STADIUM DEAL A BUM DEAL
[from November 2004 issue]

PRIOR EDITORIALS ARCHIVED HERE


There has already been much reported by our print and electronic journalist colleagues on this subject that there no point in us restating the facts already out there. Our readers are very tuned in to all the arguments, both pro and con, on the several levels of the debate. And there are two main levels in this debate about baseball and the stadium proposal.

First, there is the sense, seemingly shared by a majority of citizens, that it would be great to have baseball back in Washington. We know it was highly popular here back in the 20th century. Certainly, this newspaper would applaud its return. However, when the mayor and his allies hear people say they would love to have baseball, they need to realize that most those people are expressing the view that it would be very desirable indeed, but--and this takes us to the next level--this in no way should be interpreted as endorsing taxpayer funding for a stadium. And, according to a recent study that we saw reported, a substantial majority of our citizens do not wish to pay for a baseball stadium itself, even though they would be perfectly happy to buy tickets for games.

Yet the proponents keep charging on, ignoring grass-roots sentiment out in the neighborhoods--and they will do so at their political peril. How can the mayor claim to really know what the average working stiff out in the city really feels about his plan when he has virtually isolated himself and, with only a couple of exceptions, studiously avoided attending civic association and ANC meetings where this was being discussed. He didn’t even have the courtesy to deign to appear at the heavily attended meeting in Southwest, the neighborhood that will be most immediately and directly affected by his plan.

The mayor had his excuses, which we think are specious; others attribute his odd disengagement from the public at large as incompetence or just lack of political savvy at best; many others forgive him on the theory that he is simply uncomfortable in large gatherings; we, however, say his absence smacks of arrogance.

We have talked with countless “ordinary” people from around the city and we are absolutely convinced that we are right on track about there being very strong anti-public funding sentiment for a stadium.

And, it is dissembling at the worst when we are constantly being told that there will be no public financing and that taxpayers won’t feel the slightest pinch. If one believes that, then they deserve to be buying into a pig in a poke of a plan!

The mere business of increasing the city’s indebtedness through a bond issue of the size contemplated will have an impact on Wall Street and will surely affect the extent to which further borrowing for legitimate capital and infrastructure spending will be practicable without risk of the city’s credit rating being lowered. And, as the city’s own chief financial officer has recently revealed, the funding package contemplated will fall far short of reality--just think what the actual reality will be three-to-five years from now.

Then there is this propaganda about how only the richest business enterprises in the city will be called upon to fork over the special tax to be used to help fund the thing. Since this will be based on gross receipts rather than taxable income, what that will mean is that large numbers of smallish to medium size enterprises will be getting socked, even those which have low or modest profit margins. The hospitality industry--one of the city’s most important sources of tax revenue--would be squeezed. The mayor argues that hotels and restaurants and clubs will benefit enormously from this, but there has yet to be shown any hard empirical data to back that up. Please tell us how a high-volume restaurant uptown will benefit from stadium crowds half-a-city away? Yet the owners will be paying a tax because their gross receipts will push them over the line.

Of course, what will happen is that they will be forced to raise prices and when lots of business raise prices just a little bit--well, now we’re talking real money. Even Safeway, the industry leader in the supermarket biz operates on razor-thin margins, as do all supermarkets. Further, at least in the case of Safeway Stores, Inc., which is very important to us here in DC, corporate policy requires that each individual store be its own profit center--no loss-leader locations allowed. We can just see the price of milk going up a few more cents right there at 17th and Corcoran Streets. No, there is no free lunch and the mayor knows it but he hopes we poor saps who didn’t attend Yale haven’t been able to catch on.

One last thought before we slit our throat over this boondoggle: Wee are told a stadium near the South Capitol Street bridge is essential to spurring economic development in a depressed part of town. That might have been true a decade ago, but ever since the Pentagon breathed new life into the Navy Yard by relocating huge pieces of its bureaucracy from outer locations, the private sector has already more than vigorously pushed the unfolding redevelopment; Pentagon contractors and their ilk are clamoring for office space down there and the private sector is responding; new housing, a fancy hotel and more is either under construction, wrapping up final financing, or negotiating to come in. A public works project is not needed at this point in time. The private sector will bring more life and variety to those 15 acres every day of the week than will a handful of crowded baseball game days each year.

In closing, we say let’s go instead with Councilmember Fenty's excellent proposal to retrofit the existing RFK Stadium. If that means the wealthy baseball cartel pulls out, so be it; Washington already attracts more visitors and would-be residents than almost any other city in the U.S. We already have enough world-class diversions of virtually unlimited appeal; not to have baseball will not diminish the worth of our city one iota.