I've tended to stay away from non-baseball topics like stadium subsidies and the like, mainly because my whole job is about advocating for one public policy versus another, and baseball is a break from all that.
But today I'm going to make an exception and do something I never get to do in my job--offer a completely politically unrealistic but common-sense proposal that is just too obvious ever to go anywhere.
What got me thinking is an article in today's Post about how the stadium isn't meeting its projections for attendance, and as a result tax revenue is down. There's also an accompanying story fretting about how the Southeast waterfront area around the stadium isn't growing as fast as people had hoped.
Now, none of this should be a surprise to anyone. Virtually every economic study ever done has shown that stadiums are a terrible way to spark economic development. People who go to games from outside the area generally don't linger--they get right back in their cars and go home. And people in the area who do go to games are spending discretionary income on baseball that they otherwise would have spent in other local businesses like bars, theaters, museums, etc. And since MLB isn't a local business, the stadium acts as an economic vacuum-cleaner sucking revenue from local businesses and shipping it out of town.
Indeed, some of the tax revenue at the stadium is new--people from outside the area who buy tickets and food at the park would have likely spent that money closer to home if not for the ballpark. But no stadium has come close to paying for the public cost of its construction, and Nationals Park is no exception.
The only economic argument is that it will spur development in the area (an argument the voters of the city roundly rejected every time they had a chance to weigh in--just ask Harold Brazil, Linda Cropp, and Kevin Chavous) . They point to Verizon Center as the model, even though Penn Quarter's proximity to downtown and the National Mall made it a lock for a boom as the city's overall economy grew in the '90s, stadium or no.
So here's my proposal for a lead-pipe cinch, low-cost way to guarantee economic development in the area around the stadium from S. Capitol Street all the way west to the Navy Yard and the river. Tear down the Southeast Freeway. Don't bury it, don't rebuild it, just rip the fucker out.
Just like the Dan Ryan in Chicago, which walls off nice neighborhoods like Bridgeport from the poverty-stricken areas to the east, or the Cross-Bronx Expressway in New York, which destroyed dozens of decent, working class neighborhoods, the Southeast Freeway is a huge impediment to development across the entire area.
Just walk down 8th Street below Penn Ave.--the booming blocks known as "Barracks Row." Ten years ago that whole strip was shaky. Now, it's booming with restaurants, bars, etc., but you get to the freeway and bam! it ends. There are a few businesses on the other side of the freeway, but really the highway is choking off any ability for Barracks Row to expand any farther. It's the same all the way from 395 to where the freeway ends at the Penn Ave. and the Anacostia River.
The Southeast Freeway serves no purpose except to help federal employees and other commuters who live in the suburbs and work in the city (and whose income the city can't tax anyway) get out of dodge at 5 sharp. Locals don't use it except as an occasional short-cut to Rock Creek Parkway or for the once-a-month weekend trip to Pentagon City. It's ugly, polluting, and a magnet for crime and blight.
All across the country these inner-city freeways are Katrina-esque neighborhood killers, except the waters never recede.
I know, we're Americans we build roads, dammit. And then we drive on them until we die. Nevermind that the billions we spend on oil is funding the terrorists. Nevermind that every time a new highway is built traffic gets worse. Nevermind global warming or air pollution or any of that. Highways, cars and freedom--that's the American way. Subways are for communists.
Field of Dreams was a great baseball movie, but when it comes to urban development, they had it all wrong. The truth is, if you tear it down, they will come.
Ok, off soapbox. I promise it'll be all baseball from here on out.