 million of that goes to running the arena.

So we're still subsidizing the ridiculous salaries of second-tier talents like Eddie Jones. What of the profit-sharing deals that Heat owner Micky Arison and former Panthers owner H. Wayne Huizenga (who's since taken a lesser role) struck with their respective public disservants? Both men settled on $14 million as the magic number. Broward County receives 20 percent of all NCRC profits after the first $14 million. How many years has this happened since the arena opened in 1998? Once: the first year, when the facility was $15.7 million in the black and sent the county its cut -- a whopping $346,000. Since then, NCRC hasn't come close to crossing the $14 million threshold. As for the Triple A, it hasn't even sniffed that level of profitability; this year's sagging attendance certainly won't help.

Speaking of profitability, there's the issue of naming rights. In November, National Car Rental's parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company is committed to paying the arena $25 million over ten years for naming rights; if it misses this year's $2.5 million payment, that puts the county even further away from seeing any shared profits.

And what of American Airlines, which committed $42 million over 20 years for the arena in Miami and $195 million to the new American Airlines Center in Dallas, the largest naming-rights deal ever for an arena? This is the same company that has laid off 20,000 people since 9/11. How long do you think it will keep laying out that amount of money for plastering its name on arenas -- especially the Miami one, whose half-emptiness cannot be disguised by changing the seat colors from yellow to red?

Think about all that; then think about the fact that none of these grim numbers has any effect on the obscene wealth of Arison and Huizenga. Are you angry yet?


Let's make two things clear: (1) Undercurrents loves art, and (2) Undercurrents hates gray, concrete behemoths. So we were encouraged to hear about the recently completed project by New York City artist Jody Pinto in the 5000-space parking garage at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport. Surrounding the escalators are four fiberglass and steel cylinders -- 73 feet high and 33 feet in diameter -- called "Tropical Light Cylinders." At $1.1 million, they comprise the second-most expensive public art project completed during the quarter century since commissioners set aside a chunk of all public construction budgets for art. (The most pricey is the "Flying Saucer Grove" outside Brow-doggle number one: the National Car Rental Center. Cost: $1.5 million.)

So this past Monday morn, we visited the garage. Now, we thought Pinto's work was clearly a notch above the plastic palm trees in Terminal 1, but it sure wasn't Picasso. Then we surveyed users:

"They're ugly," said Susan Cole, from the Keys, as she hurried to a flight. "Why didn't they spend the money on security? I think someone should lose their job."

"I don't think they're worth the money," Andre Bacchus, of Lake Worth, said as he dropped off his aunt near the enormous green cylinder. "That's way too much just to add a little color."

Being from Boca Raton, Linda Webb was more charitable after visiting the garage for the first time: "It's not ugly, and it will help people find their cars.... Is it worth $1.1 million? No. But what's done is done."

Responds Mary Beck, director of Broward County's Cultural Affairs Division: "It's less than is spent on landscaping. Think of how bleak the place would be without them."

Bleak indeed. And cheaper.

 
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