Housing Complex

How the D.C. United Stadium Deal Is Worse Than Nationals Park

united3The conventional wisdom is that the proposed deal to build a D.C. United soccer stadium at Buzzard Point—whether you're a true believer or a skeptic—is better than the one that got us Nationals Park. After all, the city paid nearly $700 million to build the baseball stadium, covering nearly all its costs, whereas we'd only be paying for the land and infrastructure for the soccer stadium, around $150 million total. And in return, we get not only entertainment and tourism, but also a catalyst for development at Buzzard Point and the opportunity to milk new tax revenue out of properties involved in the swap, like the outdated Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets NW.

But D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute Executive Director Ed Lazere, fresh off a Washington Post profile as the leading stadium opponent, makes the counterintuitive argument: In one important respect, Nationals Park was actually a better deal.

The issue is taxes. Whereas the city will fund the D.C. United stadium without any new revenue, the city raised taxes to cover the Nationals Park expenses.

Now some people would consider higher taxes a bad thing. But Lazere argues that raising taxes helps avoid that problem we're getting ourselves into with the D.C. United deal: pitting the stadium against other priorities.

Technically, we're not putting up much cash for the stadium, since the bulk of the city's costs are in assembling the land for the stadium site, and we're doing that through a series of land swaps. But Lazere rightly argues that if we weren't trading the Reeves Center for property at Buzzard Point, we could simply sell it to a developer (and probably for more more money, since we have zero leverage in a swap to which we've already essentially committed). And with that money, we could fund things like affordable housing, school modernization, and a new Reeves Center in Anacostia, whose funding hasn't been worked out yet.

Of course, a tax hike might seem like strange policy at a time when the city's already running big surpluses. But given that D.C.'s tax rates are the lowest in the region, and that our schools and affordable housing aren't what they could be, it's not such an outlandish idea. If we really want a soccer stadium, maybe we should be paying for it out of our pockets rather than out of funds that could be used for arguably higher priorities.

Stadium rendering courtesy of D.C. United

  • Simba

    Oh please! Lazere and his merry band of tax & spenders never met a tax hike they didn't support or a failed social welfare program they didn't want to double.

    Someone wake me when they provide an analysis that DOESN'T whine about how DC taxpayers are really undertaxed and need to pay even higher taxes for ever-increasing welfare spending.

  • drez

    Has anyone noticed that big projects that are touted as economic anchors tend to be proposed for and executed in areas that are already on the frontline of development?
    It's not like anyone is clamoring to build them in areas that are truly economically depressed.

  • drez

    But my biggest issue with this is there is no metro access to the stadium. I think that fact will significantly limit the potential of any stadium at that site.

  • Colin

    Huh? I am against the deal, but the fact that it doesn't result in a tax increase is the least of my worries.

  • drez

    @Colin I think Ed and Aaron are just speaking to the opportunity cost the deal represents, and mentioning the most obvious way to mitigate it.

  • Dno

    Is this a joke? Tax receipts will almost certainly increase on net because of this deal. Common sense would tell us that the city otherwise would take years longer to sell the Reeves Center, the Buzzard Point area would take years longer to develop, and Anacostia would not have the extra anchor of DC government jobs to help pull up real estate values, commercial activity, and their associated tax receipts. Not to mention the intangible cultural value of keeping a professional soccer team in the city.

    Why do journalists parrot Ed Lazere when it's pretty obvious he's little more than an advocate for ever more social spending. There's nothing wrong with advocating that per se, but how gullible do you have to be to believe his analysis is unbiased, fact-based, and in the best interests of the city as a whole? Aaron, apply your skepticism more evenly if you want to be taken seriously.

  • Bootsy

    This is the weirdest argument I think I've ever seen. Wow. I mean . . .wow.

  • Actually

    This is a very well written press release.

  • Pingback: Morning Links - Loose Lips

  • Pingback: District Line Daily: The Last Kemp Mill Records - City Desk

  • Walking Distance

    @Drez, it's .7 miles from the metro. Right on a future streetcar line. It's a flat/bikeable part of town. You can have lots of complaints about the stadium but I don't think access should be one of them.

  • cminus

    @drez, the proposed location is less than half a mile from the Navy Yard Metro station. I'd call that walkable, at least for an audience that's disproportionately young and fit.

    (That said, I'm in favor of selling the Reeves Center and then not building a new stadium, and thus not raising taxes to pay for it. Seems like the best deal for the city.)

  • drez

    .7 miles is great for teens to 30-somethings, but pretty far for families with young kids.

  • drez

    .7 miles is great okay for teens to 30-somethings, but pretty far for families with young kids.

  • drez

    I see CP doesn't support strikeout HTML tags.

  • George

    "The issue is taxes. Whereas the city will fund the D.C. United stadium without any new revenue, the city raised taxes to cover the Nationals Park expenses."

    I think the problem is even if they raise taxes and try to sell off DC's property, it will still take a good while to raise the cash and acquire the land. And they want to do this quick, quick, quick. I think the most honest way to do this quickly would be to increase the debt limit and float a TIF bond, because I agree the swap is sketchy.

    Also, it sounds like you're arguing the lack of taxes is a problem per se. That sounds weird to people, because taxes are a means, not an end. It could be the best means, but saying the absence of taxes is a problem in itself is putting the cart before the horse.

  • Typical DC BS

    DC taxes are the lowest in the region? Ed Lazere must also be advocating smoking more weed as well if his group thinks that's true. I looked at the "table" they attached and it makes zero sense.

    Will have to run those same figures tonight on my tax software - I doubt that statement will hold water.

  • NIMBY4Life

    Good grief, please do raise my taxes. We are over taxed already. It would be nice to get more community based improvements for existing residents in stead of building another tourist trap for transient fans.

  • Hillman

    Aaron, your statement that DC taxpayers 'covered nearly all the $700 million costs' for Nats stadium is sheer bullshit.

    DC provided infrastructure like roads and sewer. Like we do for ALL development.

    Beyond that the cost was paid for by stadium-related taxes and a special tax assessed only on very large businesses (think law firms and lobbying firms).

    And they lobbied hard for that tax.

    We did NOT pay for this out of general fund taxes.

    And the special large business tax? It's bringing in over $20 million per year above and beyond the debt obligation.

    That $$ goes right into the general fund.

    If you're going to post this sort of thing at least go ahead and admit you're just cutting and pasting from an Ed Lazere press release.

  • cminus

    @drez, it's not .7 miles, it's less than .5, and I wouldn't hesitate to walk that despite being decades past 30-something. Still, you're right, that wouldn't be convenient for very small children or the elderly; however, this is DC United we're talking about here, not an elementary school or a senior center. The fan base at RFK is disproportionately 20-somethings and 30-somethings, not small children and the elderly.

    (And I don't think WCP even supports italics, let alone strikethrough.)