Skeete’s Swan Song

March 7, 2013

Horatio Skeete

Horatio Skeete

The clock is ticking down, apparently, on Glendale’s Acting City Manager Horatio Skeete. Skeete was the subject of a special meeting a couple days ago. By some accounts, his days as a city employee are numbered. It appears to be at least partially based in retaliation for the similar fate of Craig Tindall (the former city attorney) suffered at the hands of one set of three council members (Alvarez, Chavira, Hugh) and the mayor. The “other” three apparently took exception to the kangaroo courtish process and came back with a similar deal directed at Mr. Skeete and City Clerk Pam Hanna.

Some say today might be Skeete’s resignation day. Heck, he might be gone before I finish this post, it’s already 3 pm.

So the public workshop held that day might have been the last time we see Mr. Skeete at a meeting.

Horation introduced  Dave McAlindin, the Assistant Director of Economic Development for Glendale, as the presenter for two items on the agenda. The first was the proposed agreement with the Cardinals to hold their training camp in Glendale instead of Flagstaff. Joyce Clark analyzes the numbers for that agreement on her blog (click here) and I have no reason to disagree with that analysis.

The second item Mr. McAlindin covered is closer to my wheelhouse, a proposed event to be held in the city owned and NHL run arena that remains the home of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Group Event

If you want to follow along on the video of the meeting, click here and advance to 43:40-ish for Skeete explaining that a large organization was interested in renting the arena. He says that they were concerned that they might not have received the “most welcoming news”, presumably from the NHL arena managers, and that the city decided to intervene. It’s some time later in this meeting before we find out who the large group is, yet if we mentally roll back to some scoldings from Elaine Scruggs we will be reminded of the identity of the group that was supposedly spurned summarily because it was a “non hockey” event. Skeete goes on to introduce McAlindin to make the presentation about the event.

Dave McAlindin

Dave McAlindin

McAlindin explains that the group has rented the arena in the past and would be interested in dates in the early part of the summer that wouldn’t conflict with possible Stanley Cup games played by the Coyotes. He states that the group would bring about 200,000 people to Westgate City Center during the four weekend period he’s talking about. Some quick math puts that at 50,000 people per weekend. McAlindin later defines the weekend as three days, so the 200,000 people into an arena with a capacity of 18,300 is possible over 12 days (four “weekends” times three days).

He mentions a “couple sticking points”. The first is that the cost the group would typically have to bear would be in the range of $30k per day (the assumed quote from the NHL via AEG) which the group couldn’t afford. He says an alternative being explored would be to use the city “community event” events, four of which are written into the current arena management agreement.

McAlindin continues to explain that he will be meeting with the “folks at the arena” (it should have happened yesterday) to consider each of the four weekends as one event instead of counting each day as an event. He then explains that makes the cost $5k per day as opposed to $30k which is something they would be happy to pay. He closes his initial statement saying he hopes the proposed 2014 event would become an annual thing. McAlindin later makes that 2014 is a very big year for this group, it’s likely attendance would drop off after the planned huge 2014 national event.

When asked where the people will come from by Mr. Weiers (at 46:55), McAlindin answers from all of the western states, continuing to say that there would be about 15k per day in the arena. Quick math adds up to 180,000 people, not 200,000 as stated. Not a big deal, only a ten percent exaggeration. The balance of his answer indicates that the group has already contacted local hotels and received a good response for booking blocks of rooms. To me, that doesn’t necessarily mean staying local to Westgate is a formal part of the agreement.

In response to a question from Mr. Sherwood, McAlindin explains he will be asking the arena managers that they open the arena and offer the group the same deal the city gets, essentially to pay the $5k bill (per day) to, as McAlindin describes it, “turn the lights on”. There would be no concessions or anything else, none of the other fees associated with running the arena. That also begs the question of security and medical, I suppose.

CM Alvarez wanted clarification on what dates were involved. The as yet unnamed in the meeting group would book four Thursday through Saturday blocks in July and August (July 4-6, 11-13, 25-27, and August 1-3).

CM Martinez finally asks who the group is and is answered the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Most people familiar with Glendale were well aware of this fact, but it’s a little funny to see the entire city government avoiding mentioning the name of the group because of the perceived stigma associated with the religion stemming from decades of ignorantly bigoted jokes.

So What?

There are many that insist on a strict separation of church and state in everything. The Glendale City Council is no exception, having spent an inordinate amount of time discussing a “moment of silence” versus a “prayer” to open each meeting. They may have a bit of a problem, then, with the proposed structure of the Jehovah’s Witness event.

To pull up a copy of the current arena management agreement, (click here). The agreement specifically defines the “community events” that Mr. McAlindin proposed to use for the Jehovah’s Witness events (section 5.17, PDF page 52):

(i) which are sponsored or co-sponsored by the City;
(ii) which are conducted or presented as a service to the City, its residents or a non-profit organization;
(iii) which do not feature performers or performances which are normally booked in arenas comparable to the Arena Facility;
(iv) the financial benefits (if any) of which are received or distributed to a non-profit, civic or other community organization; and
(v) which are approved by the Arena Manager.

To legally use the “community event” section for the proposed event for a religious organization, it must be sponsored or co-sponsored by the city.

Mr. McAlindin was intending to meet with the arena management people to see if they would go with his plan to use the city’s contracted events for the Jehovah’s Witness organization and to consider each three day weekend as one event so it would fit into the four the city is allowed. The definition of an “event”, however, is clearly spelled out in the arena management agreement:

If such event or activity is presented in its entirety more than once during a given day, all such presentations during such day shall be deemed one Event. If such event or activity is presented in its entirety on more than one (1) consecutive day, each day on which such event or activity is presented shall be deemed a separate Event.

So, the arena managers would have to be willing to redefine the language in their contract to increase the days allowed threefold and reduce their revenue from the quoted $30k per day to $5k per day. Considering the recent level of cooperation between Glendale and the NHL and the Coyotes, that seems like it would be a pretty tough sell. McAlindin characterizes this event as “a classic example of the arena making no money”, yet is recommending it with the full support and hearty congratulations of the same people that object to the perception of paying Hockey Partners “too much” to run the city owned arena. Ironic, isn’t it?

City Subsidy To Religious Group?

The deal as proposed by Mr. McAlindin and Mr. Skeete would provide $60k for 12 weekend days in the arena. Those 12 days would then, obviously, not be available for concerts and other events that the arena manager might bring in. Assuming the deal goes through as proposed ($5k per day for 12 days), the arena managers would receive $60k, enough to pay the light bill (maybe, it’s going to be HOT on those days) instead of the $360k they were asking for as the market value for the arena. The difference, $300k, could be characterized as a subsidy.

So the question besides the possible separation of church and state objections that might be made by the usual suspects, if the Jehovah’s Witnesses pay $5k per day would it consist of a city sponsored subsidy? Since the event would have to be city sponsored in order to be legal under the current contract it seems one test is already passed. The remaining question would be is the $5k proposed far below market value for a venue like Jobing,com arena in Glendale? That was the test the Goldwater Institute used with some success in their “gift clause” gambit.

A professional event planner who, coincidentally, JUST finished up with an event in Glendale across the street from the arena, thinks that the price is VERY low.

“The 5,000 fee is ridiculous. I could MAYBE rent patio space for that amount. They do realize that they couldn’t even staff the arena for that amount right?”

“What does that fee include? Electrical? It’s going to cost 5,000 just to keep the lights on? What about audio and video? Catering? Staffing? All of these items should be MONEYMAKERS for the city. Looks to me like they’ll be losing money on that.”
“Base cost for University of Phoenix is in the 6500-7000 a day area. And that’s JUST TO GET IN THE DOOR and reserve the floor.”

“If they don’t have it in writing that the attendees will be staying in Glendale, it’s not worth anything. Doubt sales tax would cover any of the costs Glendale is eating.”

Sounds like a subsidy to me. I assume somebody will scream about this, maybe even citing the AZ Constitution’s “gift clause”. Whether that will be accompanied by some “Christmas tree in the town square” outrage as well is anyone’s guess.

WeiersUNLESS…

The contract with the NHL expires at the end of this hockey season, well before this event is to transpire. CM Alvarez asks the question about the NHL, and Weiers then follows up. It actually doesn’t make ANY sense to be negotiating an event that won’t occur until summer 2014 unless, well unless some assurances have been made that either the current arena management people (NHL and AEG) are still in place or a replacement group will have a similar management agreement.

So, the current contract may certainly be null and void and negotiations might actually have to take place with the new arena managers that Beacon Sports Capital is potentially working with now. I have no idea what discussions the NHL has had with the city regarding their plans past the end of this rapidly dwindling hockey season. The mayor, at the end of the arena segment, asks the now potentially irrelevant Horatio Skeete (58:08):

“If, in fact, we don’t have a contract at that time is this somewhat mute (sic) in a sense that if there is no one in charge of that can we just basically say these are the dates that we want booked, period?”

Skeete answers in the affirmative and then continues to elaborate and state that, essentially, the city will want more control over event days in the new contract despite having negotiated an almost identical agreement with Hockey Partners.

So, we’ll see what happens, I guess.