Housing Complex

Baseball-Oriented Development? Perspective Please!

Growing for lots of reasons.

Development around Nationals Stadium seems to have reached a tipping point where, after years of moaning about how it hadn't delivered on D.C.'s up-front investment, the press has pronounced the ballpark a success. Post writer Marc Fisher pegged the story to the Nats' winning record, and most recently, the Natural Resources Defense Council's Kaid Benfield declared that "baseball-oriented development seems, at last, to be working."

Talk about 20/20 hindsight!

Of course, the stadium had something to do with the growth of the neighborhood, and certainly seems to be paying back its construction cost in the form of sales taxes. Little else would regularly bring tens of thousands of people in from Virginia to spend money in the District on a regular basis, as Fisher noted. But is it responsible for all those buildings sprouting up around it?

Let's not forget, investment had started in the Capitol Riverfront before the ballpark, including the revitalization of Capper Carrollsburg public housing and several large office buildings, like the Department of Transportation headquarters (check JDLand's excellent project archive for the timeline). It's kicked back into gear recently because financing has freed up and previously-planned projects are coming off the shelf, not because the Nationals are at the top of the league.

As for retail and restaurants: The stadium had been operating for years before Forest City announced tenants for the Boilermaker Shops, which will be pretty much the first non-chain eating options the neighborhood has to offer (the Lerners couldn't even lease a street-level space in their own building). Game-goers will frequent those restaurants from April through October, but they wouldn't have been remotely viable without the year-round presence of officeworkers and new residents at the Foundry Lofts. I'm willing to bet their decisions to buy new condos have a lot more to do with proximity to a Metro stop, the gorgeous new Yards Park, and an incoming grocery store than the presence of a baseball stadium.

The baseball stadium is clearly an economic benefit to the city, especially when the Nats are winning. But crediting the stadium with the creation of a new neighborhood is just too convenient: With D.C. on the rise, for a transit-served area between Capitol Hill and the waterfront, it was only a matter of time. Even A. James Clark, who built the stadium, said as much in 2006.

"Development is going to happen quickly there," he told the Washington Post, "because Washington doesn't have any more land."

Photo by Lydia DePillis

  • TM

    Fisher is such a Nats/stadium booster that I wouldn't be surprised to see him attribute the end of the recession to a Strasburg shutout.

  • Jarboe

    Fair questions and probably this area would have developed some if not much of the commercial/office square footage without the stadium.

    But I am skeptical that any of the residential would have happened without baseball and doubt much of the retail would have either and the grocery store and park followed from these. Now whether this neighborhood develops into a year around retail destination the way the area around the Verizon center has may take years to find out but I don't think there is any doubt that the vibrant mixed use neighborhood around Verizon (and the many 24/7 service jobs that go with it) is much more desirable from a land use and economic development perspective than the sterile and mostly dead zones around office only parts of the city - and these office only neighborhoods are pretty dead even during the week because good retail has a hard time thriving off of a few hours of customer demand per day.

    But who cares - the stadium is comfortably paying for itself without any taxes on DC residents who don't attend games and much of the tax revenue is coming from non DC residents anyhow so let's enjoy finally having a good baseball team!

  • http://alexblock.net Alex B.


    No doubt. The funny part of it is how much Fisher would be unfairly critical of soccer and a DC United stadium, while at the same time being an unabashed booster of baseball and Nats Park.

  • John

    Fisher and the baseball giveaway apologists were lying about the data at start, and will manipulate it post fact as well. After all, they have to justify the upcoming Redskins giveaway the sports fans in office are working on. Ugh.

  • Dizzy

    "Washington doesn't have any more land."

    Well... no. Washington has plenty of land. Most of it isn't zoned in a way that favors high-density (or much of any) development, though. And much of the land that is zoned in such a way is located in areas that are seen as no-go zones by those with consequential disposable incomes.

    The biggest thing the baseball park (and DOT HQ, to some extent) did was to introduce lots of regular foot traffic to the area, including at night. That went a long way toward changing the perception that this was not a place you really wanted to go, especially at night. Once that perception changed, development followed, financing issues notwithstanding.

  • Hillman

    Arthur Capper redevelopment and a ton of other development and infrastructure were justifiable both publicly and behind the scenes because of the possibility of the baseball stadium. Yes, DOT would have probably happened anyway. But without the clearing of the blight in anticipation of the ballpark likely damn little but sterile offices and very limited retail would have followed.

  • drez

    Careful repeating this myth, Lydia. Otherwise you'll forever be hearing people tell you how the Verizon Center is responsible for shifting the center of gravity of downtown a few blocks to the East

  • crin

    I thought Fisher died or moved to Alaska or somefink.

  • er

    i don't see how living near the baseball stadium is an advantage, or how that would actually drive residential. now, living near a cleaned up and de-industrialized waterfront walking distance to the capitol and close to the highway is much more appealing and would be the case baseball or not.

    once the projects south of the freeway were razed, well before the baseball in dc was a reality, the course for this neighborhood was turned around.

  • http://www.jdland.com JD

    @Hillman, the Capper Hope VI grant happened in 2001, three years before the ballpark's location was announced (Sept. 2004), and at a point when baseball anywhere in DC was looked at like a most remote possibility.

    @er, the Cappers were razed during 2004-2006, starting before the ballpark was announced and finishing just as construction on the stadium was getting underway.

  • H Street Landlord

    @Jarboe - our businesses were (and are...) being taxed to pay for the stadium. I still don't know why the Lerners couldn't have paid for it themselves.

  • Joe

    Thanks for the reality check. And John above is correct, it's important to stay on this and puncture their myths before they decide to give away even more land to some loser sports teams.

  • Hillman

    JD: your time line is technically correct. But you overlook the fact that the city worked on that baseball site for years before it was publicly announced.

    And simply no way the city could have eminent domained the tons of crap in the stadium area without the stadium as the justification. A large scale project was necessary. Of it werent for that process most of that crap would still be there today, making the area sortof the opposite of a destination neighborhood.

  • http://www.jdland.com JD

    @Hillman, the South Capitol Street site was one of four or five possible ballpark sites, and in fact was a surprise choice (many people thought the New York/Florida Ave site would be picked, or the late-entrant idea of building the ballpark at Banneker Overlook in SW).

    The only part of the neighborhood that was eminent domain'ed was the footprint of the baseball stadium. Everything else demolished was either done by private landowners who bought the land in the great ballpark land rush of 2004-2006 or to clear the Capper/Carrollsburg footprint to replace the public housing there. No eminent domain anywhere else.

  • anon


    i don't see how living near the baseball stadium is an advantage

    So true. The absolute WORST part of this neighborhood is the stadium itself. The Yards Park is a gem, and much of the other nearby SW urban renewal projects share its sensibilities. I avoid this area like the plague in-season on game days, and visit quite frequently at other times.

  • USDOTdenizen

    When we moved from L'enfant the ballpark (the move was planned before, but by the time ordinary employees focused on it the ballpark was announced) was one of the selling points to employees. Aside from being something for baseball fans, it meant the area wouldn't be deserted (at least for half the year). Psychologically instead of moving to a slum, we were going to "where the ballpark will be". Not that we had a choice, but the notion that the ballpark didnt improve the neighborhood is just silly. It probably would have improved anyway, but the ballpark accelerated things, especially at the S Cap street end of the neighborhood.

  • Pingback: Morning Clicks - Loose Lips


    Once again, DC is on the short side. That baseball stadium was not going to bring an economic boom to that area. That was some bullshit from day one! Jack Evans is the worse dealmaker this city has ever seen. The games are poorly attended and the folks that come, leave in the 7th inning to go home not to shop/eat/drink next door. Suckers in DC believed otherwise. DC is for suckers!!

  • DC Guy

    haters are gonna hate. The ballpark is a success, and will be even more so as we see attendance figures after this season (and corresponding revenues to the District).

  • blkwrestl

    After the allstar break, the Nationals will begin to lose. The stadium is only open for 81 baseball games. DC is ticketing everybody everday of the week. Why is someone from VA or MD going to come in to the city get ticketed or can't find a place to park when they can go to restaurants, shops, etc, and park for free in thier home state? Also, residents living in the area are not going to go out to eat 7 days a week. With the incoming glut of restaurants, some will fail because either the food is bad, customer service is bad or there are to many restuarants and not enough people. It will be interesting to see the area 5 years form now.

  • Ken Jarboe

    I'm not sure who the earlier Jarboe comment was from - but it was not me and I disagree with the comment. Redevelopment of the area started with the move of the Navy NAVSEA command into the Navy Yard (which created an employment hub) and continued with the CapperCarrolsburg redevelopment and the opening up of what used to be called the SE Federal Center for private development (now called "The Yards") and the building of the DOT building on that site. The ballpark is a welcome addition to the area -- but the ballpark came to the site because of everything else already going on.

    BTW - the move of NAVSEA command to the Navy Yard was also the kickstart for Barracks Row as it created a daytime employment center nearby.

    And also -- GO NATS!

  • Ken Jarboe

    @H Street Landlord -- just for the record, I agree (Ken Jarboe, not the earlier Jarboe).

  • RedDead

    Sorry, LDP. You are wrong on this one.

  • anon

    +1 @Ken Jarboe (real one). The same reason SW was selected as a stadium site is a continuation of other developments in that area, many of which are still works in progress.

    And I'm not even a fan, but I wish them well enough as a DC resident involuntary connected to their fortunes.

  • John Capozzi

    Why not do a story on the amount of Tax revenue DC is LOSING every year, based on the land that the Ballpark and garages are taking up in SW?
    The taxes being paid by businesses to build the park should not have been necessary; MLB should have paid for at least 1/2 of the cost of the Ballpark. Additionally, all the revenue goes to paying the bonds that were created for the Ballpark itself; not one penny of general revenue. Our CFO, Dr. Gandhi has said that DC can't barrow any more money, no matter how worthy of a project it is, mostly because the Ballpark consumed a vast amount of our bowering power. Remember, this project cost the city about 1 BILLION dollars. DC has lost on this deal and will continue to.

  • http://www.jdland.com JD

    I think anyone who says that the stadium is in Southwest should automatically be disqualified from discussing it. :-)

  • Ken Jarboe

    @JD or are you disqualifying them for agreeing with me ;)

  • http://www.jdland.com JD

    Ken-- ?? I've been on record from the beginning as saying that the ballpark wasn't the engine of redeveloping the area, it just lit an additional fire and sped some things up. After all, I started blogging about the neighborhood 20 months before they announced the stadium was coming, so clearly it was obvious (to me!) that things were happening south of the freeway.

    If I thought that the ballpark were the only driver of change in Near Southeast, then I would be guilty of not reading what I've been writing for the past 9+ years.

  • Ken Jarboe

    JD -- I am completely and totally agreeing with you. I did not mean to imply anything else (my comment was meant in jest). As you point out, you have been consistent in pointing out all of the drivers of growth in Near SE -- well before the ballpark.

  • washcycle

    Hillman, you aren't really arguing with JD about near SE are you? It always reassures me when she echoes what I already think - baseball had some impact, but it was only part of the soup.

    Thanks LDP for pushing back on the myth that the Post seems to keep selling.

  • http://alexblock.net Alex B.


    It's funny to see the shift - when the real estate finance market was in shambles in the midst of the recession, people wanted to know why baseball wasn't working. And now, despite not too much overt change, baseball is a tremendous success!

  • vahoya

    I think the distinction from a development perspective is that the ball park spurred the creation of more mixed and diverse neighborhood than would have otherwise resulted. Look at NoMa as your counter example - sterile office and apartment buildings with little street-level activity.

    Essentially, without baseball, you're unlikely to get the coordinated efforts of the city and the development community that results in a vibrant and mixed-use neighborhood. For example, the plan for half street would have been unlikely without the baseball stadium.

    Another comparison is what's happened in Chinatown/Gallery place. That neighborhood would have redeveloped regardless of the MCI Center, however you would have a lot of office in place of what's along and around 7th street and a poorer downtown for it.

    For what it's worth, I was one of the first buyers in Capital Quarter and never would have made that leap without the commitment of the baseball stadium. In my eye, it helped guarantee the ultimate success of the neighborhood versus competing places.