ON THE AVENUES: Gahan’s stadium arcadium kicks off a new year with hilarity, pathos and own goals.
A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
We don’t go into journalism to be popular. It is our job to seek the truth and put constant pressure on our leaders until we get answers.
— Helen Thomas
I haven’t met Boris Ladwig, who writes for Insider Louisville, but I owe him a beer or two. You do, too.
Let’s hope he drinks. If not, maybe some tacos.
On Tuesday, Ladwig managed the unfathomable, at least by area standards of journalistic timidity. He went out, gathered facts, recorded comments, linked them together in a news story — and prompted immediate mass confusion and hurried spin-doctoring among those accustomed to operating in hushed back corridors.
Bully for Ladwig, who revealed at least some of the machinations (including a tell-tale hook lodged in Jeff Gahan’s mouth) behind Louisville City FC’s bid for a new 10,000 seat soccer stadium, as expandable to 20,000 when or if the big time comes beckoning.
Ladwig should receive some sort of award for sending the usual suspects scurrying, which after all is the Fourth Estate’s job, even if Bill Hanson never received the memo.
We simply had no right to expect this much scintillating entertainment, this soon in the New Year.
Thank you, Mr. Ladwig.
To recap, Ladwig’s article at IL reiterated that Louisville City FC needs a stadium to survive, owing to the limitations of cohabiting Louisville Slugger Field (a facility not built with soccer in mind) with the forever avaricious Louisville Bats baseball team.
In the view of an artistically (if not financially) successful Louisville City FC franchise, itself undergoing management changes and internal restructuring, Greg Fischer’s Louisville metro government has not responded with sufficient zeal to the inevitable public financing portion of any future Louisville stadium deal, and consequently, the soccer club’s chairman John Neace did what any pro sports team executive would do in similar circumstances.
He went fishing elsewhere, and what better locale than his own backyard in Southern Indiana?
It bears repeating that unfortunately, there is nothing unusual about any of this. Fish swim, birds fly, and American sports teams seek new venues, ones preferably financed by someone or something else, with teams retaining as many of the profitable building blocks (naming rights, concessions, luxury suites) as possible, while offloading the more onerous and costly ones (transportation, game day policing, parking garages), almost always to local and regional governments.
Voluminous research has been conducted on the topic of whether the “economic development” pluses of such projects outweigh the minuses, and almost all of these studies agree that the predicted panaceas seldom come to pass.
But P.T. Barnum was right, and a mayor is born somewhere every minute. For whatever reason, sports teams usually get the lopsided deal they’re seeking, perhaps because politicians instinctively recognize the enduring truth of the axiom about bread and circuses, and understand that a populace distracted by the utter irrelevance of pro sports might not pay attention to what’s behind Door Number Three.
Obviously, a third tier professional soccer club is not operating at the rarified heights of billion-dollar edifices like Jerry Jones’ crib in Dallas, or the forthcoming Atlanta Braves complex in Cobb County, Georgia. At the same time, just as the rules of the game in question remain the same at any level or performance, so do the logistics, as adjusted for local economies of scale.
So, off went Neace to chat with area officials, and some months later, Ladwig wrote about it. Before a day had passed, Neace began reassuring Louisvillians that there was nothing to the story – and even more provocatively, a Louisville City FC official denied that there had ever been meetings … with Gahan, who already had told Ladwig there were. WFPL has this one:
A soccer club spokesman, Jonathan Lintner, said Neace has had no “formal meeting” with officials in New Albany.
“He lives in southern Indiana and does a lot of business there, however, and the subject may have come up,” Lintner said.
Nice try, Jonathan, except that when asked by the News and Tribune’s Elizabeth Beilman, Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore left no doubt that he too had been approached by the soccer club – and if Moore had, surely Gahan had, too.
Jeffersonville was also eyed as a potential home for a stadium. Mayor Mike Moore said he was approached by LouCity ownership in August.
But after some thought, he declined.
“I told them, you know I’m loyal to Louisville,” Moore said. “I’m not going to do this to Louisville.”
Snagging a pro-sports soccer stadium would be “an incredible feat” for Jeffersonville or New Albany, he added.
“I think they are using New Albany as a tool to get Louisville to do what they want,” Moore said.
Moore conjures pure eloquence with these comments. He sets Louisville FC straight, soothes potentially ruffled Kentucky feathers and tweaks Gahan’s gullibility, all at once. Moore drinks nasty multinational beer, but that’s an admirable trifecta, nonetheless.
Such was their enthusiasm for this idea, at a price tag of as much as $30 million, that New Albany’s Mayor Gahan, his adjutant David Duggins and their council fixer, Pat “His Master’s Voice” McLaughlin, apparently spoke openly with Ladwig. In the aftermath, they were left looking like naïve rubes propped atop an incoming hay wagon when Neace and Louisville City FC’s varied clarifications began flowing the morning following Ladwig’s story.
At this point, Neace had his own problems, as the lightning fast backlash from fans residing in Kentucky was immediate and venomous, particularly in the sense of social media denunciations of Indiana in general, and New Albany specifically, as abominable post-nuclear wastelands inhabited by the dazed, stunted remnants of human civilization.
But enough about the Redevelopment Commission.
To summarize, Team Gahan has been left to dangle, appearing overly eager to participate in a far-fetched stadium project that might garner 10% of the public vote in a referendum — I’m being optimistic — at a time when so many genuine economic development issues still languish.
Furthermore, the revelation that Gahan’s latest bright shiny bauble had been planned in secrecy for months has baffled and angered some council representatives. Will there be ramifications for McLaughlin tonight, as the council chooses a president, and he surely seeks another year to enforce the Gahan Campaign Finance Doctrine?
Given Neace’s obvious power and influence, it’s easy to imagine Team Gahan convening at the Roadhouse over Bud Light Limes, deliriously plotting the many Byzantine “development” deals to accrue from a stadium, whether land swaps, beak wetting, luxury housing or just a few used freight cars to move those folks persistently residing below the city’s poverty line to fresher beginnings, safely out of the way of the next upscale miracle to define this presumably Democratic mayor’s leaden grip.
When it comes to sports, it’s always a fine idea to be good at something – rebound like Dennis Rodman, pitch left-handed like Jesse Orosco, or use your face to stop the puck, like Gump Worsley.
As the New Albany City FC stadium fiasco illustrates, our City Hall is good at own goals, but thanks again to Ladwig for sparing us the ordeal of arguing against the idiocy. We can share those beers, if you like.
(For links to NAC’s coverage of the comedy, go here)