Analysts Tell Hill East Any New Stadium Would Come at Expense of City Needs

ANC6B's Hill East Task Force chaired for last night's meeting by Commissioner Brian Flahaven, heard from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute

ANC6B’s Hill East Task Force chaired for last night’s meeting by Commissioner Brian Flahaven, heard from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DFPI)

Ed Lazere, Executive Director and Wes Rivers, Policy Analyst, DFPI

Ed Lazere, Executive Director and Wes Rivers, Policy Analyst, DFPI

Analysts Tell Hill East Any New Stadium Would Come at Expense of City Needs

NPS’ Peter May Cites Legal/Financial Hurdles

by Larry Janezich

Representatives of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DFPI) told ANC6B’s Hill East Task Force a new stadium at RFK would come at the expense of the city’s schools, transportation, affordable housing and health care.   The group is a private advocacy organization that conducts research and public education on budget and tax issues in the District of Columbia, with a particular emphasis on issues that affect low and moderate income residents.  Executive Director Ed Lazere and Policy Analyst Wes Rivers responded to an invitation to address Hill East residents.

Rivers told the Task Force that the oft-touted associated economic benefits supposedly accruing from building a stadium in the city are not borne out by “study after study” which shows that there is “zero impact on jobs and income for the cities that invest in stadiums.”

Lazere stressed the opportunity costs which come with any city subsidization of a new stadium, saying, “If the goal is economic development, don’t spend money on a stadium.  Every dollar put into a stadium is a dollar that could go somewhere else. “

So, why do cities build stadiums?

Rivers said that stadiums are built because people buy into the argument that stadiums create economic development, because politicians like to “snag” sports teams and have big buildings to point to as a tangible accomplishment, and because team owners are adept at playing off one locale against another (if not for the actual siting, then for cutting a deal most favorable to the owner).

During Q&A, former ANC Commissioner Francis Campbell wondered whether a renewed lease could somehow be used to leverage development of Reservation 13 (here after referred to as Hill East Waterfront).  Lazere replied that big stadium deals are with big corporations in the business of making money, and it is hard to negotiate much.  Lazere then turned to NPS official Peter May who was in the audience and asked if he would like to comment.

May, who said that he was there to hear the presentation rather than answer questions, none the less explained the NPS lease of the RFK site, saying that Congress directed the Secretary of the Interior to enter into a 30 50 year lease with DC for the site in 1988.  May, as Associate Regional Director for Lands, Planning and Design for the National Capital Region, is responsible for administering the lease.  The lease allows use of the land for a stadium, parking, recreation, and related uses.  He said any change in the use of the land would require an Environmental Impact Statement.  “The real rub,” he said, “is that the lease only runs until 2038 – not long enough to allow financing, either by the city or a private entity.**  Proceeding with a plan for a new stadium is not practical without renewal of the lease…that would require an act of Congress.”

May noted that when the Mayor requested the Secretary of the Interior to support legislation extending the lease, his boss – Robert A. Vogel, regional director of the Park Service – told Bowser on behalf of the Secretary that “NPS will not take a position in support of such an extension at this time.”  It has been widely reported that the Park Service – which also oversees treaty relationships with the nation’s Native American tribes – will not consider a lease renewal while the Washington football team bears its current name.

That knowledge prompted ANC6B Commissioner Brian Flahaven to express his concern that team owner Dan Snyder would concede to a name change which would clear the way for the lease being renewed.  (The Washington Post has reported that renewing the lease is unlikely to be an administration priority in the remaining months of the Obama administration.)

The DFPI team told the Hill East residents that if a stadium becomes inevitable, the community should organize to insist on a community benefits package (similar to what developers provide to communities in exchange for zoning changes) and this involvement should begin and be maintained throughout the process before a deal is on the table when it’s harder to bring up opportunity costs.  The city has not been aggressive in wringing concessions from team owners, leaving it to residents to bring community pressure for benefits.  Rivers said that the past two stadium deals have not resulted in any economic benefit package for the community.

Snyder is anxious to move out of the problematic FedEx Field when his lease expires in 2026, and both Maryland and Virginia are trying to woo Snyder for siting the team in those states.

**Ed. Note.  Presumably, financiers would want to see guaranteed occupancy in a new stadium for the length of time sufficient to repay the loan.  As was apparent in the recent case of the proposed development of the Boys and Girls Club in Hill East, the 25 year lease the Department of General Services offered to developers effectively precluded private financing and pre-determined that the project would have to depend on LIHTC – Low Income Housing Tax Credit financing.


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7 responses to “Analysts Tell Hill East Any New Stadium Would Come at Expense of City Needs

  1. Corey H.

    I think the most interesting thing here is that Peter May showed up to the meeting. For better or worse, he has a lot of power in shaping development in the district through his many roles. I sincerely hope he wields his influence to stop the development of a stadium in his neighborhood.

    As for DFCPI, I’m disappointed their stance is “if the lease is renewed, just ask for a payoff.” No, if the lease is renewed DC taxpayers need to do everything we can to convince the council to say no. And if the council gets railroaded into it, we need to get the spending on a ballot initiative. I have no idea if the DC Home Rule Act would allow for this kind of ballot measure, but every step needs to be taken to stop a stadium. Jurisdictions left and right are voting against spending our tax dollars on stadiums and athletic events. Let us join that growing list of those who voted no (Stockholm, Krakow, Munich) or those whose planned referendums stopped the planning process (Boston, soon St. Louis). And if that doesn’t work, then ask for the payoff.

  2. JIm Myers

    Thanks for covering this. How does a 30-year-lease entered into in 1988 expire in 2038″ Was or is there a 20-year extension? Football for me is an increasingly guilty pleasure, and it’s hard, given all the negatives of the team name, ownership and quality of play, to say I “enjoy” anything about this enterprise. But — forgive the use of the word — there are powerful tribal impulses involved here that seem to trump reason and sense — Oh, Lord, another word ruined.. It’s makes me wonder if it’s worthwhile getting involved at all. I’m 74. Time is valuable, and if I am to take up a futile cause, maybe gun violence is more my number.
    I’ve loved football since I was a kid, but taking a kid to a game at Fed Ex a couple of years back really left me wondering if I had done the right thing morally. The kid, now adult, is still loyal; I’m wavering on all fronts about football. The latter detail has caused me to wonder if there will be a cultural shift on the subject, prompted by better understanding of brain injuries and other horrors. But who knows? I’d like to know more about the case in LA, which may have discovered it can live without the NFL. What is the reality there — does the NFL need LA more than LA needs the NFL?. Who’s giving what in the negotiations for getting a team in LA? It often seems it’s the second-tier cities that keep the NFL stadium hustle alinve in their push to be big league.

    Jim Myers.

  3. muskellunge

    “So, why do cities build stadiums? Rivers said that stadiums are built because people buy into the argument that stadiums create economic development…”

    Nope. That is how economists and wonky types see it, but it misses the point entirely.

    Cities have built stadiums (originally a Greek words, adopting into Latin, BTW) for thousands of years, and the reasons why they have been built have not changed. It is a place to watch sports; and by gathering people, it builds community, and channels youthful energy. Why do people watch sports? I don’t know, but it sure is fun. The reasons stadiums are built are the same as why temples or churches are built.

    Like churches, stadiums serve NO economic purpose. They are a money sink, not source. What is being bought is intangible, but nevertheless serves a fundamental human need. Drive to any small town, no matter how poor, and you will see a stadium. The ancient history and intrinsic spiritual human needs suggests that stadiums will always get built.

    Pay attention: the stadium supporters are all saying this. The economic argument — that stadiums make money — is superfluous.

    • John

      So, logically following, if a new stadium were to be built, it should be built to the local community’s specifications and not to that of the NFL’s. More to the point, RFK already serves the purpose of a large, convenient gathering place for the Washington community. As does Nat’s Park, and as does the Verizon Center. Why is a new stadium needed?

    • Pierz

      Councilmember Jack Evans, a powerful member who chairs the Committee on Finance and Revenue, said — and I quote — “Stadiums bring economic development.” Said on a recent WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi show.

      • muskellunge

        Like many good politicians, Mr Evans is a master at throwing out bones to those that like to gnaw. Gnaw away.

  4. Scott Davis

    From the National Park Service…”Proceeding with a plan for a new stadium is not practical without renewal of the lease…that would require an act of Congress.”

    One could argue that Events DC’s decision to prematurely study and plan for stadium redevelopment options is a mismanagement of the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds as well as thousands of hours of residents’ time engaging in a process/conversation that is not ripe to be had. A more rational and prudent decision by this arm of the District Government would have been to have this simple conversion with the National Park Service/Dept. of Interior prior to going down this road. Perhaps the District’s Office of the Inspector General is interested in this waste of time and money… certainly the Office of the Mayor should be.