As Bad as DC's Nationals Are, It's What's Outside The Ballpark That's Really Fugly


The Washington Examiner looks at the economic renaissance that baseball's Nationals were supposed to bring to their neighborhood and finds plenty of errors, wild pitches, and old-fashioned pants-splitting sadness:

Half a decade after the city's leaders plunked down hundreds of millions of tax dollars to bring baseball back to the nation's capital, many Washingtonians are still waiting for their dividends.

"What did it bring here besides the stadium?" said Victor Williams, who lives in the neighborhood near Nationals Park.

The $611 million stadium—nearly all of it paid out of public coffers—was packaged as the best way to build up the long-moribund neighborhoods around the Navy Yard and the Anacostia River.

"This ballpark really is about … the rebirth of the Anacostia waterfront," then-mayor Anthony Williams said at the 2006 groundbreaking.

But the collapse of the economy and the team's futility have conspired to keep people and businesses from the area. Half Street SW is still advertising about 75,000 square feet of space and is, as one resident described it, "a giant bowl of mud."

It didn't help that one of the neighborhood's top developers was Monument Realty, whose main financier, Lehman Brothers, shut down in the recession.

Attendance at Nationals games was projected to average nearly 30,000, meaning suburbanites would help pay for the stadium with every ticket, hot dog and beer. But the Nats reached that milestone only in 2005, the club's first year in the District—in Robert F. Kennedy stadium. This year, in the Nats' third year in their new park, fewer than 21,000 are coming to each game.

Hey but not to worry: The stadium, claims a local councilman, is a moneymaker. How? As the Examiner's David Freddoso reports, the city increased taxes on non-baseball-related businesses by a total so far of $202 million (a tax, by the way, that will likely never go away, even after its putative purpose of paying for the stadium's construction, is done). So the councilman claims the stadium has brought in $200 million. Which of course ignores all sorts of direct and indirect costs of building the thing in the first place, ranging from $600 million plus to build the thing and $32 million last year alone just on debt service (versus a total of less than $17 million in stadium rents and direct revenue). And, as Freddoso puts it, "the D.C. government has now skimmed $200 million from its economy that could have instead supported job creation and provided goods and services that people actually wanted."

Back in May 2008, Reason.tv urged cities to get out of the publicly financed stadium business altogether. Virtually every non-biased economic analysis of the effects of such edifice-complex projects comes to the same conclusion: These behemoths add nothing to the local economy and typically suck money out of it due to the sorts of big bond-passing and tax hikes that DC passed to produce a shrine to a team that's going to make the old Senators look sharp.