06 February 2007

On Pyhrric Victories

Hardcore DC United fans have been keeping an eye on the stadium situation Salt Lake. The results are... upsetting, at best. The State Legislature is about to pass legislation mandating a stadium in Salt Lake County (HT: Are You Loyal?). While feathers that are ruffled now will soon be soothed over, and this will all seem like an odd dream in about three years, it certainly doesn't strike me as a major PR coup for MLS, RSL, and could potentially serve as a straw-man argument for stadium opponents in DC.

Stadium dynamics now seem to boil down into one of two scenarios in modern America. Either the owner pays for the almost the entire thing himself (Jack Kent Cooke and Abe Polin in the DC Metro, Steinbrenner in New York, Jones in Dallas) or the teams use political pressure to leverage a huge subsidy leaving the city to foot most of the bill (Major League Baseball in DC, Benett in Seattle, and now Checketts in Salt Lake).

Amid these proposals are a set of "third-way" ideas being circulated, which combine stadiums, housing, and commercial development ideas. Poplar Point is one such proposal. Another similar (though with a few key differences) idea is being floated for the San Diego Chargers. These deals are not the all-or-nothing subsidies being demanded by other teams, but an attempt to find a reasonable, middle-ground where the stadium is a partial catalyst for a plan to offer the locality a real return on investment and bring about some positive benefits to the citizens already living in the area. The problem is that this idea, because it has a subsidy component, can all too easily be demagogued as "tax giveaways to the rich." I think we've all started to see that already. The idea that there could even be a situation where both the city and the stadium owners profit is completely foreign to most opponents of the stadium deals.

What's interesting is that you can expect to see a strange coalition of anti-Poplar Point people: Anti-tax-free trading libertarians, neighborhood NIMBYs, small government conservatives, and socialist/progressives concerned about income distribution. Expect that if the union of the city and DC owner Victor McFarlane continues you'll hear an argument along the lines of "When the State and Big Business agree, you know the taxpayer is getting the shaft." To be honest, being somewhat skeptical of the power of both the Free Market and the Government, I can sympathize with that argument. But I honestly believe that the plan, when advanced, will present a decent argument for a middle ground. The problem is that deals like the one going down in Sandy, Utah will make it easier for anti-stadium forces to construct horror stories. And while I am trying to be as intellectually honest as I can in monitoring the stadium debate, I don't know that the opposition will do the same.

I want a stadium. But I don't want it the way it happened in Utah. To be honest, while it would upset me if we got the stadium in that fashion, I would probably still go to games. But I would feel somewhat saddened by an opportunity lost.

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At 06 February, 2007 09:44, Anonymous BigKris said...


You wrote, "The problem is that this idea [the "third way"], because it has a subsidy component, can all too easily be demagogued as "tax giveaways to the rich."

Yes, but if we're going to be intellectually honest, we have to admit as well that this "Third way", because it has a subsidy component, can in fact be abused by self-interested businessmen and their complicit government cronies. If people come to accept the "third way" argument, it becomes a cover story for fat subsidies overlayed with a thin veneer of private investment.

The point being, this is still the same old debate over public assistance for private investment, just in a more complex package.

At 06 February, 2007 10:21, Blogger D said...

BigKris: Yes, it can be abused. You are totally correct. To be intellectually honest about this, we'll have to look at the plan and say "is this a fair deal to the city?" And if this deal purports to be a "third-way" deal but is, in essence, nothing but a giveaway, well... I'd have to think about it. I'd probably speak out against it. But I hope it is a true synthesis of purposes between DCU and the city.

So yeah, got to be intellectually honest all the way around on this one, and if I let something slide, I need intellectually honest commenters to call me on it.

At 06 February, 2007 15:40, Anonymous BDR said...

This past Friday on the DC Politics hour on Kojo's show on WAMU, Kojo, Jonetta Rose Barros and a DC councilman (I forget which - sorry) were discussing Abe Pollin asking the District for $50M to fix up the Verizon Center.

After Jonetta made noise about why should taxpayers pay for a millionaire's profit-maker yaddayadda, and the councilman defended Pollin (he could have moved his teams to Baltimore yaddayadda), someone made an aside about the new soccer stadium.

All three laughed in a distinct, yeah, sure there's going to be a soccer stadium, sarcastic manner.

All kinds of dishonesty on all sides will have to be parsed and digested before this thing is built. This is something demagogues can demagogue to death, especially once the cost overruns to the new baseball stadium become public knowledge (and scandal).

If it's ever built. I still think it 50-50 at best.

At 06 February, 2007 17:17, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The councilman was Jack Evans.


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