Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray revealed yesterday that — excuse me, what?
Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Tuesday that Washington Nationals owner Theodore N. Lerner pitched him earlier this year on a pricey plan to have the city build a retractable roof over Nationals Park — a proposal, Gray said, that he swiftly but politely rejected.
(Hang on, I’m going to need a minute here.)
Okay, so: This news first broke when WNEW-FM (hey, that used to be our station ID!), which learned from multiple sources that “team executives have approached several District officials, including some inside mayor Vincent Gray’s office,” to propose a $300 million roof atop the five-year-old stadium, which cost $667 million to build, almost all of it from city tax money. Gray later confirmed the report, saying he had a 15-minute meeting with the Nats owner in July at which “what Lerner wanted to talk about was the possibility of a roof on Nationals Park. That was it. There was no discussion about how much it was going to cost and no further details. I’ve had no further discussions.” Another city official, this one unnamed, told the Washington Post: “The mayor was polite but unequivocal. We are not going to spend taxpayer money to put a roof on the stadium, regardless of the cost.”
So we’ve established that whatever else you want to say about Mayor Gray’s sports stadium dreams — not only is he proposing one of the largest soccer-stadium subsidies ever for D.C. United, but he recently approved $50 million in tax-increment financing funds for the Wizards‘ Verizon Center to buy a new scoreboard and other goodies — he’s not totally crazy. Which raises the other obvious question: Is Lerner?
It’s not totally unheard of to add a roof (retractable, presumably, since for $300 million you damn well better get a roof that moves) to a stadium that wasn’t designed for one in the first place: There’s the U.S. Open tennis center’s planned roof, and the one at Wimbledon, and … okay, there’s not a lot else, and certainly no examples from baseball. Roofs, especially retractable ones, require a ton of support structure, which means giant pylons around the stadium, and Nationals Park doesn’t exactly have a lot of free space around it. Supposedly Lerner went as far as having renderings drawn up, which he showed to Gray, but which haven’t publicly surfaced yet.
And then there’s the bigger question: Why the hell do the Nationals need a roof, anyway? Washington isn’t especially rainy as cities go, and though the Nats have shown a strange obsession with not wanting to have to give rain checks for games lost to weather, the amount of revenue at stake has to be piddling. So why spend $300 million to solve a problem that really isn’t?
The answer, I suppose, could be that Lerner wasn’t looking to spend his money. Why he thought Gray would go for building a roof with city money is anyone’s guess, though. Maybe this was just an opening gambit so that later when he says, “Okay, we’ll just take one of those $50 million scoreboard plans like you gave the Wizards,” he’ll sound more reasonable by comparison? Given that right now Jeffrey Loria sounds more reasonable than Lerner, that might be the best bet — call it baseball’s madman theory.