Okay, cities and states offering up developable land instead of cash for stadiums and pretending this isn’t a public cost is officially the new thing:
Speaking to Fox 5 on Tuesday, [Virginia Gov. Terry] McAuliffe claimed that he has a plan to build the [Washington NFL] stadium without taxpayer dollars.
Instead, he said he’d pay for the project by selling development rights in the surrounding area. He compared the plan to how the Rams are financing their forthcoming stadium in Inglewood.
Yeah, okay, that’s not actually without taxpayer dollars, Terry. If development rights around a stadium site are a publicly owned asset, they’re one that the state could sell and use the proceeds for literally anything — public housing, new roads, a dirigible docking station — instead of a football stadium. This is what economists call an “opportunity cost,” and unless the value of the land accrues entirely from the existence of a stadium nearby (it won’t), it’s every bit as much a public cost as briefcases full of crisp twenties.
This is precisely the gambit that Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno tried with the city of Anaheim, whose mayor, Tom Tait, demanded an appraisal, which determined that the land rights were worth $100 million more than what Moreno was offering to spend on stadium renovations. Tait killed that deal, but other mayors and governors appear to have learned the wrong lesson, focusing solely on the “hey, people at large don’t seem to understand that public land has value” aspect. Looks like I’ve got a new mole to whack.
“A majority of the folks who go to the games, season-ticket holders, are from where? The Commonwealth of Virginia!” McAuliffe pointed out to an audience that included Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, team president Bruce Allen and 600 well-heeled supporters. “Sixty-six percent of the revenue to the Redskins comes from where? Residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia! Every player lives where? The Commonwealth of Virginia!”
After thanking the Redskins for being “a great economic driver” for the state, McAuliffe noted: “We have your headquarters! We have your training facility! What else could there possibly be?”
Inasmuch as one can make sense of a PR statement — the Washington Post also notes that McAuliffe “threw in the fact that Virginia was home to eight U.S. presidents, 281 wineries and boasts 28 miles of oceanfront and had dolphins frolicking in the surf rather than sharks,” which would be a bit much even if it were entirely true — let’s try to make sense of what McAuliffe is saying:
“A majority of the folks who go to the games, season-ticket holders, are from where? The Commonwealth of Virginia!” Okay, so? If they were from the state of Maryland, or for that matter the mysterious mountains of Delaware, the question to ask would be the same: How much more economic activity and tax revenue would Virginia get if the team were playing in that state instead of across the border in Maryland? That’s a worthwhile question to ask — stealing money from your neighbor is one way to pay for a stadium, if a morally dubious one — but McAuliffe never gets around to asking it.
“Sixty-six percent of the revenue to the Redskins comes from where? Residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia!” Again, that’s all well and good, but it doesn’t indicate that Virginia would get anything more of the team playing there. Unless you think that Virginia fans would rather drive to a stadium in their home state than drive to one in Maryland, which might be true of a few folks right near wherever a stadium got built, but there are plenty of Virginians who can get to the current stadium site just fine.
“Every player lives where? The Commonwealth of Virginia!” So… the players on Washington’s NFL team are living in Virginia and playing Virginia income taxes even though the stadium is in Maryland? Seems like you’ve got a sweet deal going there, governor — why do you need to spend money on a stadium when you’re already getting the benefits of there being one across the border?
Governors are paid to think stupid thoughts, is what I’m getting at here, and some of them are real good at it. Between Virginia, Maryland, and D.C., Daniel Snyder is going to have a real fun time running this bidding war.
“I view this as a Virginia team,” the governor said on ESPN 980 on Friday morning, during an appearance at the team’s training camp facilities in Richmond. “I know they’re in Maryland right now. But a majority of the season ticket holders are Virginians, all the players live in Virginia, we have all of your [practice] facilities. . . . We’re in very serious negotiations, as I assume other jurisdictions are. Listen, we would love to have them.”
And how would this new stadium, located who knows where in Virginia, be funded?
The governor repeatedly cited the need to craft a deal that would be fair to Virginia taxpayers but said “if we can come up and be creative with a deal that works for everybody, then I think the team will be here. … What I always say is it’s got to make sense for the taxpayers of Virginia. We’ve got to negotiate a deal — my job as governor is to get economic activity — but you’ve also got to protect the taxpayer dollars. And we’ve got to be creative with this thing, so we’re protecting the taxpayers, it’s in the taxpayers’ best interests and it’s a win-win for the Redskins.”
That’s two uses of the word “creative,” so clearly McAuliffe is intent on some outside-the-box thinking that enables both taxpayers and Snyder to make a profit on a construction project that will almost certainly lose money. I’d suggest the traditional method, but to really get creative, maybe they should just do the financing in Modulo 1,000,000,000 and hope the construction costs wrap around.
According to Bjarke Ingels Group, the water feature would provide separation between the tailgating area and the stadium (as opposed to a fence or wall), while a series of bridges would act as new gates. “Access becomes a gentle transition between the tailgating and game,” reads the description. If you remember the tunnels from RFK Stadium to the parking lots, it’s not too far removed from that … except for the water part. And as was already revealed in one of the renderings (click through our gallery, above), the moat would in fact double as a wave pool in the summer and an ice rink in the winter.
Um, guys? That doesn’t actually explain why the stadium design has a moat, unless maybe it’s “the Bjarke Ingels Group architects have never been to a sporting event, and think that walking across a narrow bridge with 70,000 other fans to get from tailgating to the game would be a ‘gentle transition.'” Also possibly “the Bjarke Ingels Group architects have never been to D.C., and don’t realize that if it ever snows there, people will more likely be cowering in their homes than going out to ice skate on a frozen moat that will probably plunge them to their deaths at any second, because this isn’t Minnesota, people.”
On the other hand, here it is one month later, and we’re still talking about that damned moat, instead of about who on earth would actually build this thing when the team just got a new stadium 19 years ago. It’s all about the misdirection.
If you’re conspiracy-minded, you might focus on the bottom rendering, which appears to show the stadium sited in what’s now a national park just across the District border in Prince George’s County, Maryland — but given that that same image shows the sun apparently setting in the north, probably best not to make too much of it.
That sure looks like something stadium-like all right. Though it doesn’t seem to have any concourse space for buying food inside (just ramps upon ramps, and no escalators or elevators?), and it has a freaking moat around it with people kayaking in it, spanned only by a handful of bridges that are going to be completely overwhelmed by crowds before and after games, and fans will end up being crushed by the crowds and falling into the moat oh god oh god the humanity…
There is zero chance that this stadium will actually be built this way, but the model enables team owner Daniel Snyder to do two things: Get national TV coverage for his campaign to get somebody in the D.C. area to build him a new stadium, and link his team to “starchitect” Bjarke Ingels, which is so much better than being linked to genocide. Meanwhile: vaporkayaks!
On the same day when the mayor oversaw the groundbreaking for the Wizards practice space, Events DC head Greg O’Dell testified at a sparsely attended oversight hearing held in the city council chamber that $160 million was earmarked for improvements and repairs to Nationals Park.
Wait, what? When did this happen?
The hearing, it turns out, was on February 18, but as our own frequent commenter PowerBoater69 points out on another site, this isn’t exactly new money: The $160 million is just what D.C. has budgeted for future maintenance and upgrades to the Nationals‘ stadium. You can hear O’Dell’s comments about this starting at 2:40 on the video linked above:
“We conducted a study to look at this very issue, and we frankly are doing it for all our assets. The estimated costs over the remaining life of the stadium is about $160 million.”
So no, it’s not a new subsidy — taking on maintenance costs is something that D.C. agreed to in its original deal with the Nats. But it is a dollar figure for an existing subsidy that hasn’t been previously priced out. Even if you back that number down to a present value of, say, $100 million, then when added to the $611 million in construction funds that D.C. approved ten years ago Tuesday, the total public cost for the Nationals stadium will end up being more than $700 million. On a stadium that was originally supposed to cost $440 million. You elected officials really need to start reading the fine print, guys.
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.
“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.
When I asked Mayor Bowser to share her vision of the future of the RFK site during a recent meeting with ANC commissioners, she stated her desire to build a new football stadium at the site, calling the Events DC study a fallback plan.
Her rationale? Besides the site’s history of hosting football, Mayor Bowser noted the large size of the site and that a new stadium would not preclude other development activities. She also said that other cities have successfully built stadiums that have fit well into the surrounding neighborhood (though she didn’t mention specific cities or stadiums).
Flahaven doesn’t provide any direct quotes, so it’s impossible to know exactly what Bowser said here. Still, it’s an apparent shift from Bowser’s earlier position that she was looking to Events DC to determine whether the site should be developed “with a stadium or without a stadium.” Not that Bowser is likely to still be mayor when this is decided, given the way D.C. runs through mayors these days, but Washington NFL owner Dan Snyder sure must be happy to have at least one friend in a high place, even if actual D.C. residents seem to think it’s a terrible idea.
Bruce Allen, president of Washington’s NFL team, was asked yesterday whether the team would consider changing its ethnic-slur name if that proved a roadblock to getting a new stadium. Allen’s answer:
“No,” he said.
This is consistent with what Allen’s boss, owner Daniel Snyder, has said all along, so no huge surprise here. It’s likely to be a roadblock to getting a new stadium on the RFK Stadium site in D.C., however, notes ESPN, since the federal government owns that site, and would need to approve a lease extension in order for a new stadium to be built there, and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is an avowed opponent of the team name.
This would hardly leave the team high and dry, since, as ESPN notes, “Governors in both Maryland and Virginia have said Washington’s nickname would not be an issue in trying to get a stadium built.” (The team can also always wait out Jewell and see if the next Interior Secretary in 2017 is more amenable.) Also, you know, the team already has a stadium in Maryland that’s just 18 years old. Apparently ESPN doesn’t think that’s remarkable enough to be worth mentioning, though, and given the way things are going in the NFL, maybe it isn’t.