Nationals Park: No Revival Yet. Here Are A Few Reasons Why
Yesterday, the Washington Post printed some very obvious news to anyone who's been on South Cap. Street in the past year: Nationals Park hasn't sparked much revitalizing in Southwest. The city spent $1 billion in infrastructure upgrades and developers have made huge holes in the ground and left a lot of buildings still vacant.
As the article states, District residents weren't just sold a new stadium paid for with public dollars. No. As an old story noted, they were sold the "Stadium District"–a full-service community of new retail and new museums and new parks. The city hasn't come close to a Stadium District. Last week, Fisher wrote about the missing neighborhood as well.
What spilled forth in Sunday's A1 article was a lot of excuse making on the part of city officials and developers.
"It just so happens that implementation is occurring during the worst economic downturn in recent history. So things are going to struggle a little bit," said Neil O. Albert, the District's deputy mayor for economic development.
Really? This effort had been planned for years–long before the recession and banking collapse. The reasons Nationals Park hasn't revitalized the neighborhood are too numerous. But let me try.
*The city took too long fighting and underestimating the old tenants they had to boot to make way for the stadium. There is still a lot of concern over stadium funding and revenue from the games. Councilmember David Catania has said that the city's financial wiz Natwar Gandhi has been basically wrong on everything concerning stadium-related money. As LL reported (in the above link):
"Catania says he has no faith in the latest ballpark numbers—an attitude, he says, informed by history. 'Tell me one thing [Gandhi]’s been right on,' he says. 'He’s been wrong on attendance, wrong on revenue, wrong on environmental remediation, wrong on land.'"
*The city and the Nationals spent most of last season fussing with vendors. So while there were plenty of vacant spaces, vendors fought the city and the team over where they can set up shop and how many could set up shop. This fight dragged on and on and only ended up hurting the one group of people who seemed ready and willing to set up shop near the ballpark. The vendor fight went all the way to D.C. Superior Court.
*The stadium's construction hurt a lot of older tenants when it came to higher property taxes, etc. While new buildings went up without tenants, the old ones got squeezed. One new apartment building wasted a lot of goodwill over a battle with its tenants. The fight was over parking spaces in its garage.
*In March 2007, the Lerners completed construction on a building at 20 M Street SE. After two years, they only have one tenant. Long before the economy collapsed, they couldn't fill their own building.
*The Lerners are trying to make Peter Angelos look good. The Nats owners wasted their first season in the new ballpark refusing to pay rent on the ugly thing. Meanwhile, they fielded a crummy team. At a time when people were just starting to talk about this season, the Nats GM Jim Bowden resigned over allegations of skimming from contract bonus of Latin American players.
*The Lerners and private companies built way too many parking lots.
*The city depended on private developers to pay for other projects. When the private development started failing, projects got stalled.
*Last year, I wrote a silly little blog item wondering about how housing prices could be so high just because the homes were located near Nationals Park. I noted that the surrounding area hadn't quite developed:
"The neighborhood surrounding the ballpark hasn’t changed all that much. It’s still mechanic shops and liquor stores. Aside from the ballpark, the new amenities include a Subway sandwich shop, a Starbucks, and a Five Guys. Those things are all great. Who doesn’t want to eat fresh? Who doesn’t like a super strong cup of coffee? Who can’t resist a juicy burger? But still–$579,000 for a town house?"
I was hammered by Matthew Yglesias for being short-sighted. Looks like I turned out to be right. A Five Guys and a Starbucks still doesn't mean economic development. And a future of skyline of yuppie Lofts is not happening in the near future. What scares me is supposed liberals like Yglesias and neighborhood boosters like JDland are really pining for those Lofts.
JDLand has a personal stake in the revitalization of the neighborhood. It drives traffic to her blog. It makes her feel better. Whatever. JDLand's blog is practically an ad for these new Loft and premo apartment towers. I wonder if she's ever noted the displacement of all those low-income tenants from Arthur Capper? I wonder if she cares what happens to the residents of James Creek who live directly across from the stadium?
So far the discussion concerning the ballpark is all about: when are those lofts coming, when will they be filled with tenants? I hope the discussion turns into a broader one that includes not just the new tenants but the displaced tenants as well. And all the ones that feel left behind to deal with all those empty lots.
*photo by Darrow Montgomery.