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Hearts Are Light, Men Are Laughing, Little Children Shout

That massive sigh of relief you can hear all across the Washington area tonight is the sense not only that the Nationals are now on firmer ground as a permanent institution in these parts, but also a hope that the District can move on beyond the needlessly polarizing politics of baseball.

Even the greedheads of Major League Baseball could see that any effort to extend the uncertainty over the D.C. stadium lease would result in disaster--a lost chance to build a new neighborhood around the stadium, a significant and potentially longlasting deterioration of the Nats' fan base, and an extension of the ugly and downright idiotic wrangling with the D.C. Council, a fate you wouldn't wish on your worst enemies. So MLB today said Yes to the stadium deal.

Only a fool would say that this ends the stadium issue. It's entirely possible that the D.C. Council will seek yet again to muck with the deal. But as we move into the heart of an election year, more and more council members just want to be rid of this issue. So there is hope that the bonds can be issued and construction begin on the ballpark. With luck, the Nats will have an owner by Opening Day (of course, now that player rosters are pretty well set for the first half of the season, an owner may not be able to make much of a difference on the field, but almost immediately, an owner can fix many of the ills besetting this franchise--the total lack of marketing, the impossibly awful TV deal, the woeful concessions at RFK.)

Looking back on the past year-plus, the most remarkable part of the embarrassing political war over the stadium is that it really didn't need to happen. For evidence of that, look across the Potomac to Virginia:

In his first weeks in office, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is already doing what D.C. Mayor Tony Williams should have done at any point over the past 16 months if he were really serious about getting past the brinksmanship that became synonymous with the Nationals baseball franchise.

As the Post's Michael Shear reports, Virginia Gov. Kaine is preparing to take his war against his state's transportation ills to the people. To push hard for combination of taxes and fees that would pay for new transit and road improvements in northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, the governor is getting ready to lobby Virginia voters to in turn pressure their state legislators. Kaine's tools: radio ads, a direct-mail campaign, and robocalls to voters.

More times than I can count, we've heard that Williams was preparing the same sort of attack to win over public opinion on the baseball stadium issue that has paralyzed city government for more than a year. Yet other than a few slogans on the city's web site, nothing ever materialized.

Would it have made a difference? Would the political climbers on the D.C. Council and the greedhead owners of Major League Baseball have come together more amicably and quickly had they known that the city's voters were on board with a plan to expand the District's tax base by using baseball to create a new neighborhood of retail, residential and office development? Surely such a shift in public opinion would not have eradicated the barriers between the council and the commissioner's office, but much of the divide that again and again brought the District to a deadline day stems from the sense the city's politicians have that public spending for a new stadium is generally unpopular and racially divisive.

An intelligent, honest public information campaign by the mayor would have sold the connection between the spending on the stadium and the enormous investment in the stadium area that has been sparked simply by the possibility that baseball will come to Southeast Washington. Kaine understands the power unleashed by getting the voters on your side; he learned in his fall campaign that the public is smarter than many politicians give them credit for, that it is indeed possible to sell the connection between land use and transportation and the notion that growth requires investment.

The same basic issues frame the baseball debate, yet the mayor never came through with the political effort--the campaign--necessary to win over the city's residents. Result: Stalemate, gamesmanship, and the now-receding but still-present danger that the city, after a 33-year-long fight to bring baseball back home, will squander its chance.

By Marc Fisher |  March 5, 2006; 6:18 PM ET
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So happy this is (hopefully) over. Hooray!

Posted by: styopa | March 5, 2006 7:05 PM

Hallelujah...and isn't it particularly sweet that it comes on a day when the Nationals defeated the Orioles, albeit in an exhibition? But don't worry, Cuban Pete, you're now bound to get your MASN money.

Posted by: Vincent | March 5, 2006 8:14 PM

Finally!!! I don't know who to hug first!!

Posted by: KG | March 5, 2006 8:14 PM

Except that Kaine is going to lose his fight. The Republican legislature won't let both him and his Dem predecessor raise taxes. It just won't happen.

Posted by: John Shoal | March 5, 2006 8:50 PM

Just heard the great news while watching the Academy Awards. Compared to this, I don't care who gets Best Picture. This is Best News. Thank you Marc for all your wisdom on this issue.

Posted by: Kathy in DC | March 5, 2006 9:18 PM

The sigh you heard was me, a few hours after eating chile.

As far as Virginia goes, it's long past time for NoVA to secede from those Richmond neanderthals.

Posted by: Joseph Pujol | March 5, 2006 9:22 PM

There you go again with the claim that the revitalization of that part of Southeast wouldn't have happened without a baseball stadium. It was already well underway before this stadium issue came up, and it would have continued along on its own. And the city loses out all of the tax money it could have gotten for the businesses and properties that would have occupied that land.

Posted by: Glenn | March 5, 2006 9:57 PM

Please move on, Glenn, and all you NIMBY-loving, no-stadium, Ed Lazere-worshiping people. I love the argument that a bunch of office buildings will generate more of a tax base than 45,000 Maryland and Virginia residents at baseball games? You're not going to get us to come into your city otherwise. We have our own office buildings and restaurants. We don't have the Nationals. You do, hence, we will come into the city and spend our money, which you will benefit from. Thank you, and goodnight.

Posted by: Not Glenn | March 5, 2006 10:39 PM

Tell us all about Nimbyism when you finish widening 66, expanding Metro, and developing Hunter's Mill.

In the meantime, yes...new large office buildings, condos, etc...would generate more revenue than a stadium. Especially as they would start at zero, and not -$611M.

To be honest, I could give a damn if you come in or not. If your job moves to one of those office buildings, you will whether you like it or not.

Posted by: Not Glenn is an idiot | March 5, 2006 11:03 PM

a.) Hunter Mill is dead. Not going forward.
b.) Metro is expanding to Tysons. What's your point?
c.) Yeah, that new Department of Transportation building sure will bring in the bucks to the city coffers.
d.) You should give a damn if I come into the city because your city of 550,000 people needs the millions of us out here in Virginia and Maryland to survive. You're welcome for my money. Your type sure as hell ain't coming out here to help us...and we don't need your help.

Posted by: Not Glenn | March 5, 2006 11:26 PM

Anyone who says that without baseball the Southeast waterfront would've had a revival beyond some office buildings is a fool and a liar. It would've been a strictly 9-to-5 ugly place to work. With baseball, it will become a new center of nightlife, just like the MCI center area, just like the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. This will add millions in tax revenue to the city's coffers; itt already has, look at the increases in property values since the announcement that it would be the location for the new stadium. If the revival was happening without baseball, why did the property values stay basically flat and then skyrocket when baseball came in?

Posted by: Not Glenn is a Genius | March 5, 2006 11:54 PM

Great. Let me know it tallies beyond $611M, and don't forget the infrastructure and other expenses when you add it up.

Oh, and Not Glenn...we really don't need you very much. Really. As I said, if your job is moved into a DC office, you're stuck here whether you like it or not.

As to Baseball and MCI. Yeah, it would be great to have ton of suburbanites metro in for a game, or drive...and then head right back out after the game...just like MCI. Those businesses are primarily supported by residents. And if your idea of great nightlife is MCI or Inner Harbor...well, no wonder why you live in the burbs.

Posted by: Millions? | March 6, 2006 12:02 AM

Responsible government just took a body blow, but it ain't dead: I want to know whether the "Community Benefit Fund" to which CM Barry succeeded in diverting funding excesses from moneys earmarked for land acquisition and remediation during the last council session on the lease is just a fancy word for a slush fund- and I want to know who controls it.

Posted by: Mark | March 6, 2006 12:04 AM

Wow, a wild generalization about who supports MCI businesses. Do you card everyone to see where they are from? No wonder your side had to result to baseless facts: you have nothing to work with other than wild perceptions. What's next, tourists are bad, too, because eventually, they go home and spend money?

BTW, I used to work in D.C. and my current job has absolutely no shot of moving into the city, so you can stop your DC-IS-MIGHTIER arguments and that it's the only center of the region's workforce.

Posted by: Not Glenn | March 6, 2006 12:26 AM

No, tourists actually do spend money. They don't talk a big game, get scared of the black people, and rush back out to the burbs. And MCI zone is from experience. The mix is no different from the real entertainment areas of Adams Morgan, Ust, or Cap Hill.

And you're right, DC isn't the only center...mostly thanks to your spiritual conuterparts here who NIMBY density devleopment, like at Vereran's Hospital. But subsidizing your trivial entertainment choice doesn't do much about that.

Lets do a quick and dirty numbers run. Let's say the magic of Baseball actually brings in 45K people, all from the burbs. Now lets say each and every one of them stays here afterwards and gets dinner and drinks (I'm in fanstasy land, but what the hell?). Moreover, lets really tie my arm behind my back and say this happens 80 times a year.

Total tax revenue off this...couple of bucks per person. Call it $80K...total per year $6.4 million. Now back out $1-2M a year for cops to keep everyone comfy with all those minorities around. We'll call it $5M. Assuming 30 years, over the life of the stadium your big kicker is $150M. That isn't even the cost of interest on the loans. So much for your generous kick in to the kitty.

Now there will be spin off money in additional income, and therefore tax revenue. But the chump jobs restaurants and bars generate doesn't equal big money. And the owners likely won't live here any more than the ones in Adams Morgan, etc... do. And if it's like MCI, it will be lame chain shops.

Translation -- there is no way the fabulous development and generous burban money will ever make up the $611M subsidy over the life of the stadium. But don't let reality get in the way of your rationalization.

Posted by: Yeah, Not Glenn | March 6, 2006 1:33 AM

Assuming your numbers are right, YNG, the $150M is the city's profit which will go into the general fund, to pay for schools, etc. The $$ to pay for the bond service comes from the Nats' lease payments, the hot dog and parking and ticket taxes, etc., and the tax on businesses.

And the spirit in the city when we all come together cheering on a pennant race will be worth all this headache and division in the area, I think. Hell, just getting back to RFK last summer was pretty great.

Posted by: Derek | March 6, 2006 1:51 AM

Let's see if we can find any positives at all... why, there are a few. Absent truly unexpected surprises (yes, all the "surprises" up to now certainly could be said to have been expected), the Nats are now set to acquire an owner and a GM, to designate a real opening-day shortstop, and to build a home.

Re NIMBYism, real or imagined: MCI proved that MCI works in Penn Quarter. That's not a bad thing, nor is the concept unextensible. There are, to be sure, still a few pioneer bones bleaching in the sun around 7th and F. But the *integrated* projects (shops, restaurants, entertainment and cultural venues) are moving forward year by year.

This kind of integrated planning will be key for South Capitol Street. Just dropping a stadium into the neighborhood and being done with it, expecting it to be another self-generating Penn Quarter, would be stupid. To undertake revitalization without building a stadium would be needlessly myopic and would dull chances for success. For the Anacostia waterfront to have the best chance to move forward, you really need both a boat and an anchor, not to mention a captain and a crew.

Posted by: SS Mike | March 6, 2006 6:32 AM

Why do fanboys think anyone else gives a damn, or is thrilled by this team?

Posted by: Cheering? Spirit? | March 6, 2006 8:12 AM

I don't know that a PR cmapaign by Mayor Williams would have done much good as I think it would have played well in NW and parts of NE but would have run into the same race based class warfare in SE/SW that were being played by the council members from there.

Posted by: Stick | March 6, 2006 9:11 AM

Well... you certainly get more than a few buck in taxes per person... I think your numbers are way off. The average ticket is ~$22. That's $2.10 in taxes there. Add in parking and concessions for another say $25/person, and I've already dropped $4.60 per person, and I'm not alone.

If they average 35K fans per event - not out of the question - that closer to $161K/event in taxes - for 81 events, get the taxe generation closer to $13M. And the city is already getting an average of $20M/year in rent. This stadium deal will easily pay for itself. The city CFO sees the hnumbers working out.

Marion Barry has a fund in hos control... and you actually expect it to help anyone besides him and his cronies...

The Nats sold more than 2.7 million tickets last year - for a team of upstarts, without a decent TV and Radio deal, low budget promotions and the wrangling for the lease going on. That is the core base of fans - the hardcores... the Fanboys if you will. With a real TV/Radio deal, new stadium, a real promotion effort, this team will easily and consistently draw 3-3.5 million fans annually and be in the 10 in MLB.

Posted by: Driving in from VA | March 6, 2006 10:34 AM

Won't believe it until I'm actually sitting in the stands watching a game there.

Posted by: Phil | March 6, 2006 10:40 AM

Marc,

I think you are wrong on two counts. 1) Tony Williams is a TERRIBLE campaigner. Whom has he ever convinced of anything? 2) The race/class fog around this thing is simply too thick. I live in Anacostia and 3 of 4 people around here that I've talked to are against this thing even when you explain the benefits to them (I support it). These are the same peole who thought(think?) that electing Barry as CM was a good idea. Much easier to "stick it to the Man" than do something to improve your own condition. Sad but true.

Posted by: Chris | March 6, 2006 11:31 AM

First, I chose numbers that favored you entirely in this to make my point.

1. The ticket tax is already devoted to the stadium bond and the interest therein. It doesn't speak to ancilliary costs, or cost overruns. In fact, it actually only speaks to the initial $511M. Thus it doesn't count. Ditto for concessions.

2. Parking goes to aprivate company which may or may not result in DC revenue.

3. You assume that each and every ticket holder is suburban new money. Not bloody likely. I did that to point out the absurdity of the "spend money to make money" argument. So 35K is actually waaaay off.

4. Combining the above, we have a deficit already of $100M between dedicated funding via concsession, ticket, etc...and costs. Sibnce the number I generated was based on total sell outs at all 81 games, entirely by new suburban money, we still don't cover cost overruns (which will be amortized and cost interest).

The more realistic numbers of 50% ticketholders being outside folks, many of whom will panic at seeing minorities and run back to the burbs right after the game, leads to barely paying the street maintenece and cops.

So no, the numbers don't work. As far as the CFO...this is the same CFO who faked the $511M to begin with, right?

Posted by: Driving | March 6, 2006 11:47 AM

Im happy the stadium is going to be built, I just hope that the current residents of the surrounding neigbiorhoods will be able to enjoy the benifits.

Posted by: concerned | March 6, 2006 11:53 AM

this just paves the way for MLB to give the team to Jeff Smulyan. DC Council should have made local ownership a lease condition. Now we'll have an underfunded owner with no local connections whose sole qualification is that he's tight with Selig and Reinsdorf. He'll be bitching and cutting payroll by 2015, you wait and see. If they could do it to Boston, when there were fiduciary considerations, they sure will do it here. Hope I'm wrong, but I doubt it.

Posted by: kiss me first | March 6, 2006 12:31 PM

The deal is still not complete. Hopefully, the DC Council will accept this in the next few days. At that time we'll hopefully see the ball moving on this thing. I don't see why everyone is making this out to be a race thing. First of all, NO ONE really lives in the area of the stadium footprint. I think out of all the properties that DC is seizing through eminent domain, only 1 or 2 people actually had homes there. On top of that, those people just became instant millionaires because of their property, so no one should feel sorry for them. Can someone please tell me why race is a factor in this deal?

Posted by: Navy Yard | March 6, 2006 12:31 PM

I think that race is a factor because most of the time when Whites beocme interested in something it becomes important. Jazz music, hip hop clothing, you name it. When it was just plain old SE nobody seem to care. The stadium deal gets so much airplay, but common everyday problems that plauge that neighborhood get crammed into statistics and pushed to the side.

Posted by: Concerned | March 6, 2006 12:49 PM

Why is there so much anger and bitterness over this deal. I am a former DC resident (25 years but got pushed out due to housing costs) now living in PG County. I hold no ill will towards these circumstances.

I have read so many comments and many are pitting DC residents, who will pay for this stadium(Please don't say it's a business tax that will pay for it. Those extra tax dollars businesses will face will be passed on)against MD and VA residents who will be the bulk of NATS fans and patrons.

The underlying issue is that both the city and suburbs sustains a growing and wealthy metropolitan area. Neither would be able to exist without the other. So why create this feud.

Many people in the suburbs, NOT ALL, but many have made a mockery out of the DC Council. Though political ambitions have caused some to look a bit deeper into issues, the Council overall did what it was elected to do. That is to find the best possible scenario for its constituents. With a terrible deal negotiated by Williams, the council had a duty to protect the constituents as best as possible. We should not make them out to be a bad entity. They did what the Arlington County, Alexandria County, Montgomery County, Prince George's County councils would have done given similar circumstances.

I find it's easier for many people to pick on DC, but DC is hot right now. As much as people say, oh they would never go into the city. Please... Even still, if they did not go into the city, yet mislabel it as a disfunctional place filled with all the social ills all cities face, then they're wrong and even more a fool b/c they don't know what they're talking about.

I have no problem with suburbanites being cautious about traveling into places they don't know much about, and vice versa for city folk. But don't bad mouth a place and its democratically elected institutions b/c they don't vote a certain way or they take longer than you would like. Remember, they have an obligation and duty to uphold to their constituents. The Council did it. For those who bad mouthed everything about DC, look yourselves in the mirror before jumping to horrible conclusions without doing the homework!

All in all, we'll have our beloved NATS and a new stadium. Everyone, chill out!

Posted by: We'reAllNatsFans... | March 6, 2006 12:49 PM

I appreciate the peace-making comments by We'reAllNatsFans, but the assertion that business taxes will be passed on to DC residents rather than suburbanites is no more true than some of the other "us vs. them" statements. Business taxes will be passed on, it's true, but they will be passed on to everyone who dines, shops, and purchases services in DC. That includes both city residents and many, many suburbanites.

Posted by: THS | March 6, 2006 1:40 PM

Fisher's column is absurd and insulting. He prefers to think that DC residents are just stupid and ignorant because they overwhelmingly oppose this stadium deal. The truth is that we have no interest in subsidizing Mr. Fisher's infantile obsession with baseball. The only positive thing here is that Mr. Fisher can stop throwing temper-tantrums because someone on the City Council suggests he can't have the shiny toy he has snatched off the check-out rack.

Posted by: Steve | March 6, 2006 1:57 PM

Mr. Fisher you and I probably won't agree on much, but this is a happy occasion. Now the question is when do we get an owner who will it be? Who do you think it should be Mr. Fisher and who do you think it will be?

Posted by: George Templeton | March 6, 2006 2:44 PM

I just bought my tickets for the Nationals home opener. I've waited years for this. I went to the home opener last year with my dad, and this year I'll go with my fiance. This is what getting the team is all about -- getting to play hooky from work to see OUR team play at our home opener. I'll be up in the nosebleed seats with a beer, hot dog and a big smile.

Posted by: BGRN | March 6, 2006 3:39 PM

The bulk of said people getting the pass-through would be residents. Extra on utilities. Extra on services. Extra on our groceries. Etc. You in the burbs will pay a sliver of it...we'll eat the bulk.

Posted by: Uh THS | March 6, 2006 3:39 PM

That would be YOUR team. What this is about is stealing from non-fans to subsidize your trivial entertainment choices.

Posted by: Uh...BGRN | March 6, 2006 3:40 PM

THS, you said exactly what I was thinking: Passed on "Business Taxes" will be paid by those who use those services; Not DC residents exlusively. And We'reAllNatsFans: BRAVO!!! Excellent response!

GO NATS!!!

Posted by: Marc | March 6, 2006 3:55 PM

I think it's an open question as to who will pay the most as businesses pass on their costs. First, suburbanites will likely pay the lion's share when considered in the aggregate, because there are simply a lot more of them. Second, some businesses--perhaps those in the most competitive businesses--will not pass on their costs, but will, instead, try to make up the difference by increasing volume. Third, many businesses---the Washington Post, for instance---operate across boundaries, so the distribution of costs will also cross boundaries.

Posted by: THS | March 6, 2006 3:59 PM

I am a D.C. resident, and I am not convinced that this stadium will be a big financial boost for the city. I am skeptical about comparing the benefits of the baseball stadium with MCI Center. MCI hosts many events throughout the year, and it rents parking weekdays, too. The stadium will be baseball only, I believe. There were over 2 million fans at the games this year. Will that high attendance continue if the baseball team does poorly? When was the last time the Expos/Nationals were in the playoffs? Moreover, I think that many city residents are angry that the mayor and several council members spend so much time and energy on this project when many city services are lousy. There are problems with the schools, libraries, water and sewer, police, ambulance, and the list goes on and on. I am sure that there will be plenty of police presence around the baseball stadium ,just as there is outside MCI Center. Good luck finding much police presence in many city neighborhoods.

Posted by: Bill | March 6, 2006 7:34 PM

Stop talking common sense. This blog id for Baseball fanboys who love spending other people's money on their entertainment.

Sheesh.

Posted by: Shhh, Bill | March 6, 2006 8:18 PM

Wasn't there some kind of floor on which businesses would pay the tax? I think that both gross receipts and profit margin were discussed... Can anyone remind me?

Still wanting to know about that "community benefit fund"...

Posted by: None | March 6, 2006 10:53 PM

I'm not going to refight the issue of whether this is a good or bad deal. The Post editorial this morning got it right when it said the city could have negotiated a better deal -- specifically, one that required more financial participation on the part of MLB -- but the deal wasn't likely to get better.

What should concern everyone, however, is that there really is no agreement on how to handle cost overruns should they arise. The city says it won't pay, MLB has not agreed to undertake them, and the legislation approving the lease if effect just says "somebody" has to pay -- the feds, someone else in the private sector, whomever. If there are no cost overruns, then this won't be a problem. But if there are, it could get nasty. In Seattle, for example, Seattle and the Mariners got into a nasty dispute over $100 million in overruns.

While a fixed -cost construction contract may reduce the risk, it doesnt entirely eliminate it, and it does nothing to limit the cost of land acquisition, which almost everyone expects to exceed the amount allotted for it, possibly substantially.

With this agreement, the Nationals become the first time since the Baltimore Orioles in 1992 to receive a free ballpark PLUS unrestricted use of the naming rights. With all the stadium construction that has gone on in the post-Camden Yards era, this is the sweetest deal of all. At this point, all we can do is hope that it is accomplished within budget and that it provides the economic benefits that have been so extravagantly promised for it.

Posted by: Meridian | March 7, 2006 10:39 AM

"As far as Virginia goes, it's long past time for NoVA to secede from those Richmond neanderthals."

That would also show that the problem is NOT that we don't pay more than enough taxes already -- it's that the taxes we pay are bled off to pave downstate cow paths. That's why Kaine's attempt to push through yet another tax hike just won't fly; NoVA voters correctly suspect that they'd end up being ripped off even more than they are already.

Posted by: steveb | March 7, 2006 4:19 PM

"new large office buildings, condos, etc...would generate more revenue than a stadium"

Ultimately, that's what killed the NoVA bid -- Cafritz was (and is) going to make double or triple the money by pursuing conventional development opportunities in Pentagon City.

Whether the DC waterfront would have been similarly developed without the stadium deal is less clear, IMO.

Posted by: steveb | March 7, 2006 4:24 PM

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