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BRING MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL TO D.C.?
BUT BUILD A TAXPAYER SUBSIDED STADIUM DOWNTOWN?
SAY NO TO PUBLIC FUNDING OF STADIUMS!
SAY NO TO BUILDING A STADIUM AT MT. VERNON SQUARE!
Six Strikes Against This Foul Idea!
STRIKE 1: WE CAN’T AFFORD IT
How many times have parents of kids attending crumbling public schools heard this from city officials? How many times have advocates for keeping or rebuilding D.C. General Hospital heard this from Mayor Anthony Williams, the pro-privatization forces and the old Control Board? Yet, the Mayor has, without consulting the D.C. Council or the public, committed the city to provide private investors with up to $200 million and the use of public land free of charge to build a new stadium — with the apparent front-running choice being an 18-acre site at Mt. Vernon Square in the historic Shaw neighborhood. If the new, privately financed George Washington Hospital now under construction (with a projected cost of $94 million) is any guide, the cost of a new public hospital would be about half of what the Mayor has pledged to the Fed Malek-led baseball investment group. Or consider a February 20, 2002 Washington Post article about the Washington region's Transportation Planning Board delaying for one year spending $38 million on a program to ease pollution caused by vehicle exhaust. One of the reasons for the delay, according to the article, is that area transportation officials in the Maryland, Virginia and the District "said the cash-strapped states and District cannot afford the $38 million expenditure." If we can't "afford" things that truly affect citizens' education, health and well-being, how can we then justify spending huge sums of public money for a stadium? If this really a top priority? Is this a "fiscally responsible" use of our money?
STRIKE 2: THE MAYOR AND THE D.C. SPORTS & ENTERTAINMENT COMMISSION PLAN TO SUBSIDIZE BILLIONAIRES
Billionaire Fred Malek and the investment group attempting to bring a team to Washington, D.C., reportedly have personal wealth totaling more than $3 billion, according to a website touting the new stadium. How can Mayor Williams and the Sports & Entertainment Commission justify giving this well-heeled group $200 million and free use of the land to build a new stadium? What happened to that "free market" that is usually revered by the business community?
STRIKE 3: FOR WHOM ARE WE BUILDING THIS STADIUM?
Baseball is a great game, but the Mayor's plan is designed to aid wealthy investors who in turn will cater mainly to the well-to-do. The Washington Post (December 30, 2001) reported that an analysis by the private Team Marketing Report said that the average cost of a family of four attending a major league baseball game in 2001 was $145.83. The same article, noting the "white collar-ization" of professional sports fans, reported that the average income of Baltimore Orioles' fans was $87,000, which, the newspaper quoted Rick Burton as saying, means "Orioles fans came from the relatively narrow upper end of the market." Burton, executive director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, added that, "Ticket prices are no longer affordable to the middle class on a regular basis." To which we would add not at all affordable to lower income people. And given the economic demographics of the D.C. metropolitan area compared to the Baltimore metropolitan area, costs of ticket prices and refreshments in Washington could be expected to be even higher than in Baltimore. Sports franchises count on skybox and season ticket holders -- and in D.C. that primarily means blue-chip law firms, corporations, corporate lobbyists and upper income fans. The same Post article quoted David Carter, a sports-industry consultant who teaches at the University of Southern California's graduate school of business: "by catering to the corporate fan ... [team owners] broke the connection kids have with sports."
STRIKE 4: SHAW NEIGHBORHOOD ALREADY UNDER SIEGE
The new, gigantic Convention Center under construction at Mt. Vernon Square has already displaced many small businesses and will continue to squeeze out moderate- and low-income homeowners, renters and small businesses in the Shaw neighborhood -- through intense traffic and related parking problems, air pollution, rising real estate prices, and pressures for more upscale commercial development to service the Convention Center. Now, Shaw faces the threat of investors building a huge stadium on an 18-acre plot in this same neighborhood. As the InTowner newspaper put it in March 1999 (in an item headlined: "More Circuses in the Guise of Economic Development"): "Baseball is good, but in its place. And its place is not on prime downtown land bordering on the historic low-density area of the Shaw neighborhoods. Its place is at RFK Stadium, where there is already lots of space, not to say anything of a stadium that could be retrofitted, convenient to Metro and parking and the existing freeway system."
STRIKE 5: PUBLIC HAS BEEN SHUT OUT OF THE PROCESS
Neither the Sports & Entertainment Commission nor the D.C. Council have held any hearings on the pros and cons of public financing of a baseball stadium, or on any prospective site for such a stadium. Closed-door negotiations between the Malek investment group, the Sports & Entertainment Commission and the Mayor have been the order of the day. Washington Post columnist Jonathan Yardley defined the issue succinctly (January 28, 2002): "... [T]his is not a matter to be decided by the city's power elite in closed-door meetings.... Huge amounts of public money will be spent in the construction of a ballpark (though wealthy private interests will profit most from it) and the lives of ordinary citizens will be deeply affected by its location." In opposing a downtown stadium site, the respected planning organization, the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, said Mt. Vernon Square area citizens want a "residential, in-town neighborhood." In a letter to the Mayor last January, the Committee of 100 also said: "We reject the notion that various site options should be left open for ownership groups to decide. The better play is for cities to determine which locations present opportunities ... and do this by fully and openly involving the public in making those decisions."
STRIKE 6: WHAT DO NEUTRAL EXPERTS SAY?
Those experts who don't have a financial stake in the outcome have uniformly warned in books, scholarly studies, reports and articles against the siren song of public financing for stadiums. Some examples:
STEVE DONKIN FOR MAYOR
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