It’s not just Sheldon Adelson’s paper running crappy articles on the Raiders stadium plan

I, along with pretty much everyone else, have been extremely critical of the Las Vegas Review-Journal for its coverage of the $950 million Raiders stadium subsidy proposal being pursued by the paper’s owner, Sands casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. But as I always try to point out, there’s plenty of bad journalism out there being committed by news outlets that don’t have an overt conflict of interest, and today it’s the Las Vegas Sun’s turn. Here’s the lede on today’s Sun story on whether Nevada will call a special session to vote on the stadium subsidy:

It’s that time of year again: The only thing standing between Nevada and what many would see as an economic-development win is a legislative deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

In 2014, it was Tesla. In 2015, Faraday. This year, an NFL stadium.

That’s bad, for starters, because of the way it contorts itself to paint a Raiders stadium (plus the equally problematic Tesla and Faraday subsidy deals) as a big win that’s being held up by legislative red tape. (“What many would see,” seriously?) But it’s also bad because the article contains a bunch of interesting information about what’s going on behind the special-session talks, all of which it buries:

  • “Sands executives have said they’ve been in touch with lawmakers daily — sometimes two or three times a day — in an effort to woo their approval of [a special session this month].” That’s a crazy amount of lobbying, and would seem to demand asking legislators if they’ve really been getting daily calls from Adelson’s people,  investigations of how much Adelson is spending on lobbyists, and so on. None of that appears in the article, which is mostly he-said-she-said stuff running down who seems to be leaning towards or against approving the special session.
  • “There’s also concern about the impact voting for the stadium could have on the outcome of the election itself. Republican Assemblyman Ira Hansen, who is running unopposed in his race in Northern Nevada, pointed to a recent KTNV/Rasmussen Poll that showed 55 percent of Clark County voters oppose pledging up to $500 million in public funds to the stadium. ‘The polls I’ve seen in Southern Nevada are about 50-50,’ Hansen said. ‘Politically, this could hurt somebody running for re-election.'” Does Hansen have access to some other polls, or does he really think that 55%-35% opposition is “about 50-50”?
  • And way down at the bottom of the story: “A two-thirds vote in both houses would be needed to raise the room tax, so 42 legislators need to be on board. If that doesn’t happen, Plan B is to punt the decision to the Clark County Commission. Legislators could pursue a permissive vote, which would only need a simple majority, and pass the tax-increase vote along to the seven-member county commission, which would need to pass it with a two-thirds majority.” So if the legislature can’t get a two-thirds majority, it can punt it to the county, which only needs five commissioners to say “yes” to make this happen? Where do the county commissioners stand on this? Sorry, story’s over, check back tomorrow.

I don’t mean to pick on the author of the Sun story too much (though she should be picked on some), since she was probably just assigned to get the temperature of the state legislature, not to actually write a story explaining the more important details of what’s going on. Still, that none of her bosses read this and said, “Nice first draft, now flesh it out by answering some of the questions that it raises” is a pretty depressing indictment of the state of journalism today.

As Raiders unveil stadium pics, reporters told to ask subsidy questions, keep answers secret (UPDATED)

I have a big stack of news items that I’m going to be playing catchup with all week, but I’m still on the road one more day, so that infodump will need to wait till Tuesday at the earliest. Instead, here’s the latest rendering released by the Oakland Raiders ownership of a possible new stadium in Las Vegas: raiders-vegas-stadium-frontAs stadium watchers and journalists alike immediately noticed, this bears a striking resemblance to the stadium that the Raiders and San Diego Chargers were going to build in Carson, California:
raiders-carson-rendering-08-26-16There’s even the return of the giant Al Davis eternal flame that was originally proposed for Carson, then scrapped because it was just so stupid:

raiders-stadium-vegas-flameWhy cut-and-paste old designs into a new site, especially when you don’t even know which Vegas site it might be? Momentum, duh: This enables Raiders owner Mark Davis and his investment partners Sheldon Adelson and Majestic Realty to make it feel like this thing is going to get built, look, we have pictures of it, rather than having the Nevada public’s main image be of a pile of burning money. It’s the same reason why Davis filed for the trademark “Las Vegas Raiders” and released new stadium spending estimates stressing his own share of costs, even if they were misleading (he’s still failing to mention the roughly $250 million in tax increment kickbacks that Majestic has insisted are necessary for the project) and failed basic math (of a now-$1.9 billion total cost, the state would kick in $750 million in hotel-tax revenues and the private developers would put up $1.25 billion, which wait, what?).

If this stadium does happen, those almost certainly won’t be the final spending numbers, and these almost certainly won’t be what the stadium looks like. But it’s a lot easier to make a deal look like a fait accompli when you have hard numbers and actual drawings, even if those are just things you made up knowing you’ll change them later. It’s the clear plastic binder all over again.

And all this is aided and abetted, meanwhile, by having one of the stadium developers own the biggest newspaper in town, which allows for media manipulation like this jaw-dropping one revealed by Ralston Reports:

Reporters for Sheldon Adelson’s newspaper have been told to ask candidates if they support public money for the stadium proposed by the Las Vegas Sands chairman but that the Las Vegas Review-Journal will not actually publish the answers.

This astonishing request was made in a memo two weeks ago from Assistant City Editor Don Ham:

All of you who are handling state Senate, state Assembly and Clark County Commission races for the tab should make sure to ask this very timely question of the candidates. This question is NOT going to be added to the question asked of candidates for the online election package, though. Should public money, in the form of room taxes, be used to build a proposed stadium in Las Vegas. Why or why not? Any questions, see me. Thanks.

The leading theory here is that Adelson, who owns the Review-Journal, is intent on using the paper’s reporters to gather intelligence on where candidates stand on his stadium subsidy proposal, without actually using any of that information to, you know, inform readers. This would be far from the worst abuse of power by Adelson involving his newspaper holdings, but only because he’s set the bar so very high.

UPDATE: The Review-Journal’s managing editor writes in to say that the stadium questions were too for publication, just for publication in a different part of the paper. I’ll add further updates if I can ferret out whose interpretation of events makes a damn bit of sense.

People love living near stadiums, says paper devoted to saying people love living places

The New York Times real estate section chimes in on stadiums today, which is great news, because it means we can explore the bastion of weirdness that is the New York Times real estate section. First off, let’s hit the checklist: Does the article boast of a hot new neighborhood or neighborhoods that savvy buyers should be aware of? Check!

Once considered neighborhoods to avoid, property around many of Europe’s great soccer stadiums is growing more popular these days, as cities grow more expensive and teams build new facilities. Home buyers are finding bargains near stadiums and developers see opportunities to create new urban communities.

Does it do so by exclusively quoting realtors, developers, and happy residents of these areas? You bet it does: five realtors, one developer, and two residents. Does it describe the featured neighborhoods of having some nebulous trendiness that can’t be measured, only felt? Of course!

“There is a buzz about the place,” Mr. Spooner said. “People come here to have a good time.”

And most of all, does it eventually undermine its own premise with counterevidence, but bury that way at the end of the article so that readers (and the headline writer) can ignore it? You betcha! First it notes that “prices are often lower than in other neighborhoods” (which is noted as an attraction, but is also an indication that living near a stadium isn’t actually seen as that desirable), then the whole premise comes crashing down when the scene shifts to Barcelona and Rome:

Barcelonians are fanatical for Barça, but they are not necessarily eager to live near Camp Nou, the team’s stadium, said Joan Canela, of the Engel & Völkers Barcelona office.

“None of our clients demand to be near the stadium,” he said. The stadium “hurts value, because it is an area that becomes very crowded when there is a match, is complicated to park and the neighbors may have problems to access to their homes,” Mr. Canela said…

Barbara Maravalli, 42, rents a three-bedroom apartment with her husband and two children about half a mile from [Rome’s] Stadio Olimpico. “It played absolutely no role in my choice,” she said. “I wanted to be close to the center and surrounded by green areas.”

On game days there are “crazy” traffic jams in the area, Ms. Maravelli said. Her 20-minute drive to work can take an hour if she does not plan carefully. “I would rather they move the stadium, but I love this area so much that I would keep on staying here,” she said.

Add it all up, and you have: A bunch of realtors trying to sell or rent apartments around some of Europe’s big soccer stadiums say they’re a great deal; as for actual residents, some like being near stadiums, some don’t. That’s not actually a story at all, but in Times Real Estate land, it’s more than enough to warrant a headline like “Stadium Neighborhoods Are Becoming Magnets for Home Seekers,” which who knows, might even help stoke interest in those areas, as a Times R.E. mention has been known to do. It happened to Bushwickit’ll happen to you!


Report: Economists, team owners disagree on whether stadium subsidies are a good thing

Hey, it’s another “longform” article mulling over stadium subsidies! This time it’s in the Atlantic, headlined, “Is There a Better Way to Build a Stadium?” An excellent question, albeit one that raises suspicions of Betteridge’s Law being at work here, but let’s see what author Alana Semuels has to say:

It has become widely accepted that publicly-financed sports stadiums are a bad deal for cities.

Well, yeah. The only example given here is the St. Louis Rams deal, which was indeed bad but is by no means definitive, but subsidies are long and online attention spans are short, so let’s move on to the nut graf:

What’s different in the case of Milwaukee? Either a whole lot, or nothing, depending on who you ask.

Oh, lord, this isn’t going to be a he-said-she-said “there are opinions on both sides” article, is it?

Next up is a quote from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on the Bucks deal (“we think this is a good, solid move as a good steward of the taxpayers’ money here in Wisconsin”), then a counter from economist Victor Matheson (“There is a fairly big deal of hypocrisy going on particularly in Milwaukee Bucks case”), plus a cite of studies showing bad returns on public spending on stadiums and arenas. Then a confusing discussion of tax-exempt bonds (“Public financing for stadiums came about as Congress tried to limit deals that allowed private entities to profit from tax-exempt bonds,” wait, what?), then “it’s possible that the Bucks, and other teams, have learned something from the public antipathy towards public financing of arenas.” Learned how?

The team isn’t just using public funds to build an arena for itself; it is also pledging to build a seven-story parking structure alongside the arena with mixed-use retail on the ground floor and an apartment complex on the eastern side. It has hired a design team for a block of entertainment, retail, and commercial spaces, and hopes to begin building that area next year, according to spokesman Jake Suski. The team is also the master developer for the entire 27-acre development, which may someday include bars, restaurants, a public plaza, and eventually office space, multifamily housing, and a hotel.

Yeah, that’s not new at all — team owners have been building ancillary development next to sports venues for so long that I’ve already come up with and abandoned a nickname for them. (“Kitchen-sink plans,” because they throw in everything but — you can see why I abandoned it.) Then there’s lots of back and forth about whether this can work out well (conclusion: maybe), and finally a Milwaukee law professor saying, “I remain a skeptic.” And FIN.

This isn’t even an example of Betteridge’s Law so much as an example of an article that sets out to answer a question, then throws up its hands halfway through, because hell, people disagree on the answer. Admittedly, one side is the people who stand to reap a fortune in subsidies — more than $500 million, a figure that is not even hinted at in the Atlantic article, which apparently either doesn’t consider tax breaks to be subsidies or just takes Walker’s word on how much the subsidies are worth — and the other is just about every economist and independent investigator on earth, but hey, who are we as journalists to say who’s right? One thing’s for certain: No one knows.

Detroit music critic’s review of new Red Wings arena seems not to understand what crowds are

The Detroit Free Press got to send its “pop music critic” (I swear, that’s his official title) on a tour of the Red Wings‘ new arena construction site this week, and you can read his report on how cool (the Red Wings say) it will be for concerts here. But really I just want to focus on its entry into the ongoing Bad Journalism Theater competition:

Joe Louis event-goers dogged by cramped concourses near concession spots and merchandise booths will find relief: The new arena will feature nearly double the number of purchase locations.

Sure, that reads like something the writer ripped from a press release and tacked an awkward transitional clause onto, but what is it even supposed to mean? “Cramped concourses” aren’t a function of how many purchase locations there are, they’re a function of, you know, cramped concourses. Unless the actual concourses themselves are more spacious — they certainly look nice on the renderings, but that doesn’t tell us much — putting the same number of people on twice as many lines in the same amount of space isn’t going to be any better, and leads to situations like this.

But really, the main lesson here is: Journalists, if you can’t fact-check your stats you get from press releases, at least sanity-check them. Even your mother could be bending the truth, after all.

Tampa Bay Times really can’t stop cheerleading for a new Rays stadium, can it?

Monday morning, and time for Bad Journalism Theater! Let’s get right to it with our first contestant, the Tampa Bay Times, “winner of 10 Pulitzer prizes”:

As the Tampa Bay Rays broaden their search for stadium sites, the 23 acres under the Tampa Park Apartments have emerged as a promising possibility. … But behind the scenes, the complex’s nonprofit owner is embroiled in a 2-year-old lawsuit it filed against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And HUD officials wonder whether the case has its roots in the property’s potential value to the Rays.

There’s nothing wrong with the reporting here — all of the above is accurate. But the framing is incredibly skewed: The Tampa Park Apartments site, which is controversial because it would require relocating 372 low-income families who currently live there and probably a historic school and a church as well, is suddenly portrayed as “promising,” with the one little snag being the fact that the site’s owner doesn’t want to pay her bills, or maybe she already paid them and HUD lost the money, depending on who you believe. (There’s a bunch of stuff about the eviction issues in the Times article, but they don’t start until the 23rd paragraph, and who has time to scroll that far down these days when there are new tweets to check out?)

Okay, that’s not all that terrible journalism, though it’s always worrisome when stadium plans enter the “how can we clear the remaining obstacles?” stage while skipping over the “is this a good idea?” stage. Let’s move on to contestant number two, which is — hey, look, it’s the Tampa Bay Times again! This time with a profile of the Rays vice president in charge of planning a new stadium, who has this to say about it:

Pressed for details, Lenz, the Rays senior vice president for strategy and development, mentions infusing Tampa Bay’s water and abundant sunshine into the bones of a new stadium, but she’s mum on specifics: capacity, upper decks or retractable roofs.

And … that’s it. Lenz apparently wouldn’t say anything about her stadium plans, and instead of the Times killing the story for having no actual news, we get 38 paragraphs about her “salt-of-the-earth genuineness and small-town Pennsylvania charm,” her “mix of toughness and likability,” and the time she got hit by a pitch while playing Little League and told her concerned mom to “get off the field.” Plus a photo of her standing on a baseball field while holding an adorable child.

This is the kind of puff piece that should be taught in journalism school as how not to waste valuable column inches, and would be a winner in today’s faceoff just on those grounds, but it has an ace in the hole as well: That phrase “infusing Tampa Bay’s water and abundant sunshine into the bones of a new stadium” should also be taught in journalism school as a way never ever to mix a metaphor. Unless Lenz secretly works for Weapon X, in which case never mind, it’s great.

Sacramento TV station stunned to find new Kings arena hasn’t cured homelessness

I’ve never seen it myself since I don’t live in Sacramento, but my impression is that FOX40 is a pretty bad news station, prone to reporting crazy-ass rumors as if they were true. (Though you could say that for most local newscasts, I suppose.) Anyway, last night they went to report on the new downtown Kings arena, and found that, glory be, it hasn’t cured homelessness:

One downtown with two very different faces. The drive to revive Sacramento is evident in a state-of-the-art arena. But that effort is facing a troubling problem on the streets.

One downtown, there is hope for a rebirth of a city and emergence from the shadows. The other: where people feel hopeless, forgotten in the shadows.

“They could spend $500 million on a basketball court, but they won’t put out a dime to help the homeless people,” said Larry, who lives on the streets.

The struggle on the streets juxtaposed to a downtown on the cusp of a rebirth.

It goes on and on like that, and on the one hand, using the Kings arena as a hook to examine chronic homelessness (though the examination doesn’t get much past “it exists”) isn’t the worst thing in the world. But on the other, this report reveals how deeply messed up local development reporting can be.

The key is that word “rebirth.” In developer-speak, all too often parroted by local news reports, rebirth or revitalization or renaissance is what happens to neighborhoods when you build new stuff. And new stuff is new, and newness is supposed to fix everything, whether it’s lack of jobs or a strained city treasury or the team being a chaotic disaster or, apparently, homelessness. We built you a new basketball arena, poor people, why do you persist in not being able to afford homes?

This is, frankly, an insane way to report on anything. If you want to go out and talk about how having homeless people sleeping downtown is an embarrassment to the elected officials who are trying to sell Sacramento as all cleaned up now, go for it. But noting all the new construction taking place downtown and then asking “Will it work?”, as FOX 40 does, shows a stunning misunderstanding of what redevelopment is supposed to accomplish — or worse, is an implication that the only “revitalization” that counts is the kind that makes the homeless disappear to somewhere else. After all, the Olympics get away with it.

I don’t want to come down too hard on the FOX40 reporters, really I don’t. But if you’re going to be a journalist, it’s vitally important that you not only think about what you’re covering, but about how you’re covering it, and what assumptions go into the way you frame your story. This news item ends up telling one story in its text — “homelessness bad and intractable!” — and another in its subtext — “how much concrete do we have to pour in order to fix social problems?” Sometimes good journalism is less about finding the right answers than asking the right questions.

ESPN Kevin Johnson doc killed, was more awful even than you thought

On my Google calendar for next Tuesday night, there is a notation for “30 on 30 on Sacramento Kings,” which is the ESPN documentary that was scheduled to run on Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and his successful push to fund a new arena for the Kings. I was so looking forward to watching and commenting on some of the worst bits, but sadly this will now not happen, as ESPN has pulled the show’s airing after revelations that KJ may have molested teenagers and plotted to destroy the National Conference of Black Mayors and run his own secret private government in City Hall — most of which was public knowledge before they made the film, but better late than never, right?

In any event, we can all still point and laugh at the documentary even without seeing it, courtesy of Max Rivlin-Nadler of the New Republic, who got a screening copy and did plenty of pointing and laughing on his own:

Down In The Valley amounts to a 77-minute political advertisement for Johnson, a man who in 1995 paid a 15-year-old over $230,000 to keep quiet after she alleged that he had sexually abused her…

A narrator explains that this often-overlooked city would soon need to call on one of its own to save it. Cut to pictures of a young Kevin Johnson, playing baseball and basketball, and growing up on the rough side of town before developing into a world-famous basketball star.

This sounds Sharknado-level awful, and I’m more sorry than ever that it’s not going to be available for livetweeting.

And what about the Kings arena project, which is set up as Johnson’s finest hour?

The film focuses solely on Johnson for its final hour, letting him provide the play-by-play of the procedures involved in convincing the NBA to not let any new ownership move the team…

Completely missing from the film is any meaningful information about the cost of that new basketball arena. Johnson intentionally crafted the bill approving the arena to be immune to any public referendums, even though the public is on the hook for $226 million, almost half of the cost. Johnson, in his desire to keep the team in the city, convinced software tycoon Vivek Ranadivé to lead up an ownership group to buy out the Maloofs for a then-record $534 million. Johnson then got the city council to pass a spending bill that would avoid a public vote to pay for a new arena for the team, now assured that they would be staying. Down in the Valley mentions none of this.

ESPN, as Rivlin-Nadler notes, has a long history of being caught between its role as a news agency and its role as a network in the business of buying the rights to sporting events and using them to extract huge carriage fees from cable companies, and hasn’t always done the best to balance the two. So it’s not really surprising that ESPN green-lit Down in the Valley, nor that it got spooked and backed away from it at the last minute. I guess we should all just be glad that the network’s vacillation put its decision-making process on full display — and let at least a lucky few get a glimpse at the thing itself. The need to at least pretend to professionalism does have its benefits.

SF Chronicle cut and pasted Warriors arena press release, ran it as news story

I know I’ve often criticized the sports media for doing little more than reprinting teams’ press releases when it comes to stadium and arena coverage, but even I didn’t expect this: The San Francisco Chronicle’s Golden State Warriors reporter has been suspended for literally reprinting a team press release about the Warriors’ arena plans:

The headline for the original Chronicle story and the Warriors’ press release on were the same: “Warriors formally purchase Mission Bay site.” The initial story was identical to the release, except that the team referred to itself as the “NBA Champion Golden State Warriors” in its lede, and the Chronicle story left out the “champion” superlative. The only other change was a semicolon in the press release that became two sentences in the Chronicle story.

That’s pretty terrible, but the story gets even worse, as Deadspin has uncovered six more examples of times Warriors beat reporter Rusty Simmons, or his editor Al Saracevic, flat-out copied-and-pasted Warriors press releases. (Most of these were on far more boring topics than arena dealings.) They also asked Simmons for comment, and got this reply:

“I would really like to tell you how that happens, but I’m not allowed. I’m so sorry. …My suspension should be lifted in a couple of days, and we’ll talk.”

I think I speak for everyone when I say: We can’t wait to hear this one.

No, Nationals Park is not an exception to the rule that stadiums don’t do squat for local economies

On Wednesday afternoon, WNYC-FM’s Leonard Lopate Show tackled the topic of “Why Cities Fund Professional Sports Stadiums,” a subject of more than passing interest around here. Guests were investigative tax reporter (and my editor on the inequality anthology Divided, still available from finer internet trading conglomerates near you) David Cay Johnston and Grantland staff editor Andrew Sharp, who wrote a long article last month calling on Congress to address stadium subsidies because local officials afraid of losing their teams sure won’t. (Or mostly won’t, anyway.)

Now, one of the problems of talk radio (okay, talk anything) is that hosts feel obligated to pit guests against each other, so here Sharp ended up cast as the pro-stadium side, or at least Mr. Glass Half Full. After Johnston led off by outlining the billions of dollars in public cash that goes to stadiums as “just a drop in a very large bucket” of ways that the public end up subsidizing billionaires, Lopate turned to Sharp for any silver lining, and got this response:

“One of the reasons that cities sell themselves on these investments is that every now and then, particularly when you invest in a stadium in an urban area, it can help stimulate growth around that area, and it can turn into a win-win situation where the owners obviously get their subsidies, but then also the surrounding businesses around those stadiums can prove pretty beneficial to the city at large.”

As an example of one of these wins, Sharp cited the new Washington Nationals stadium, which he said “helped revitalize the whole waterfront area” — though he immediately added that there are far more examples of failures than successes.

I got dragged into this last night when someone asked about it on Twitter, which led to me questioning why anyone would consider the Nats stadium an economic success, and eventually to one of those Twitter conversations where nobody is quite arguing about the same thing and everyone just feels icky and misunderstood. So let me try presenting my side here, in a bit more detail.

First off, as Johnston immediately noted on the air, sports venues are “human surge tanks” — crowds sweep in and sweep out on game days, but most of the year the place is dark, which isn’t a great anchor for neighborhood development. Sharp countered that there are now more bars and restaurants around the stadium, and “you can’t deny that now and then these things work.”

There are a few problems here. First off, you can absolutely deny that now and then these things work, especially given that economic study after study has found no measurable economic benefit for cities that build new stadium, or get new teams, or get teams back in action after strikes and lockouts. If there really are outliers that are win-wins, they’re awfully well-hidden in the data.

Secondly, have you been to D.C. lately? You can’t go anywhere without seeing construction cranes — it’s one of the hottest real estate markets in the U.S., and that’s true of virtually every neighborhood, with or without a stadium in it. It’s impossible to say what would have happened to the Navy Yard area if the Nats were still playing at RFK Stadium (or in Montreal, for that matter) — and even if that area wouldn’t have been developed to the same degree, might developers and residents and restaurateurs have gone elsewhere in the city instead? It’s a huge “but-for” problem, albeit one that stadium boosters love to overlook, especially when they just built a stadium in a neighborhood that was already starting to take off.

But fine: Let’s grant that the arrival of Nats Park at least prompted a handful of sports bars and the like to locate in the immediate neighborhood. (I wouldn’t dispute that.) The question here is whether the stadium project is “beneficial to the city at large,” and you can’t determine that without taking into account the price tag. As I’ve noted many times before, there’s a price point where subsidizing stadiums makes sense: In most cases I’d be fine with spending $1 in public money towards a new sports venue, and even the $20 million or so that San Francisco put up for the Giants‘ stadium is arguably reasonable, even if the SoMa neighborhood was already going gangbusters before Pac Bell Park was built.

Nationals Park, though, cost D.C. taxpayers something on the order of $600 million. That’s a crazy-high figure to justify with a few sports bars, but on Twitter at least, Sharp said that the cost isn’t the point:

I think I get Sharp’s point: We shouldn’t criticize spending $600 million on a stadium just because there are even better investments a city could be making with the money. But that’s not what I was saying at all — rather, the point is that since doing just about anything with $600 million, including sitting on it or throwing it from a helicopter, would be better for the local economy, handing it over to the owners of the Nationals for a new stadium is a massive waste of taxpayer funds.

Let’s start with the simplest example: What if D.C. simply hadn’t collected the money in the first place? About two-thirds of the money came from a tax on large D.C. businesses, and while I’m not about to start defending them as efficient economic engines, they would have done something else with that cash, whether it was hiring more entry-level staff, giving more perks to corporate bigwigs, or (hahaha) cutting prices for local consumers. Sure, probably only a small share of it would have been spent in D.C. — but it’s still a non-zero cost to the local economy. And if that cost is more than the benefit of those handful of sports bars, suddenly the Nats stadium is a net loss for D.C.

The other third (roughly) of the public cost, meanwhile, came from kicking back sales taxes on money spent at the ballpark — not a sales-tax surcharge, mind you, but refunding to the Nats sales taxes that otherwise would have gone to the district. So if the Nats had been playing at RFK, this would have been money that would have gone into the public treasury — and if the Nats had never come to town, at least some of those sales taxes would have been collected when locals spent at other entertainment options in D.C. Again, it’s not 100% — but you can make an excellent case that even doing nothing would have been more economically beneficial to the D.C. economy than building a baseball stadium.

What we’re left with as a pro-Nationals Park argument, then, is that if a city is going to blow a few hundred million dollars on something, at least putting it in a promising neighborhood downtown might shift a little bit of development to that locale. That’s certainly true — Tim Chapin at Florida State has done some good work in this area — but using it as an argument that some stadiums are good public investments is like saying, “Sure, the Pentagon budget may be bloated beyond belief, but aren’t these some cool hammers?”

I don’t want to get on Sharp’s case too much — he was asked to present a counterexample of a stadium deal that’s worked out better, and he threw out one that seems to have been a relative success, at least on a “look around and see if the surrounding streets are blowing with tumbleweeds” basis. But that’s the problem: Just looking at what is there misses what would have been there — and elsewhere in the city — if the project hadn’t been done. Pointing to a full sports bar is easy; pointing to the bar across town that closed, or was never built, because public or consumer spending was diverted away from there is hard without a time machine. And stay away from those things, man, they’re dangerous.