D.C. residents give resounding thumbs-down to mayor’s NFL stadium plans

Residents of the area around RFK Stadium really do not like Mayor Muriel Bowser’s idea to use the land for a new NFL stadium:

More than 150 residents of Capitol Hill filled a church gymnasium Wednesday night to propose ideas for re-use of the Robert F. Kennedy stadium property.

Most of the ideas centered around sports: playing fields, a pool, a boathouse, skating rinks, walking trails, even a velodrome.

There was one idea they widely and intensely opposed: building a new stadium for the Redskins. And almost every one of the more than 20 people who stood up to oppose a new NFL stadium did so without saying the team’s name.

Meanwhile, two former National Park Service workers who live near the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital site really do not like Mayor Bowser’s idea to use it for a new Wizards practice facility:

“I don’t think we need it over here,” said Alphonzo Walker, an unemployed 53-year-old who lives in Ward 8.

“I don’t know about this area,” said Eric Clark, also unemployed and in his 50s, though a few years older than Mr. Walker. “What’s going to happen to the homeless who live there?”

Okay, sure, small sample size. Still, the general principle is valid: If you have a plot of available land, and a plan to dedicate a few tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in city money towards it, what’s the best way to generate jobs and other benefits for the surrounding neighborhood, if that’s your goal? Think carefully before you answer.

D.C. mayor proposes $55m Wizards practice arena, because city was out of other sports to subsidize

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has scheduled a press conference today to announce her proposal for the construction of a brand-new sports facility in the District. Nope, not the NFL stadium she talked about last week. But wait, you ask: Don’t the Nationals and the Capitals and the Wizards and D.C. United all have new buildings either in place or under construction? What on earth is there left to build?

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has reached a tentative deal to build a $56.3 million Wizards basketball practice facility and Mystics arena for majority team owner Ted Leonsis on the east campus of the former St. Elizabeths hospital in one of the poorest corners of the nation’s capital.

Yes, you read that right: a $56.3 million practice facility. Plus a home court for the WNBA’s Mystics, because apparently the team is giving up on ever again being able to sell more than 5,000 tickets a game, despite the league average attendance being over 7,000. (Yes, I’m sure lots of those tickets are freebies or heavily discounted, but still.) The money would come overwhelmingly from public pockets: $23 million from the city itself, plus $27 million from the city-funded Events D.C. tourism bureau, with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis chipping in a whole $5 million, plus another $10 million for unspecified “redevelopment and community philanthropic investments.”

Bowser’s administration says this will be a terrific use of public money, notes the Washington City Paper, because:

A press release about the new facility estimates that it will generate $90 million in tax revenues over 20 years, in part by hosting Mystics WNBA games and an estimated 90 non-basketball events a year.

Okay, so let’s get this straight: Having the Mystics sell fewer tickets at a new arena instead of more back at their old arena would generate more in tax revenues because … there’s such a pent-up demand for concert dates that the Verizon Center will be able to fill those former Mystics dates with lots of new revenue-earning events? While also slotting in another 90 new events at the new arena? All of which will be spending by people who never would have been in D.C. otherwise, because after all, it’s not a big tourist town.

Not to mention that at a 5.75% city sales tax rate, to provide $4.5 million a year in new tax revenues, this new practice facility — practice facility, keep reminding yourself that — would need to generate an additional $78 million a year in sales all by its lonesome. That seems pretty unlikely — though if it could be such a cash cow, you have to wonder why Leonsis can’t just build it with his own money instead of making the people of D.C. build it for him and then hope to earn it back through sales taxes. It’s not like he’d need to take out a loan, even.

If there’s any argument for handing $50 million in public money to one of the richest guys in town, I suppose it would be that this is supposed to “revitalize” a rundown section of Southeast D.C., because what business owner can resist the draw of selling their wares to 17 games a year worth of WNBA fans? There is a Metro stop nearby, so it’s always possible you’ll eventually see condos springing up in Anacostia, like you do in pretty much every other D.C. neighborhood with transit. Of course, whether condos — or easy access to WNBA games — is what poor neighborhoods really most need out of $50 million in public spending is another story, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, right?

This whole mess still needs to go before the D.C. council, where it will no doubt be the subject of months of raucous debate before it gets approved at the last minute by councilmembers scrawling out an agreement in ballpoint pen on the council floor. Democracy!

Proposed D.C. ticket tax would fall mostly on team owners

A committee of the Washington, D.C., council is pushing a plan to add a ticket tax to sporting events in the District to fund parks and recreation programs: Tickets over $25 would get a $1 surcharge, those from $10 to $25 would get a 50 cent surcharge, and those under $10 would be spared. Also, the Washington Nationals would be exempt, as their lease with the city prohibits any additional ticket taxes — yet another argument in favor of the Nats’ lease being among the sweetest of sweetheart deals.

The Washington Post, perhaps predictably, says the new tax “would come out of fans’ pockets,” but that’s not entirely true: Most of the cost of ticket taxes end up getting folded into the face value of tickets, meaning local sports team owners would have to take a lower cut in order to keep from pricing themselves out of the market. (Team owners already price tickets as high as the market will bear, unless they’re really, really dumb.) And the higher surcharge on high-priced tickets might actually help keep some ticket prices down, as teams would have an incentive to keep tickets priced right at $25 or $10 without going over, to avoid triggering the higher levies.

The tax is expected to be voted on by the full council on May 26. Expect to hear plenty of howling from D.C. United and the Washington Wizards between now and then.