Council development chair opposes D.C. United land swap, could block stadium deal

When last we checked in on D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s D.C. United stadium plan, three city councilmembers were anonymously griping about the tax breaks and city-subsidized land swaps that would help fund construction. Now one of the three — or maybe a fourth, who can tell since they were anonymous? — has gone public with her complaints:

D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) said Wednesday that she wouldn’t support Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s proposal to trade away the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center in order to help pay for a new D.C. United soccer stadium on Buzzard Point.

Bowser, who chairs the council’s economic development committee, said she would rather see the city’s capital dollars go to improving the city’s middle schools.

It’s a reasonable enough argument, considering that D.C. is totally capable of selling the Reeves Center property and using the proceeds for anything it wants to, not just a soccer stadium. (It’s also worth noting that Bowser has made the “let’s give money to schools first” argument before, albeit in not such strong terms.) Bowser’s opposition could be key, as her role as development chair means that she can block any land use legislation from even coming up for consideration, so Gray seemingly needs to make her happy if he wants to get this deal through.

In other D.C. stadium news, meanwhile, the council is considering (or at least holding a hearing on) councilmember Vincent Orange’s plan for a 100,000-seat NFL stadium and Marvin Gaye-themed music venue and “nationally recognized” chain restaurants and a whole mess of other stuff on the site of RFK stadium, which would only cost a billion jillion dollars and be impossible in umpteen other ways. You can watch live here (click on Room 120) if you want to join in the hilarity.

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20 comments on “Council development chair opposes D.C. United land swap, could block stadium deal

  1. I’m surprised that there isn’t much focus on the United’s foreign ownership, when Nats Park was being debated the city insisted on local ownership. But now DC seems eager to pay off some guy in Indonesia to keep him from moving the team.

  2. D.C. already spends the most per capita on education funding by a wide, wide margin.

    (I’m opposed to the stadium deal, too; I’m just pointing out that schools aren’t what should receive the money instead).

  3. One of the smartest things teams wanting new stadiums did was figuring out that if you planted an early flag on (or devised) a potential new government revenue resource you could claim it as your own. It totally changes the conversation. So instead of officials asking “What should we do with the new hotel tax/casino revenue/revenue for property sales?” it’s now “Will Team X leave if we don’t give them their hotel tax/casino revenue/land swap?”

    Because of that preemption there is almost no talk about what could be achieved if those revenues went into the general fund.

  4. Erik G.: That’s true when comparing D.C. to states (which unlike D.C. include large suburban populations with fewer high-needs students), but not to other cities. NYC spends more per capita than D.C., for example.

    Not arguing for this money to go to schools, necessarily, just pointing out that per-capita spending is pretty much always comparing apples and oranges.

  5. Neil:

    You assume I was comparing to states; I was not.

    D.C. spends nearly $30K per student. The next highest public school system is New York City’s, which is under $20K. After that, it’s Baltimore – which is barely more than $15K.

  6. It’s not just the Reeves Center, that will only cover half the cost, the city is looking into liquidating a number of properties in order to give the United’s foreign ownership the land to build a stadium.

  7. What’s your source for that, Erik? The Census Bureau tells it differently:

  8. I don’t think its a case of making Bowser happy. She’s running for Mayor so she’s just using this for political gain. She’s actually a very un-intelligent person. She doesn’t know the first thing about the issues. But she’s black, though, so some blacks will vote for her and liberal whites will vote for her.

  9. Neil,
    The article you cite says this:

    “Washington, D.C., schools topped per-pupil spending at $18,667.”

    So Erik’s off by a bit but his point remains the same. Clearly.

  10. Topped per-pupil spending when compared to other states. It also says: “Of the 50 largest school systems, New York City School District spent the most per student in 2010 at $19,597.”

  11. Neil,

    You arguing your point back and forth on here says it all. You will bring up anything and slant it any way to get across what you want people to think. Earl & Erik clearly show that DC spends the highest yet you are so closed minded you continue to throw up this wall that the DC school stat is wrong. Lets say you are right and it isn’t the highest but in the top 5-10. Does it need to be #1?

    You are so clearly against these type of projects that you refute even logical info if it threatens to interfere with your point. How about having an open mind and giving credit instead of tearing down any suggestion of something that might benefit the city. I support your right for a voice and enjoy this blog but local governments are going to spend our tax dollars no matter what we want and I applaud DC for actually coming with a plan that doesn’t involve our tax dollars. The bottom line is we don’t notice changes in our taxes even when the city goes out and pays for everything for a team like the Nationals so why can’t we get excited, fan or not that an area in the city will become further developed and potentially turn into one of the top spots in the city that could one day be sold off for an even higher margin then than the Reeves center.

    And finally Bowser is only taking her position to get her name out in the public and guess what…it worked!

  12. To try to take these one at a time (excepting the school spending thing, which is so far off on a tangent it’s not worth getting into):

    • “How about having an open mind and giving credit instead of tearing down any suggestion of something that might benefit the city.” I’m happy to consider it, but it should be weighed against what else you could do with the money. So far, that hasn’t happened.

    • “Local governments are going to spend our tax dollars no matter what we want.” Sure, but even I try not to be *that* cynical about the workings of our government. If nothing else, living in a democracy should give us the right to complain ineffectually about what our elected representatives are doing in our name.

    • “I applaud DC for actually coming with a plan that doesn’t involve our tax dollars.” If you think that selling off public land and giving the proceeds to a private entity doesn’t involve tax dollars, then I would respectfully like to request development rights to your lawn.

    • “The bottom line is we don’t notice changes in our taxes even when the city goes out and pays for everything for a team like the Nationals.” On second thought, I’d like to request that you pay a tax surcharge to fund the Neil deMause New Dishwasher Fund, since you apparently won’t notice the difference anyway.

    • “An area in the city will become further developed and potentially turn into one of the top spots in the city that could one day be sold off for an even higher margin then than the Reeves center.” The city won’t be able to sell off a soccer stadium site, because there will be a soccer stadium on it. And it doesn’t own the area around the soccer stadium. So, um, what?

    As I’ve tried to make clear time and time again here, I’m not opposed to sports, or stadiums, or sports stadiums. And as a soccer fan, I actually do think that soccer is better experienced at a venue designed for soccer. But just because D.C. United may want a new stadium, and Mayor Gray may have come up with a way to fund it, doesn’t mean that it makes sense as economic development, fiscal policy, or neighborhood development. That’s going to have to be decided on its merits, and so far it doesn’t look great.

  13. Give it a rest. What would work for you where the city helps out?

    You don’t want to get into the school argument because even your supporters on this site have posted comments showing that the problem ISN’T MONEY with the DC school system so it makes little sense(you wanted something that makes sense) to keep throwing money at it!

    You can have my lawn as there isn’t much else going on in it…see the parallel.

    If adding a dollar to my taxes a year helps you get a new dishwasher like the city does by giving out food stamps and such then I’m happy to help if it helps you and your friends for your weekend barbeques….see the parallel.

    And finally that so called soccer stadium site that the city wouldn’t own could be torn down and rebuilt after the soccer team moves and if they don’t and are still around then that means they are doing well and sharing profits with the city leased land. Remember that part of the deal.

  14. The argument for the stadium is framed far too narrowly.

    1. Development. Always happens, except when it doesn’t, which is usually. Six years after Nats Park was built, the development is sparse–even with proximity to 8th/I and the Navy Yard. Compare it to the Department of Transportation, which looks pretty darn good by comparison.

    Now we’re going to build a soccer stadium FARTHER from Metro, used 1/4 of the time, but its going to “spur development.” Sure it is.

    2. Tax dollars. If the argument is about “tax dollars” I guess we need a line in the budget to get that. How about “public property”? Should public property be used/given away for private gain? When? On a project doubtful to spur development?

    Visit a typical European soccer stadium sometime. Most are owned by the team, many have been on a spot for over 100 years, and they are often absolute dumps. When they aren’t dumps, teams borrowed money to fix them, made them nice, and then charged people more. Anyone who complains about RFK should spend an afternoon at Anfield, Goodison Park, or any number of French and Italian stadiums. Sad to hear American sports fans can’t function without a cup holder.

  15. GDub,

    This has nothing to do with cup holders. It is about a situation that has the team losing money every year while other teams playing in their own stadiums are finally able to break even or make a little money even. Can’t allow that for the guy that invested millions into the team.

    Your first point…
    1 Development is still happening around Nats par but is slow as you stated and that is exactly what the United stadium deal will be…additional development that will hopefully create more. Question for you. I’d love to know how many tax dollars have been used around Department of Transportation to help build that area up quicker. Does the M Street Bike Lane use tax payer dollars? I am for this project but if it uses tax payer money then should we all stand up and scream because John’s bike shop didn’t pay privately to have it built. It benefits a lot of people like a new DCU stadium would.

    2. Public property is not be given away. The team will lease it back and share profits as part of the deal I believe. And it isn’t just private gain. Lots of public fans will enjoy the new facility (:

    I’ve been to Camp Nou in Spain and Fulhams stadium in England. Camp Nous seats around 100k and they fill it creating an amazing atmosphere. Fulham’s seats 24k and is 90% full most games creating another great experience for the fans of the team.

    RFK has 47k seats and is not even 40% full the few times a year the teams draws 16-18k. The die hards still come and show their support but many stay home that would come if it was possible to have the kind of atmospheres those 2 examples I gave above have. Age has a little to do with this but not much. D.C. United needs a home that suits their fan bases size like Barca and Fulham have.

  16. The sense of entitlement from the United fan base in astounding, the team “needs” a home that suits their smaller fan base, sure but how is that DC’s problem? Public dollars were spent around the DoT building, so public dollars should be given to the United as well. Development in the area directly around one publicly funded stadium is virtually non-existent, so the answer is the build another publicly funded stadium. Brilliant logic! At first I assumed that the bit about the (foreign) investor needing to earn a profit was a joke but after reading the follow-up points I’m not certain.

  17. I guess my question would be–why are we doing this? If the answer is “development” then spending money on bike lines, transportation infrastructure, parks, government agencies that attract daytime occupants EVERY DAY. have a proven impact on attracting dense, mixed use development that benefits urban areas. Building a baseball stadium that occupies a large swath of land and is surrounded by parking lots–and after that is only open 25% of the year, scars and prevents urban development. An MLS stadium is even worse in this regard, because it is used less. Let me know how the concert business is going in other similar MLS stadiums.

    The business and financial understanding of the sports pages is pathetic, generally. I don’t really care how much the owner paid, or if his accountants say he loses money. I laugh at the idea of “profit sharing”. I find the idea that the city isn’t “spending” any money interesting given the labor intensiveness of this project, and the unclear “development rights” (which also involve a giveaway, if not of cash). Other statements that selling 20,000 tickets in a 40,000 seat stadium is financial catastrophe but selling 20,000 tickets in a 20,000 seat stadium is awesome if interesting too.

    “Public Gain” doesn’t mean the public gets to go. Please.

    I’ve been to lots of stadiums too. You prove my point. Camp Nou and Craven Cottage are owned by the TEAMS. When Barcelona wants to improve Camp Nou, it raises its own money (though Spain is trying to learn from us on how to bilk local governments). When the team doesn’t spend money, its generally a dump. But the atmosphere is good!

  18. I just double-checked the profit sharing part of the deal: D.C. United would share profits if they exceeded a “reasonable” profit, which is left undefined. (As is how much they would share.) So that could be significant or not — without more details it’s impossible to say.

    CRHS, even if you don’t count the $100 million that the city would be spending on land for the project, D.C. would be spending $40 million on demolishing buildings, building new infrastructure. You can certainly argue that the resulting project is *worth* the cost, but it’s undeniably a cost.

  19. The union controlled Working Families group concocted a robo poll of DC Democrats and they got almost 50% to support the city paying for the land for the United’s stadium. Somehow the robo poll omitted the fact that the union jobs construction jobs will go to mostly workers from outside of DC.

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