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Available: Free Money for Renovations. Apply to D.C. Gov't.

Baseball got $600 million. Soccer's getting ready to receive its megamoney in the form of free, prime riverfront property. Football won't be far behind. So what's a poor shlump who actually paid his own way supposed to do?

Consider the case of Abe Pollin, who did the right thing. While the billionaires of the other professional sports franchises held up the District and got or are soon to get spanking new stadia courtesy of the District of Columbia, Pollin built the MCI Center with his own money, a whopping $220 million of it. Sure, the District kicked in $70 million for infrastructure--new streets, utilities and the like--but that's a reasonable investment of public money for a tax-generating facility like a sports arena, especially one that jumpstarted a whole new neighborhood of development that has provided a much-needed boost for the city's tax base.

But now Pollin looks back at his beneficence of a decade ago and has to ask himself, What kind of sucker was I? Of course the circumstances surrounding the baseball deal were quite different--Major League Baseball had the District over a barrel. It was pay for the stadium or don't get the team--remember, Commissioner Bud Selig affirmatively did not want to put a team in this market. Still, Pollin has to be kicking himself. So now he's asking the D.C. government for a $50 million handout for the purpose of sprucing up the 10-year-old hall--a new scoreboard, spiffier luxury boxes, flat-screen TVs for said suites, a new marquee outside. Not a single necessity in the package, just extra bling, presumably to justify higher ticket prices.

What would the city get for such largesse? In theory, some extra tax revenues if the improvements boosted attendance or attracted new events to the venue, but any such tax bonuses would be more than counterbalanced by the cost of paying the debt service on borrowing the $50 million. (Sure, the city's plan is to cover the payments on the loans by boosting the ticket tax at the arena, and most of that tax would be paid by the arena's majority-suburban visitor base, freeing city taxpayers of the burden. But any new borrowing puts the District closer to a dangerous level of borrowing that endangers its bond ratings on Wall Street.)

What else would the city get? Why, a lovely luxury suite of its own, 24 seats, rent-free, with a private bathroom, two TVs, a refrigerator, a food service area and an unobstructed view of all the action. Nifty little side benefit for our public servants.

Oh, and this too: In 2047, control of the arena would revert to the District. Of course, by then, the arena is likely to be long gone--the life expectancy of sports facilities in this country is just a few decades in this era of disposibility. (Actually, the 2047 thing is just an accounting trick, letting the city spread its bond payments out over 40 years.)

Is this sad deal really going to pass? I asked Mayor Adrian Fenty, who said, a bit coyly, that "I'm going to look at every deal differently," meaning that he has some significant questions about the soccer proposal for Poplar Point, that he'd love to have the Redskins back in town if Danny Snyder is really willing to pay for the bulk of a new stadium on the RFK site, and that after what Abe Pollin did for the District, the city is happy to return the favor in almost any way possible. Specifically asked about the Pollin deal, the mayor said it "could be good for all involved. There are pros and cons. Pollin is still fleshing out the proposal, but it is additional revenue on every ticket." Sounds like a qualified yes to me.

(The mayor sounded more skeptical about developer Victor MacFarlane's plan to build a soccer stadium along the Anacostia River in exchange for the right to develop the land around the facility. "That's a tougher case to make for the residents of the District of Columbia," Fenty told me.)

Pollin should resist the temptation to glom onto the city's stadium spending spree. He's got the money and he's already got a winning facility. He's also got a stellar reputation and it would be a shame to lose his place as the example everyone turns to when looking to show how sports facility deals should be made.

By Marc Fisher |  February 27, 2007; 7:00 AM ET
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Comments

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I hope Fenty supports the Anacostia soccer stadium. Contrary to popular opinion, there just aren't that many developers who have enough money and the desire to develop in Anacostia. Everybody wins with this proposal.

Posted by: Hillman | February 27, 2007 7:51 AM

Why give Pollin $50 million and then pay for it with increased taxes on ticket sales? Pollin can raise his own prices without involving the city.

Posted by: PowerBoater69 | February 27, 2007 7:54 AM

Pollin would not be coming to the District with this deal if investing in the Verizon Center were a good thing for him. He is too good a business dealer to do that. No, by definition it has to be a bad deal for the District, or a good deal for Pollin that gets better if the city is his banker. Either way, the taxpayers and ticket buyers are the suckers. At least we will have many years of entertaining stories in the Post about how the mayor and council used the private box for their friends and personal gain. You think we would see the use of the box passed around to city schools? No way. Let us hope it has a good blackberry signal for Adrian.

Posted by: korm | February 27, 2007 8:03 AM

the addition of these flat screens and such are unnecessary. As someone who frequents the Verizon center that place looks pretty good these days.

Posted by: annapolis, md | February 27, 2007 8:27 AM

Fenty was opposed to the baseball fiasco, and being a new mayor, could easily draw the line here and say **NO, NO MORE OF THIS.**...

By the way, the baseball stadium is going to cost WAAAAAY more than $600 million.

Posted by: gitarre | February 27, 2007 8:30 AM

Someone please explain to me how a fully privatly funded development/stadium at Poplar Point is a bad thing for the district? At the most the district would lay down infrastructure costs and then sit back as the UNDEVELOPED, and NEWLY AQUIRED LAND is developed. I have yet to hear anything other than this in ANY discussion of the development. This development will give affordable housing oppourtunities to the community, community run programs, useable parkland, and a tax stream for the distric to profit off of for years and years to come that was not there to start. So I ask again, how is this a bad deal for the district, how is this a hard sale? It baffles me somtimes, this cities unreasonable idiocy.

Posted by: Chris | February 27, 2007 8:35 AM

Why should the baseball stadium cost more than 600 million? Back up your statement with some facts.

Posted by: Logan | February 27, 2007 8:50 AM

I'm torn on this issue. On one hand, DC taxpayer's money obviously shouldn't be available to multi-billionaires simply for the asking.

On the other hand, Abe Pollin's personal investment of $220 million helped spark a booming neighborhood worth far more to the district and her residents than the $50 million Pollin wants for upgrades. This city is breaking the bank to fund a baseball stadium which may or may not actually benefit the district (and which increasingly looks like a complete turkey--or is than an albatross?).

It hardly seems fair to turn around and snub a man like Pollin who has already done so much for the district and is, essentially, a modern day city father (which, as a shrewd businessman, is probably exactly why he's thinks he's got a shot at the money). Meanwhile, what the hell has MLB done for us lately?

I'm not sure if the district should pony up the full $50 mil., but we should probably throw Abe some sort of bone to recognize all he's done for the city...

Posted by: Anonymous | February 27, 2007 9:08 AM

In the soccer stadium deal, the District would only turn over land that was just given to them by the National Park service, along with some basic utilities and infrastructure upgrades. In exchange, McFarlane is offering to COMPLETELY pay for the construction of a $100 million soccer stadium and to develop the Anacostia waterfront. The MLB deal was a complete give-away by DC, but the soccer stadium, by contrast, is a good deal for DC. In fact, it's the same deal Polin received (i.e., free land and development rights in exchange for privately funded stadium). Somebody tell me why this isn't a good deal for the DC taxpayer.

Posted by: Keller | February 27, 2007 9:23 AM

Ted Leonsis has first right of refusal for MCI and the Wizards. The city really cannot own the arena in 2047 and Abe will have been long dead.

Posted by: Jon | February 27, 2007 9:43 AM

Pollin can get a key to they city for all his help.

I wonder if Fenty realizes that part of the reason he beat Cropp was because he opposed the Baseball Stadium plan.

If Fenty wants to give Pollin $50 million, fine, but it will make me start looking for other city leaders.

Posted by: Justin | February 27, 2007 9:56 AM

Wasn't there a clause in the original lease for MCI Center that stated the arena was to be torn down in 2027 and G Street would be restored? I remember that was an issue because the building interferes with L'Enfant's street grid and taking out G Street was the only way to assemble enough land to make the arena fit.

If that's the case, why would the city agree to take the arena back in 2047 if it's supposed to be gone by then?

Oh, and while I'm at it, maybe DC should give me $1 million to help pay for upgrades on my house. I've helped revitalize my neighborhood since moving in... (sarcasm)

Posted by: dirrtysw | February 27, 2007 10:15 AM

DC had their chance to keep the Skins but blew it. Jack Kent Cook tried for years to build a new stadium in DC but the city did everything in their power to stop him. Snyder bought the team, and stadium, for a fixed fee from Cook's estate based upon the value of the stadium.

If DC wants the Skins back inside the beltway they can either re-imburse Mr. Snyder for the existing stadium or build the stadium in DC using their own funds.

As a successful businessman Mr Snyder would be insane to build another stadium inside the beltway using his own funds just to satisfy the DC political machine.

Posted by: BoltsFan | February 27, 2007 10:32 AM

Gallery Place looks like Disneyland, not a city.

Guess it brings in the tourists and their money, which pays for the superb schools and libraries, full of text books and state-of-the-art heating systems.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 27, 2007 10:34 AM

$50,000,000 for Verizon Center improvements? Absolutely not!!!! Take $50,000,000 and put it towards really improving DC public schools.

Posted by: dc native | February 27, 2007 10:35 AM

BoltsFan you have it all wrong. Dan Snyder would be very smart to build a stadium in DC. First of all, Snyder would sell the land that FedEx field sits on for a good chunk of money (the land value has gone up over the past 10+ years). Then Snyder would use that money to build a stadium with a retractable roof (So DC could host Super Bowls and generate enormous amounts of money). Also, since Snyder would be given free land to develop (which by that would have an extremely high value), Snyder could put anything he wanted up, and it would profitable for a very long time.....

Posted by: UMCPGrad | February 27, 2007 10:38 AM

DC should bend over backwards to accomodate Abe's request. He has revitialized an entire section of the district. Imagine if other owners had provided the same benefit before being given millions.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 27, 2007 10:40 AM

I am sorry your post did not lay out that the $50 million would come from increasing the tax on tickets so they would be equivalent to the tax folks pay for baseball tickets. Therefore a) the public is not being taxed and b) money is not being diverted from key educational, health and safety priorities. It is a way to extend the life of a world-class facility and postpone the date by which it will be razed, therefre extending the time before the District will have to help finance a new arena. It is critical to keep suburban dollars flowing into the district, and that requires constant investment.

Posted by: DC Resident | February 27, 2007 10:43 AM

Abe deserves the $50M. As a DC resident since 1978, I remember the numerous empty buildings to include the old Hecht's, and eyesore that area was for years. There should NEVER have been a baseball stadium, period. What a waste of taxpayer money for a usless game and owners. Give ABE the $50M, and zero for soccer or the Skins.

Posted by: dossier | February 27, 2007 10:57 AM

Studies by the Brookings Institution, Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, and dozens of independent university studies agree: sports and tourism complexes are a bad investment of the public's money. Period. No exceptions.

Posted by: Mike Licht | February 27, 2007 11:16 AM

Mike, those analysis are based on single jurisdictional locales. DC is unique in that most of the money is coming from MD and VA residents who are adding dollars into the DC Coffers which would otherwise not be there.

Posted by: To Mike | February 27, 2007 11:43 AM

Give him the $$$. The sad state of DC schools, hospitals, police force, health department etc. is more a function of INEPT public service and INEPT people in the DC Council and Mayors Office throughout the years. Where else would a crackhead like Marion Barry with multiple arrests still be elected into office? Only DC. This city has the public servers it deserves.

Posted by: 761-091 | February 27, 2007 11:45 AM

The foosball table in my basement is in need of a new field, luxury suites, and a scoreboard. Would the DC Gov't. be willing to pay for these upgrades?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 27, 2007 11:52 AM

In response to the earlier question as to why the baseball stadium will be more than $600M, the mayor and council did not include all the indrect costs into their analysis. When what the city will have to pay for subway and roadway improvements is factored, $600M will be exceeded. I also wonder where they are with the actual land acquisition costs. That one area estimates are artificaily low to sell the deal to the public.

Posted by: RobGreg | February 27, 2007 12:18 PM

Economically, stadiums never pay for themselves through the tax revenues they generate directly or indirectly, and the rents they receive. Understand the building itself only host 40 or 60 so basketball games, another 40 or so hockey games and some concerts or circus, etc. Out of 365 days, the place is dark and un- used at least half the time. Thus creating no revenue. A football stadium built with public funds is worse since they only play 8 to 12 games a year. snyder usese the total value of the skins to support the stadium. Abe should do the same for Verizon. Abe's deal is slick in that all ticket sales in the city would cover his expenses. So that includes National games and all Verizon events. But does it also include Arena stage and Kennedy Center events too? I suspect so.

Posted by: RobGreg | February 27, 2007 12:25 PM

MLB screwed over DC with the stadium deal. That much we all can agree on. Abe Pollin is seen as a hero for building the Phonebooth. DC provides the infrastructure and he builds the building. Sounds pretty much like the plan for the soccer stadium. Who wants to develop in SE? Now it just sounds like Snyder wants to hold the area hostage and Pollin is getting a little greedy.

Posted by: sitruc | February 27, 2007 12:30 PM

To dc native: If you look you will find that the DC school system spends THE MOST money per pupil of ANY jurisdiction in the U.S. That would be THE MOST. So why take this money, to be raised from taxes on tickets, and waste it on the CRIMINALS who run the school system and waste all the money. CLEAN OUT THE PEOPLE STEALING AND WASTING MONEY IN THE SCHOOL SYSTEM!!!

Posted by: Fix it! | February 27, 2007 12:38 PM

To Fix it and others: the causes of all problems in public life are not crooks running DCPS and Bill Clinton.

Posted by: CW | February 27, 2007 1:07 PM

Anonymous: When the foosball table in your basement starts generating tens of millions of dollars per year in taxes like Abe's Verizon Center has, then, yes, we can talk about giving you some free upgrades.

Posted by: Hillman | February 27, 2007 1:25 PM

Soccer stadium is a loser because no one watches soccer except the busboys, construction workers, hotel cleaning staff and lawn maintenance engineers and they dont have the money or culture to improve the area. MLB stadium will revitalize the area for the opposite reasons. DC would get a bargain at twice the cost, if its done right.

Posted by: Stick | February 27, 2007 1:28 PM

RobGreg,

You are wrong. Verizon Center hosts more than 220 events and concerts per year! Your simplified 40 + 60 formula does not work!

And, I am really tired of people referring to Gallery Place as Disneyland. I did not know Disneyland had tens of thousands of people living in the park? Gallery Place is a residential neighbourhood as well as a business center as well as an entertainment center. So, is Times Square also a Disneyland? I don't care what you call it. People like it, and they spend money there. They like the neon also. Oh I forgot that so many ole timers just want concrete and square blocks of pure functionality and no splash! But it is no Disneyland. There is one Disneyland....and it is in Disneyland.

Thanks.

Posted by: Just saying | February 27, 2007 1:35 PM

FWIW, the scoreboard at Verizon Center can use some updating . . . I tried to follow the hockey action on Sunday from Section 113 when the puck was on the other side or some other person blocked my vision AND the picture wasn't good at all . . .

Posted by: tempo341 | February 27, 2007 1:38 PM

If he hadn't paid for it with his own money, I'd be against it. But he took the chance, and put a stadium in the middle of a completely rundown area, and now look at it. He's not asking for a new stadium (as lots of owners are after only 10-15 years), he's not bashing anyone in the press or threatening to leave if he doesn't get the money. I think it would be a shame if he didn't get it, if only for what his stadium has done for the Gallery Place area.

Posted by: TG | February 27, 2007 1:46 PM

Yes Stick, a development built on city owned land in a rough part of town by a developer who is experienced in Urban Renewal that includes a hotel, new retail, new housing and a soccer stadium in which the majority of construction costs are covered by the team owner is a much worse investment than an investment in a baseball stadium where the city foots the entire bill because baseball has so much staying power that its viewership tends older while soccers viewership tends younger to the point that among 18-34s they are equal in terms of people who consider it their primary sport. I won't even touch your remarks about dishwashers and construction workers.

Posted by: bluemeanies | February 27, 2007 1:59 PM

So, those of us attending events at Verizon Center, whether it be Wizards games or concerts, get to pay increased ticket prices and increased taxes on merchandise, while Abe Pollin gets a bunch of new bling for free and the City Council gets nice free seats in their new box at the arena. Sounds fair to me! Why should the public benefit when Mr. Pollin and "public servants" have so much to gain?

Posted by: RNM | February 27, 2007 2:01 PM

RobGreg doesn't know what he's talking about. The Verizon Center hosts the Wizards, Hoyas, Capitals, and Mystics. They sometimes even have mutiple events on the same day! The Verizon Center has been an enormous success, and it has generated tons of money for the city. Think about how Chinatown would look now if Abe Pollin built his new arena outside of DC.

Posted by: UMCPGrad | February 27, 2007 2:20 PM

So from stick's comments, am I safe to assume that he thinks that all/most hispanics are "busboys, construction workers, hotel cleaning staff and lawn maintenance engineers "?

Posted by: UMCPGrad | February 27, 2007 2:23 PM

The increased tax would average an extra $2 per ticket. The tax would be on par with the tax on current baseball games in DC at RFK. The bonds DC would issue for the upgrades would be repayed with this increased tax.

Posted by: Just saying | February 27, 2007 2:31 PM

If DC wants to reward Abe Pollin for helping revitalize Chinatown, they should give him a nice plaque, the keys to the city, and declare it "Abe Pollin Day." That's what normal cities do to local heroes. Giving someone $50M for what amounts to be a luxury box, sounds like fraud.

Posted by: E | February 27, 2007 2:40 PM

Yeah, UMCPGrad- that's what I cot from Stick too as well as the notion that somehow or another baseball fans (by this he probably means white people and maybe black people as well because we all know no self respecting cultureless hispanic busboy would ever be among these highly cultural and moneyed animals because he's not wanted) mere attendance of games in the region have both the money and culture to improve the area, while there are no soccer fans hispanic or otherwise with either culture or money and that therefore a deal that takes the city to the cleaners to get these baseball fans in is better than one that accepts much less city aid and more associated projects that would benefit the city that attracts the uncultured poor soccer fans.

Posted by: bluemeanies | February 27, 2007 2:45 PM

The way the deal was explained to me is that the $50 mil will be financed by bonds issued by DC and paid for by the increased ticket price. So the deal amounts to the city offering Abe its excellent credit rating and lower interest. The downside is that DC increases its debt load and reduces by some amount its borrowing potential.

This does amount to a favor from DC to Abe- who most realize is something of a local hero- but doesn't amount to a $50 mil give-away.

Posted by: Mark | February 27, 2007 2:58 PM

I guess I think that rewarding a good-player be allowing them access to DCs good credit is, in this case, probably the right thing to do.

Posted by: Mark | February 27, 2007 3:06 PM

I agree with Mark. (I've always wanted to say that). Abe has done a lot for the city, but the city has done a lot for him. He revitalized Chinatown, but through the phonebooth we've revitalized, or topped up, his bank account.

The man is not short a dollar. He probably has a better credit rating than DC has. He should pay for this -- in cash or with a loan -- and raise ticket prices to recoup his investment.

And, he should be ashamed of himself for even suggesting that the DC taxpayers should finance the improvements on his big moneymaker. This really lowers his public stature.

Posted by: KK | February 27, 2007 3:07 PM

Wait! I agree with Mark's first posting, but -- as usual -- take exception to his second. We don't owe Abe any favors. He's made tons of money off of us, already.

Posted by: KK | February 27, 2007 3:09 PM

PLEASE MR. FISHER, the baseball giveaway and the soccer stadium ARE NOT THE SAME.
"Prime riverfront property", have you been to poplar point? If it was so prime why didn't some other developer work it to get the land from the Feds? Letting someone develop unused land is a lot different than giving $600 million to MLB. You need to stop the lunacy.

Posted by: Rocko | February 27, 2007 4:33 PM

bluemeanies----

The soccer stadium will be multipurpose and used more than 200 days a year whereas the baseball stadium will be used 81 days a year. The other SSS's in the country have boat shows, concerts, etc that provide a lot more than any baseball stadium. That is why AEG and the other companies build them, its not for the soccer its for the other events Your contention that the baseball stadium is a better investment is laughable.

Posted by: Rocko | February 27, 2007 4:48 PM

To Fix-It:

DC spends more money per pupil than other jurisdictions when compared to them on a STATE-WIDE basis. That's an average of all smaller jurisdictions within a state (including some low-spenders and some high-spenders).

If you compare the District's school spending to local jurisdictions (say at the county- or city-level), you'll find that the District does not spend as much as some other jurisdictions (locally, Montgomery County, Fairfax, and Arlington come to mind...).

While DC may spend more money than it should on some things (and its' school budget includes some pretty high costs for maintaining old facilities), it is frankly inaccurate and more than a little unfair to say that DC spends more than anywhere else.

Posted by: hellothere | February 27, 2007 5:06 PM

Hey stick,

Glad to know that when the soccer stadium completely transforms the area, we won't have to see your racist self anywhere nearby. How do you manage to live in such a multicultural area anyways? Must be nice to be a baseball fan, since there aren't any major contributors to the sport from african americans and latinos...

Posted by: notstick | February 27, 2007 6:00 PM

KK:
You're sure picky about your plutocrat sports-team owners. This isn't nearly the sloppy wet kiss the football stadium is.

Posted by: Mark | February 27, 2007 6:47 PM

Fisher needs to pull his head out. First off, Poplar Point is in no way "prime real estate". And the soccer stadium will be COMPLETELY paid for by the team. The soccer stadium development and the baseball stadium giveaway (and it was a giveaway... he's at least correct about that) are in absolutely no way comparable. In exchange for development by a group headed by minority owners in an area of town that has been completely ignored by the big money in town forever--- we in D.C. will get jobs (from a facility used 222 days a year, a hotel, and other stores/restaurants), tax revenue (from said development), community service for our youth (from the soccer team---which they have already begun in the area with camps, instruction and the like), a healthy activity for our youth (youth soccer fields provided by the team), and people coming to an area of town that is now avoided by people like (especially) Fisher.

Posted by: bigtime | February 28, 2007 3:06 AM

Whomever: "those analysis are based on single jurisdictional locales."

Nope. Most of the stadium projects studied by independent analysts are multi-state or multi-county. There have been plenty of studies and literature reviews (cumulative studies of the studies) but each new project ignores the facts, claims to be unique, and is proved wrong.

"DC is unique in that most of the money is coming from MD and VA residents who are adding dollars into the DC Coffers which would otherwise not be there."

Guess where the scant revenues generated by these unwise DC expenditures will go? Right -- MD,VA and multinational corporations. DC taxes collected will not match the cost of maintaining the new debt, DC's bond rating will be lowered, constructon, traffic and security costs will exceed estimates (they always do) and opportunity costs are incalculable -- the money will not available for other uses.

These are always bad deals, but local officials just do not want to look at the facts.

Posted by: Mike Licht | February 28, 2007 8:54 AM

I guess a lot of folks thinking the Verizon Center doesn't need some upgrading hasn't seen the majority of the newer arenas out there or even the older ones getting million dollar renovations. Ever hear of keeping up with the Jones? You've got to invest in the building in order to keep it successful. If you don't, then you won't have the 220 events per year that the building currently brings in year after year. The city should give Abe Pollin the $50 million as it does only work out to $2 more per ticket through the increase in taxes on the tickets. Just as others had said, baseball and all the other local sports team already have the 10% tax on tickets.

Posted by: Anonoymous | February 28, 2007 10:21 AM

Mark--

You're sure a free-spender of the city's credit standing. You usually seem more civic-minded than to give it away to a multi-billionaire. I can see the case for helping poor people but ... Age Pollin? What's this about?

What football stadium are you talking about? The last one around here was built by Jack Kent Cook out of his own money.

Posted by: KK | February 28, 2007 2:04 PM

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