Saturday, May 14, 2005

I agree with Marion Barry on Baseball

No new Stadium for DC

I agree with Marion Barry - the "Mayor-for-Life" now on the city council - when he said that we should just use the existing baseball stadium in Washington, DC for our new Major League Baseball (MLB) team, the Washington Nationals.

Unlike the last taxpayer-funded major league sports monopoly stadium, the MCI Center, which was built for hockey and basketball where no location existed for these sports in the city-proper, DC already has a baseball stadium in an under-developed part of town! Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Stadium is cool, its retro, and its there! No more conspicuous consumption, no more misguided distribution of wealth through state-led economic development.

It is true that the MCI Center helped lead economic growth in Chinatown, albiet driving out the Chinese people for chain restaurants whose clients are Virginia and Maryland suburbanites. And the new Convention Center - the East Coast's largest (why?) - is helping drive a renewal of the Shaw neighborhood and parts of downtown. But, at what cost, and we will never know at what 'opportunity cost' to privately-led growth ?

An example of a publically-funded project which initially jump-starts growth, but then ultimately holds-back further growth is the DC Government's $50 million Reeves Center at 14th and U Streets NW. This mixed-used building was created in the area decimated by black-flight to the MD suburbs after the race-riots in early 1970s. Opened in 1986 the Center is now half-full of economically unviable retail shops and subsidized offices, in an overly-sized public space, holding back this now booming neighborhood. At least neighborhood residents can pick-up their DC tax forms there, ha ha.

It should be noted here that Reeves was Barry's project, further evidence that age brings wisdom !

Other studies in other cities and states have shown that subsidies given to private entities for "economic development" can cost between $100,000 and $170,000 for each job created. We have done this enough in DC, no more white elephants. In fact, Mayor Anthony Williams had a good idea, lets sell unneccesary taxpayer-funded buildings, not create more.

Use what we have: RFK. Maybe if we have a winning baseball team, and an actual owner of the team instead of MLB itself, the owner of the team will actually buy, his or herself, a stadium with real money in voluntary exchanges and not eminent domain. Just because everyone else does it (subsidizes their "major league" sports teams with stadiums) doesn't make it allright.