Distinguished Senators, the Washington Nationals Blog That Is Great

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


That's me that got owned. Eric at Off Wing Opinion didn't agree with my spittle-flecked rant from yesterday. There's the problem with spittle-flecked rants: the one that pleases everyone has yet to be written. I shall do what rebutting I can and attempt to refrain from the all-caps typing and swears I find myself drawn to in my more passionate moments.

Eric does not address my fundamental, most spittle-inducing concern. Nobody is going to be able to get to these games. The logic of putting the team in the middle of a huge chunk of people rather than at one end is so obvious that I'm astonished Loudoun's proposal is being taken seriously. But on to what Eric does address.

His main argument seems to be that DC can't afford it. First, he concedes the following:
Because the transportation infrastructure in the Washington Metropolitan Area was designed to move government employees from the suburbs to downtown, putting a stadium there makes the most sense. The roads are there, the Metro is there, the tourists are there.
But then we cue the ominous music:
Unfortunately, given the District's history of fiscal irresponsibility, building a new ballpark would probably fall on the backs of local taxpayers -- something that's bound to make Washington a less attractive place to do business. And the plan that Mayor Anthony Williams has proposed to the D.C. City Council, but has yet to be approved (thanks to City Councilman Jack Evans), puts the onus of paying for the new stadium on businesses that are overtaxed already.
I think that Eric here slightly misrepresents Evans' opposition. According the Post article he cites, Evans is not at all opposed to the plan, only to uncertainty. "When they tell me they're going to put a team here, we'll get the job done" sounds like a minor hurdle rather than a significant roadblock. The funding is there, pending MLB's announcement.

Now, the big (only?) selling point of the Loudoun stadium is that there would be no new taxation to pay for it, making it unique in that regard. Furthermore, I have no business calling on DC to buy me a stadium.
As a resident of Silver Spring, Maryland, Ryan may not care that the folks in the District are going to be asked to pay for the ballpark he so dearly wants downtown.
It is only fair to point that as a resident of northern Virginia, Eric would have no problem getting to games in Loudoun. Marylander though I be, I would not endorse a plan to put a team in some out-of-the-way corner of the Old Line State, accessible only to those on my side of the river.

Let's have a look at those taxes (from the same Post story):
D.C. officials say they plan to pay for the stadium with revenue bonds, financed with three potential sources of revenue: sales taxes on stadium services, including tickets, parking and concessions; lease payments from the new team at sites other than RFK; and a new tax on the city's largest businesses.
That's one tax paid by the District's businesses, one tax paid by the Senators, and one paid, at least in part, by Ryan. Major sporting events draw customers (or, if you prefer, marks or rubes or pigeons) to the stadium. Along the way, they eat, drink, and be merry. I, for one, plan on going to a lot of games and drinking a lot of beer. That means money coming out of Montgomery County and into the District. Obviously, none of this is news to anyone, but it must be considered.

Eric cites a Post article by a Cato Institute wonk saying that publicly-funded stadia aren't worth it. This is interesting, because a few days earlier I had read a Baltimore Sun article that presented both sides of this issue.
Stanford University economics professor Roger Noll argues that sports facilities can be justified only as a quality-of-life proposition, not as a sound financial investment. Stadiums don't usually generate a lot of nearby economic activity because team owners sell so much inside the stadium, he said.

"It makes no sense to build a sports bar across the street," said Noll, who edited a 1997 book about the economic impact of athletics. "No one ever comes to your sports bar because there's already five other sports bars in the stadium. ... It is really an anomaly to have the kind of comprehensive development around a stadium that occurred around the MCI Center."
One wonders if Roger Noll has ever been to a sporting event. I hereby invite him to join me at Max's, a sports bar across the street from Camden Yards. We'd better get there early, though - it's tough to get in before a game. Then we could get a hat and a hot dog from street vendors, and hit the Inner Harbor for crabcakes after the game (NB: I'm not hitting on Roger Noll).

The article goes to quote some business owners who apparently are not aware that they're going bankrupt.
Capital Restaurant Concepts, which operates 13 properties in Baltimore, Virginia and Washington, has no complaints. It gets larger crowds at its two Inner Harbor sites when the Orioles are playing.

"It does spill out," said company co-founder Paul J. Cohn, who favors a downtown site such as Camden Yards.
And in DC?
The downtown Renaissance Hotel is near the New York Avenue site, so its officials are eager to see baseball come to town, especially at that location.

"We'll keep our fingers crossed," said hotel marketing director Jon Lockwood.

Maybe the pundits are right. Maybe the tax-funded stadium is an awful idea. But then again, maybe the politicians and business owners know what they're doing. Why do so many cities pay for stadiums? Could so many mayors and city councils really be that dim? Swallowing my cynicism for a moment, I find that unlikely. So, do they want teams to generate money? That's a good reason. Or do they want them to please their constituents? That's a good one as well. "Stanford University economics professor Roger Noll argues that sports facilities can be justified only as a quality-of-life proposition . . ." Good lord, Noll, isn't that enough?

There is also the team to be considered. As I yelled about in my rant, the Loudoun Cabal seems to be content with utter failure from an attendance standpoint. Fewer fans at the games means fewer people in the bars and restaurants, fewer bobblehead dolls and souvenier bats being sold, fewer eight dollar beers being quaffed, and ultimately worse TV viewership and less enthusiasm for the team. Do we want our team to content itself with being a Brewers-esque welfare queen, perfectly happy to turn a profit by maintaining a low payroll and pocketing the revenue sharing money?

Maybe the Virginians will succeed in buying their toy baseball team and build the country's most gorgeous stripmall ballpark, but don't expect the rest of us not to fight it.

UPDATE. Josh Heit throws some doubt on the Loudoun plan's rosy economic outlook.

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