Wednesday, February 24, 2010

UAA Administration Is Hindering New Hockey Arena

I've languished in "we'll never get a new hockey arena-land" for quite some time.  But, information provided to me last week from Donald Leaver (aka Internet name "Wolfman") has given me a renewed hope that something could actually happen sooner than later.  Essentially, the UAA Adminstration is hindering a new arena from happening.  How?  Read on McDuff ...

There is both a complex and subtle set of circumstances involved here.  One is the always parochial Fairbanks versus Anchorage issues perpetrated by the University Regents.  This time it's a bit of a Fairbanks Life Sciences building versus Anchorage Sports Arena.  It always seems reasonable to choose education over sports.  And so, recently that's exactly what the Regents did.  They funded the Life Sciences building in Fairbanks and pulled the proposed "everything except hockey" arena.

As hockey fans that wouldn't really seem to affect us since that proposal didn't include a setup for hockey.  Right?  Perhaps not; now comes the complexity.  The Anchorage Daily News recently published this AK Voices from Jim Crawford (a guy I'd consider a typical Alaskan tight-wad conservative)

I've exchanged pleasantries (mandatory since I'm a commie ya know?) and a great deal of information with Mr. Crawford over about the last week that has convinced me to attempt to raise a flag here, create a rallying cry and/or get you fine readers involved once again.  I know I have made noise about this or that with regard to a new arena a couple of times.  Believe me when I say my primary consideration here was to not become some sort of "Boy Cries Wolf" blogger and try to get everyone all fired up without cause.  I'm hopeful, that there is cause for enthusiasm in this case.

This issue was brought to my attention by the always vigilant Donald Leaver in Louisiana.  I doubt there's a more remote alumnus following UAA issues closer than our dear Capt. Don.  He told me,
I constantly search Alaska Government and similar websites concerning UAA arena progress. After a recent search, I happened to stumble across Jim Crawford's intention through Crawford's blog input through the Anchorage Daily news. After contacting him about his intent, he gave me enough to bring this subject to light.
So I read the link Don provided me to the Crawford article.  An exchange of emails ensued with Don and before you know it I was involved in the aforementioned email exchange with Mr. Crawford.  The issues involved with the situation are fairly lengthy.  So please allow me to compress some things while encouraging you to fully read the links I've provided.
  • A group of investors has a plan to put an new arena for all sports (including 7,500 seats for Hockey and 5,000 seats for Basketball etc) ...
  • An official proposal has been in the UAA Administration's hands for nearly 2 years ...
  • The UAA Administration has given exactly zero official response ...
  • The arena would be located on the south side of Tudor and Elmore just blocks from (but not on) UAA's campus ...
  • No funds would need to be authorized by the State Legislature ...
  • The financial arrangement is called a "leaseback" ...
Now let me explain the "leaseback" arrangement, per Mr. Crawford ...
A leaseback property is built for use of another and leased by the owner/developer to the user for a long term.  Wal-Mart and the big box stores do it all the time.  The Seawolves Center will generate more income than required for debt service and expenses.  Constructed in a federal tax credit zone, it qualifies for a $20 million tax credit. 
Here’s a tutorial in leasebacks.  First, the development team estimates construction and development costs.  We did this two years ago for UAA.  Second, we identify the source and use of money for the project.  This Center has three sources of funds: 1. Private capital either borrowed or contributed; 2. Public contributions (currently zero); and 3. Increased program receipts. 

The Hickel/Crawford team’s Seawolves Center proposal provided UAA management with very detailed spreadsheets in excruciating detail for construction costs, time phasing and source and use of funds. 

Our plan includes community fundraising at $17.7 million.  We raise corporate and labor donations and sell box seats at the complexes, as done by other sports facilities.  We didn’t ask University of Alaska personnel to raise the money.  Our professionals can raise the cash and sell the box seats.  We have experience raising public and private dollars.

Third, we calculate the income.  We updated our budget in November 2009 to include the tax credit contribution through Alaska Growth Capital of $20 million.  There are no expenses to the State or the University for tax credits.  To UA, it is a $20 million gift, filtered through our leaseback.
Jim Crawford has a wealth of experience dealing with these sorts of development issues.  The above is excerpted from his next post on AK Voices which is not yet published.  I really won't hold it against him that he is a former chair of the Republican Party of Alaska or that his real estate development career has probably made him richer than Solomon.  I want to see a new arena happen so I'll jump in bed with the devil (no Jim, I don't think you're the devil, I'm just dogmatically liberal) to get it done.  

So here's some obvious questions.  Why the hell is the University withholding any comment with regard to this proposal?  It seems to me that they're protecting an internal preference here.  They think the best way to move forward is to partner with the Municipality of Anchorage in some sort of retrofit of the Sullivan Arena or in building a new facility.  Well?  

It's been two years since we knew we weren't getting a hockey arena for the Seawolves ... how the hell long does it take UAA and the Muni to get a legislator to submit a bill proposing such a thing?  I have to wonder if they really think the stupifyingly tortoise-like pace of the Alaska State Legislature is the process they want to wed themselves to.  

It surprises me little that the UAA administration would insist on going about such a thing in the usual manner.  There is nobody there with any balls when it comes to standing up to the Regents.  And this Crawford proposal is sort of an end run around the usual process where the Regents lobby Legislators for pet projects.  Can you imagine the uproar at the "Regents Ball" (or whatever they call it when they get together for their circle-jerks) if UAA were to sign a lease agreement without them having any say?

So in my estimation, we're not progressing with an arena proposal on any front for nothing other than little bullshit political games.  But we very well could be.  This is where you (my fine loyal readers) help tip the balance.  Jim Crawford, his associates and some already aware alumni are actively pursuing this option as I type this.  They have been for nearly 2 years.

Each reader here can help by contacting your legislators, gubernatorial candiates and current governor to demand that UAA openly examine this proposal.  I'd include phone calls to the UAA Administration but I fear those would be a complete and utter waste of time.  But if you want to try; the first person on the UAA list to call would be Bill Spindle.  He is Vice-Chancellor for Administrative Services and headed up all the previous arena proposals.  Nobody below him will be able to comment or tell you anything with regard to all this.  I doubt he will comment.  I meant to try to contact him but I'm not as efficient with my time as I could be.  So here's a link to the org chart if you are so inclined to contact anyone at UAA.

And a resounding yes to what is perhaps your first question here, Jim Crawford and his partner's would make a profit from all this.  But it's clear to me from my conversations with him that such is not the primary intent.  This is being driven by interested alumni that recognize their University is stalling for no good reason.  Mr. Crawford and his agents are facilitating the effort and have agreed that a fair buyout of the leaseback arrangement would be welcome anytime the legislature decided to appropriate the funds.  So in that light, this proposal does nothing but get the new arena built and operational probably years ahead of when some imaginary UAA/Muni arena partnership will come to fruition.  

Ultimately, UAA could be renting this proposed facility to the Muni.  The Sullivan Arena is well beyond it's best days folks. We all know that already.  So get off your asses and make some noise about this ok?  Here's a PDF from the State Legislature's website with all the necessary contact information.  I know many of you have written before and made similar phone calls.  I wish it weren't time to do so again.  But it is.  Without your fervent input this proposal will just die a slow death in the hands of the UAA Administation.

One sad thing here is that WCHA folks consistently label UAA as not seriously committed to their league and of failing to show the proper financial interest.  Our coach is paid lower than 8 of the 9 other coaches in the WCHA.  Our assistants probably make substantially less than their counterparts in the league.  The arena we play in is now 30 years old and falling apart.  The on-campus practice facilities are grossly overcrowded.  And that's not the end of the reasonable bitches about UAA facilities.  Well, the situation I've described with regard to this arena proposal sure seems to lend their jokes credibility.

I know a lot of people here like to blame Steve Cobb and I've defended him because he's expressed passion directly to me in support of correcting the above issues.  But at some point, he's got to be able to go to someone above him that holds the purse strings and convince them to open up the vault.  Else, we will continue to be the butt of "not committed" to hockey jokes around the WCHA.  Come on Dr. Cobb, be a zealot, get in some faces, piss your boss off, make some waves.  We're (and by "we're" ... I of course mean me) are begging you to become Don Quixote on this.  Tilt their fucking windmills a bit eh?

The truth is that every other rink in the WCHA now exceeds the Sullivan Arena in some way.  They are all either newer and bigger, or have been retrofitted extensively.  Bemidji St. which joins the league next year will be playing a new arena.  UNO which joins the league next year will be playing in a 14,000 seat arena and are actively pursuing a quality on-campus facility.  St. Cloud and Michigan Tech are working on or have completed massive overhauls.  North Dakota plays in a palace.  The Mariucci is one of the great rinks in all of hockey.  Duluth gets a brand spanking new arena next year.  

I don't express these facts as some sort of call to "keep up with the Joneses" but instead from knowing the reality of recruiting hockey players.  If you're 18 and you've got a choice between a dump in Alaska and a palace in North Dakota the answer is obvious, but if the question is a quality rink in Alaska versus a palace in North Dakota then we'll find more highly ranked elite players choosing Alaska.  That's reality.  Want to truly be competitive and not just pay lip service to the term?  Then some folks in the UAA Administration need to step up and do something positive versus playing whatever petty political game that is obviously underway today.

Get this done people.  I'm not the most erudite bloke to ever walk into the pub, but even I can tell a stale pint from a fresh one with only a quick whiff.  The Crawford proposal is a win-win.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing this to light. No wonder so many loyal fans and boosters are calling for Cobbs head!! He should be ashamed of the job he is doing. He IS the Athletic DIRECTOR after all. He should be riding Spindles butt big time.

-30- said...

Busy pen! Time for you, Donald, to get on the UAA payroll. Does any paid employee do more for the cause?

Alaskana said...

First off, great post Donald. And thanks as well to Donald Leaver for being committed to this very important issue.

I truly believe the fate of the Seawolves' future participation in the WCHA hangs on this one issue. As new teams (with better facilities) come into the WCHA, UAA will only stand out even more in terms of its minimal commitment to the only D1 sport it has. It is clear that a new arena for the seawolves will breed future success and may be one thing that breaks the seemingly perpetual cycle of Seawolves mediocrity. A new arena means a better team. A better team means more wins. More wins means a championship.

I like Dr. Cobb and think he is doing a great job in general, but I do agree that now is the time for him to stand up for all UAA athletes and demand (on a million watt megaphone) that the UAA administration act on this (seemingly) golden opportunity.

And if the current UAA administration is turning a blind eye to this problem, maybe he should step over them and go directly to the regents. If their usual rationale for turning down the UAA sports complex is funding, then perhaps this will make them 'see the light' as this proposal addresses this primary roadblock. If the regents (or UAA admins) think they have a better solution to UAA's current athletics quagmire, I am all ears.

But one thing is for certain: If UAA waits for the AK state legislature to act on this issue, it will be a cold day in hell before the Seawolves will see a rink of their own.

Donald Dunlop said...

As i hope I made clear in the post ... this issue resides at levels above Steve Cobb. How much some Vice-Chancellor or Chancellor solicits opinions from Cobb is very unclear to me. I think this is one issue where they control the agenda and he just marches to their tune.

The Athletic Director's job at a school like UAA's is to provide an environment that is conducive for the best possible outcomes for the coaches he hires and their student-athletes. It isn't to initiate, negotiate or otherwise direct the building of facilities.

But yes ... he MUST be an outspoken advocate. I realize the private workplace and public workplace are two different environments. But when I worked at BP, there was one guy who always go what he wanted when we sat in the seemingly endless meetings. He was the guy that was literally willing to get up on the conference room table and passionately fight for what he wanted.

Jump up on some tables Steve. I've known and spoken with him enough to know that he wants an arena via any method, even by hook or crook. Well here's a proposal that is reasonable by just about any measure. It needs a hero inside the UAA Administration. It needs an advocate. It needs a Don Quixote.

Cobb could be that guy. In fact, he's the only person in the organization that could be that guy.

I really like Dr. Cobb. I was raised in the south and so I can relate to him. I don't know how courageous he is though. And it's going to take some balls to get this going because doing it will require going against the grain of whatever other plans they have in place.

Anonymous said...

Donald, do you happen to have a website that lists emails for all of our representatives? Most people would fire off an email, and CC everyone at once. Most would not, however, make all those phone calls.

Anonymous said...

Cobb doesnt give a shit about hockey he wants basketball send the stuck up ass back to the south.

444 said...

The following rinks are either new, newer ore remodeled than UAA.

1. UND
2. UNO
3. BSU
4. UMD
6. MSU
7. DU
8. CC
9. MN
10 UW
11. And Tech

Every program in the WCHA continues to be light years ahead of UAA. There is no doubt in my mind if UAA can keep up with the Western Arena arms raise they surely will be able to keep more recruits home. Mark my words UAA over time with a new arena should be more competive.

Anonymous said...

DD does a fine job of promoting Seawolves hockey. To those who disparage Dr. Cobb, perhaps you should check out the Coaches Lunch on campus this Friday 11:30 Lucy Cuddy Dining Hall. Dr Cobb will likely address the luncheon and he has always been very willing to answer any questions. If you had been to any of the previous lunches you would know Dr. Cobb is a fervant advocate for UAA hockey. His record as A.D. speaks for itself. Look up the records for mens & womens basketball, volleyball, cross country, gymnastics, track & field & skiing.
He has brought these programs to national prominence. The hockey program is light years ahead of when Coach Shyiak took over.

Anonymous said...

Cobb is a very egotistical but very sensitive man. He's a putz! He is out of his league as far as being an AD. He has not been a leader and promoter of UAA athletics. He collects a paycheck and kisses the asses he needs to, to keep his job.

Anonymous said...

How are we light years ahead.

Anonymous said...

I would UAA's hockey program is marginally better, but I think light years ahead is an exaggeration...

Donald Dunlop said...

Not every rink in the WCHA is some palace. World Arena is not much different from the Sully. Just a newer mutlipurpose typical mid-sized city Arena.

Magness is of course new but it's quieter than the Sully is and as for TV lighting it is the worst EvAH. 3,000 people in the Sully put a full Magness to shame. That isn't about the Arena so much as it is about the fans.

The Mobile Phone Carrier Rink in Mankato is nothing special ... looks like it has good sightlines but I never like a joint with walls at the end of the rink.

The Concrete Center in St. Cloud is just about the same age as the Sully. It stands apart because of the fanbase. With the retrofit/upgrades it'll be nice.

The BREC I'm sure will be nice ... it will however be smallish. And UNO's rink is just a big arena in a decent sized city. It has no attachment at all to the campus. The Sully is less than two miles from UAA's campus. I'm not sure how far the Qwest is from UNO's campus but I doubt it's closer. Isn't it up on the north side of downtown Omaha like near the Airport? And the school is just southwest of the middle of town?

My point here is that yes UAA's facilities need upgraded but that doesn't by default mean every other joint is tons better. There are situations in each community that have a bearing as well.

Lastly, the Sully's ice is the best in the league. Bar none.

In any case, an on-campus Arena will attract recruits and display UAA's commitment.

Wolfman said...

So UAA supporters...what are we going to do about this situation? Are we just going to read this and count this as just another article or post? Or are we going to do something about it? I have already written to several people about this, what are you all going to do?

Suze said...

Hey Capt Don, thanks for your hard work and diligence on this.

Crawford has a new article, with numbers and more of an explanation of how a lease back works.

I am busy writing as many people I can think of, hopefully all UAA fans will get on the stick too.

Eric Tuott said...

I think it's a huge mistake to build an arena with anything more then 5,000 seats. Ask any player, they'd rather play to a 5,000 seat arena that's full then to 6,000 people in a 10,000 seat cavern. I don't think there are many people that go to all the Aces and UAA games - in my experience people usually gravitate to one or the other.

Senator Kevin Meyer and Representative Bill Stoltze are both strong advocates for the Arena.

Donald Dunlop said...

Thanks for the input, former players perspective is important. And you're right with regard to a 1/2 or even 3/4 empty arena. I think the 7,500 is a sign of hopefulness that when/if the program gets to the competitive state that we all want to see that it will be regularly filled. It's a bit of a desire to be like the "big boys" I suppose.

I've long said here that Anchorage fans can't or won't be able fully and totally support two hockey teams (it's only a city of 300,00). Perhaps they would if both programs were perennial winners. But winning perennially in either the ECHL or WCHA isn't an easy mark to hit (for different reasons).

At the same time, I can't blame anyone involved for planning with a successful future in mind.

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