A Safe Bet?

Source: Chris Heller, Washington City Paper, June 26, 2015

As light reflects off the water, blinding from view the scrap yards and concrete plants and parking lots, it’s easy to imagine the area’s future: a riverfront entertainment district that spans southeast to southwest, from Navy Yard to Fort McNair, the two ends anchored by two stadiums. The first, Nationals Park, opened seven years ago. It cost $693 million. The other, a new home for D.C. United, will be the most expensive soccer stadium in America. All told, about a billion dollars will be spent on these two stadiums. Both projects involve significant public investment, although each represents a distinct model of financing. Both pursue the same, long-sought dream to develop land along the Anacostia waterfront. And perhaps just as important, both reveal the lengths that policy-makers, past and present, will go to raise the profile of the District. If Nationals Park and the soccer stadium ignite a sports district as promised, it would stand counter to years of sports economics research. If they don’t … well, if that happens, the D.C. government will have subsidized two businesses owned by some very wealthy people. While Washington’s other sports owners not-so-quietly poke around for new digs—yes, Dan Snyder, that means you and the Pigskins—we’re left to wonder: which of these deals will become the model for future stadium deals in the District? Is either truly beneficial for the city’s economy? And when, exactly, is it okay to use public money for private sports?