Crony Capitalism

Washington, D.C.'s Subsidies for New Soccer Stadium Delayed, Thank God.


Last year, Washington Nationals managing owner and billionaire real estate tycoon Ted Lerner had an idea: build a retractable roof over the Nats baseball stadium and stick the taxpayers with the $300 million tab. That's on top of the more than $600 million the District already shelled out to build the stadium that charges fans $9 for a Miller Lite. But in an unusual twist to an otherwise routine story, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray reportedly started laughing when he heard the proposal and threw it out.

D.C. taxpayers may have weathered that particular crony capitalist squall, but more dark clouds have been lowering on the horizon. For over a year and a half, developers, District officials—including Gray—and D.C. United, the city's Major League Soccer team, have been negotiating a sweetheart deal for the franchise. Unhappy with the Washington Senators' old stomping grounds, D.C. United wants politicians to unite behind a plan to bankroll up to half the cost of a new $300 million, 20,000-seat stadium.

The government largess will come in the form of land and infrastructure payments as well as tax breaks for the franchise. To justify this bald-faced cronyism, officials have promised the usual litany of bogus benefits: jobs, economic development, increased tax revenue, ad nauseum.

There is a chance that fiscal sanity will prevail, at least for the time being—not because of principled opposition to corporate welfare, sadly, but because of political infighting. The deal hinges on a pair of  property transfers to cobble together enough land on Buzzard Point for the stadium, including a relocation of the Reeves Municipal Center to Ward 8. Several council members have been skeptical about the plan.

Other recent developments also threaten to delay the project, hopefully indefinitely. In a completely nonpolitical move, of course, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson on Monday decided to postpone a council hearing on the proposal until after the election, reports The Washington Post:

Every candidate for mayor and council has said that their decision on whether to support the $300 million stadium would rest in part on the findings of a study commissioned by Mendelson (D) that was set to be released Tuesday at a council hearing.

Instead, his office announced that the hearing would take place the day after the election and that Mendelson wasn't sure whether the study, which details financial risks to the city, would be made public before voters go to the polls.

This despite Mendelson having been briefed earlier this month on the study's findings. Those privy to the briefing confirm that the study found issue with the city's financial assessments of the property transfers.

Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) interprets the postponement as a sign that the project is dead. Others think the move will only delay the council's consideration until January, when a new mayor occupies City Hall.

In either case, chalk one up for political gridlock saving the taxpayers some money for a few months. God only knows they'll need it: The Gray administration recently announced that the District's harebrained streetcar project faces further delays and will wreak commuter havoc when finished—all for a very pretty penny, indeed.

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  1. I have a glimmer of hope that the era of subsidized stadium development may, like the era of western-country Olympics, be coming to an end.

    There are still some projects in the pipeline (again, like the Olympics) but after that it looks like the money’s all gone.

    1. I think this is like the one issue that boils the blood of taxpayers of every stripe.

      1. If only. I hear lots of people, even a commentator who is the local media’s idea of a libertarian, rooting for the soccer stadium. At least no one I know likes Mayor Gray’s streetcar to nowhere.

        1. Yeah the street car has a special summit cut out near the top of the mountain of bad ideas. What a turd.

  2. build the stadium that charges fans $9 for a Miller Lite.

    If you get there before the game starts you can get a miller lite for like 5$. They are practically giving it away.

  3. The government should be subsidizing the tearing down of soccer stadiums, not building more up!

    1. But what will the smug hipsters pretend to watch for entertainment then?

        1. That weapon is not nearly obscure enough to be an ironic tool in the fight against the plaid clad douchebags.

  4. I hear the stadium for the Columbus Crew is nice. Why not simply take the stadium through eminent domain?

    1. Please don’t take our stadium! It was 100% paid for by Lamar Hunt with no taxpayer funds. (Though to be fair the city did add some traffic lights and signage years later)

      1. I think Red Bull Arena was a similar deal. $216 million in 2014 dollars – I guess the outskirts of Newark are cheaper than DC.

      2. Well, then, it’s a tax on the rich.

    2. Pro your showing your age. How about we use some of that asset forfeiture stuff.

      1. Ha! You know nothing of cutting edge government theft. It’s a tax, baby, yeah!

  5. $9 for a Miller Lite

    That’s an outrage! They’re only $8.50 at a Vikings game.

  6. Chester, PA had to have a soccer stadium for the Phila. Union to play in. In addition to the taxpayer funding mentioned below, Delaware County kicked in $30mil. One of the owners of the Union runs a multi-billion dollar investment fund and other owners are, you guessed it, real estate developers. The stadium was going to save Chester!

    “In announcing $47 million in state funding for the project in 2008, Gov. Ed Rendell went so far as to say it would “change the face of Chester forever,” the axis for development that would include housing, a convention center, office and retail space, and a riverside promenade on the city’s historic waterfront.

    Today, with the Philadelphia Union in their fifth season, PPL Park, in the shadow of the Commodore Barry Bridge, remains an island among vacant land and dilapidated buildings.”

    Today, even with soccer attendance running 95% of capacity, Chester
    is sinking and is rated the 8th most dangerous city in America. But you can bet some crony capitalists got rich as hell of this deal.

    1. Road construction on I-95 got me to divert through Chester once. That was…interesting.

  7. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray reportedly started laughing when he heard the proposal and threw it out.

    That could be either because (a) he is principled defender of taxpayers and the public fisc, or (b) the graft offered was wholly insufficient.

    Since we are talking about the DC Mayor, here, I’ll let you pick which one you think is more likely.

  8. They pushed this back until after the election, so no one has to take a stand. I guarantee the City will end up paying for this monstrosity.

  9. Buzzard Point is a prime location…right near the sewage treatment plant.

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