Monday, March 24, 2008

Can We Build It?! Ev-en-tu-ally!

Watch the blimp shots for next Sunday's Braves-Nats game on ESPN:

Nationals Park opens this weekend and appears nearly complete. But it's surrounded for blocks by a construction zone. Fans arriving by Metro will emerge from a station housed in a building that is a still a maze of concrete and steel girders. From there, they will walk an unsightly path along a chain-link fence -- protecting a four-story-deep hole, soon to be a hotel basement -- en route to the glitz and game.

By car, it won't look any better. Motorists must navigate streets bounded by Jersey barriers, then find parking lots set among towering cranes and shells of office buildings and condominium high-rises.

I suppose these things happen. What say you, city fathers? Is everything going to be OK?

Still, as the Verizon Center experience showed, it takes time for shops and restaurants and bars to spring up between office towers and condo buildings. D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said it took about eight years for now-bustling Gallery Place to become built up. "You're looking at a decade before you really see the effects of the baseball stadium. But it will happen."
Know what? Something tells me slogans like "you gotta wait 10 years for this to work out" weren't part of Evans' pitch back when he and his colleagues were voting to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars from impoverished D.C. residents to wealthy baseball owners.

9 comments:

Nate said...

For some reason I expected better from you than the standard cannard about "voting to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars from impoverished D.C. residents to wealthy baseball owners." No residential tax was assessed for the construction of the Nationals stadium. The cost was borne by the largest businesses in DC, which are predominently lobbying shops, contractors and related enterprises doing business with the Feds.

Perhaps you can make an argument that such a tax could have been used for a more public-spirited purpose, but that assumes the tax would have existed at all but for the stadium. In any case, if Nationals Stadium can anchor the redevelopment of near Southeast DC it will prove to be a benefit to all DC residents.

Shyster said...

Nate -- I'll grant you that (1) the mechanics of the National Park public finance plan are somewhat better than that which we ususally see; and (2) redevelopment of near SE is a good thing, but ultimately I still can't justify the concept of public dollars being used for the construction of a professional baseball stadium.

There's going to be, what, $20M+ a year in tax revenue going to pay the debt on the bonds for this place. Your point is taken that the business tax may not have existed but for the stadium, but the only reason it passed for the stadium was that city leaders went to the mat for it. When was the last time they went to the mat for things that DON'T disproportionally benefit a $6 billion business and wealthy team owner?

As for redevelopment, yes, it will be nice and it will be aesthetically pleasing, and yes, those things are important. But I think it's saying too much to suggest that it will benefit "all DC residents." It will certainly benefit the types who go to ballgames and enjoy the nightclubs that pop up around the stadium, but what about those who don't or can't do that? Most every study I've ever read on the subject suggests that ballpark-inspired developments aren't the economic boons their supporters claim they will be.

A publically-funded stadium is a spectacular and, yes, I will grant, morale-boosting endeavor. Ultimately, however, I would prefer public money being used to fill potholes, upgrade sewer systems, and provide for basic public services.

Teddy R. said...

Something tells me slogans like "you gotta wait 10 years for this to work out"

No offense, but this is pretty dumb. The area looks unsightly right now because there is development happening there. You can't build (or gentrify) Rome in a day.

Anonymous said...

Most every study I've ever read on the subject suggests that ballpark-inspired developments aren't the economic boons their supporters claim they will be.

You're missing something. It might be important, or it might not be. But you're missing it. A relatively low percentage of the Nationals' fan base is from the District. Most of it is from Northern Virginia or suburban Maryland. Many of these people have little to no reason to spend a dime in DC for entertainment or dining purposes. This stadium is creating tax revenue that the District otherwise wouldn't have reaped. Enough to cover the cost of the ballpark? Maybe not, probably not. But your focusing on ten years is short-sided, since this is at least a thirty year commitment.

Shyster said...

Teddy -- that wasn't the most artful thing I've ever written. My point wasn't "Oh no! It's a mess! Bad! Bad!" Obviously development takes a while. I'd be an idiot not to expect that. Anon -- I'm not focusing on 10 years beyond the half-assed joke I tried to make out of it.

My point is that the city leaders like Evans who now speak reasonably about the pace of development were the same ones saying, or at least implying three years ago, that the stadium would have a private financing component. OK, that didn't happen. Then they were saying that the budget would be in the $500M range, and that didn't happen either. All along they were implying that the stadium would be a panacea, and didn't have much to say about this being a marathon and not a sprint. You know that and I know that, but we're sophisticated folks who know a lot about this stuff. How many of the voters who supported the councilmembers who pushed this through were aware of that?

Shyster said...

Anon -- point taken about outside money coming in to patronize the park and new businesses, but their money would be just as welcome if they came into the District to patronize a privately funded stadium, and the city would be that much farther ahead.

That brings us back to the idea of "well, the Nats wouldn't be there but for the promise of a publically-funded stadium." I know I'm being an idealist right now, but baseball teams have to play somewhere, and if enough people in various cities got enough courage to tell MLB that they aren't going to get free rides anymore, MLB wouldn't be able to play the blackmail game they've pursued for so long.

They gotta play somewhere.

Anonymous said...

APBA Guy-

Time to show my age:

Many years ago people came into the District from the suburbs on a regular basis for entertainment purposes. When Kennedy and Johnson were presidents DC had a thriving nightclub, restaurant, and entertainment economy. Then 1968 happened and people from the suburbs stopped coming into DC at night. Of course, the Senators had already left Washington by this time.

As a teenager at the time the fear factor my parents felt meant adventure to me. I spent a lot of time at night in DC and this gave me a front row seat as parts of Washington fell into disrepair. Restaurants closed and investment stopped in many neighborhoods.

Having seen how the 7th Street corridor (now artfully called Gallery Place) was transformed by the hockey/basketball facility, I don't blame the DC City Council for what they did to finance the baseball stadium. Most of the Council members remember, if only vaguely, how thriving the restaurant and market scene was along the SE waterfront (you can read some of George Pelecanos' novels to get a bettered rendered sense of the vitality of DC in the post WWII era), and after 40 years it still hadn't come back.

Jump starting the area, even if that means 10 years of reconstruction, looks good compared to the prognosis that existed before the stadium. That Ted Lerner will make a lot of money because of the tax scheme is of less consequence than the potential to transform that entire neighborhood and collect some tax revenue for the city, tax revenue that hadn't existed before the stadium.

If you want to criticize the tax plan, you have to look at it in context, and that includes Congress' continuous failure to abide by their commitment for adequate funding of the District under the home rule acts. Also, MLB had truncated the Nat's revenue stream with a bribe to Orioles ownership to forego litigation in the form of a major portion of the Nat's potential media revenue flowing to the Orioles.

In general I agree with you about private vs. public finance. Just outside the district the Redskins play in a privately funded stadium. But in this case, with the benefits of rebuilding the SE waterfront, bringing baseball back to DC (psychological benefits are important also) and a tax plan that essentially transfers wealth form one set of well heeled hands to a smaller set of even more well heeled hands, my emotions get the better of my reason.

Play ball!

Nats Fan Lurker said...

My point is that the city leaders like Evans who now speak reasonably about the pace of development were the same ones saying, or at least implying three years ago, that the stadium would have a private financing component.

In Jack Evans' 'defense,' Shyster, Evans said or at least implied there would be a private financing component. On the contrary, Evans always supported the full monty and reacted bitterly when Linda Cropp tried to impose private financing at the last moment. One source, among many.

You really need to research the DC stadium matter much more before commenting on it intelligently (beyond bland, general, and well-meaning platitudes against public financing), but I can't say I recommend it.

Shyster said...

I'll grant you that my Nats-Fu is weak, Nats Fan Lurker. From the sound of it, however, I don't know that I want to know more.

Overall, I think APBA made some good points, as have Needham (in the BTF thread on this) and many others.

While nothing that has gone on in DC is going to change my mind on private vs. public funding, I will agree that this stadium deal is unique for a number of reasons.