“A lonely beer tent”

I don’t think anyone buys the “if you build it they will come” business anymore, but just in case there were any ballparks=development deadenders out there:

Baseball stadium backers promised a lively entertainment district when the D.C. government poured nearly $700 million into building Nationals Park: a hub of bustling shops, restaurants, hotels, condos and office towers to draw patrons year-round.

But as the Nationals take the field for their second season at the ballpark, there won’t be much entertainment outside. In a few weeks, a developer expects to set up a lonely beer tent on an empty lot across the street.

Fans approaching the ballpark along Half Street will pass an empty office building and a 35-foot-deep hole in the ground owned by Monument Realty, which has put plans on hold for shops, residences and a hotel. One block north, another office building, built by Nationals owner Theodore N. Lerner, sits vacant in search of a tenant.

This is obviously less a story about the folly of ballpark developments than it is about the economy as a whole, but it is worth noting that the D.C. area’s economy has fared far better in this recession than has that of the rest of the country, so this could have been far worse.

From the looks of things, there will be no ballpark village in St. Louis anytime soon. The elaborate development plans of Lew Wolff have turned to ashes. Miami is going to build a park, but given that the bed-tax-based financing plan was obsolete the day it was approved, there’s no telling what the thing is ultimately going to look like and how much it will really cost. Despite all of this, someone somewhere soon is going to propose that the taxpayers pay for a new soccer stadium. Or a minor league park. Or a race track. Or something else that promises development and profits.

And the craziest part of it all? People will believe it.

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  1. Pete Toms said...

    You can add Glorypark (Hicks) to that list.

    I think plenty of people do oppose public investment in stadiums for pro sports.  This is evident in the number of years (decades) that it frequently takes for these projects to launch.  Minnesota, San Diego, Miami….the public contributions to these ballparks were debated and fought over for many, many years.  Referendums in San Fran, San Jose, Cincinnati & Phoenix (& surrounding counties in at least the last two)soundly defeated proposals to invest public money in ballparks for the pro teams.

    Despite the opposition, the stadiums get built with large public contributions, because the groups in favor have more political influence than their opponents.  The local business community, developers, construction unions, newspaper publishers (not necessarily newspaper columnists).  Also, the imagined threat of the local team moving scares the local pols, sends the wrong message about the community.

    I mistakenly believed that the tide had turned and Miami would be the first city to say no, but….and there seems plenty of competition between Oakland and San Jose to give Woolf a sweet deal….

  2. J. McCann said...

    Have you been to the Nationals park?  A colorful neighborhood to say the least.  (There are a couple of nice federal buildings nearby)

    Next time I am going to a day game.

  3. Kelly said...

    I live in Minnesota and Target Field (built next to some sort of gigantic garbage disposal) was a crazy exercise in politicking by Gov. Pawlenty who abides by the “it’s a fee not a tax” rule.  They wiggled around votes and referendums through archaic unused rules.  They knew it was the only way to get it done.  The U of M also just built a brand new football stadium (8 games a year…maybe) so of course, the Vikings are fighting to get rid of the only home field advantage they need to play 10 games a year on. I have friends who have not purchased a single item in Hennepin County since the votes passed. 

    I like the new stadium but I hate how it got there.

  4. Scott said...

    The real problem is that once cities (grudgingly) approve the stadium plans, there is little constructive communication between owners and the city decision makers.

    The problem is not the ballparks or the public contributions. When you have a place that draws visitors, everyone really does benefit. The problem is that with cities and teams no longer working together, the big picture planning has not been so clever.

    My case in point is the stadium in Baltimore. They worked with the city to get available land where there was already some development (a few blocks from HarborPlace)and the city worked to start their new light rail system as the ball park was opening. The result was that you had a park that was easy to get in and out of, even on the most crowded night, and people came early many times and spent time and money at local business like bars, shops and restaurants.

    There is no doubt (unless you are someone who wants to fudge the figures to prove your skewed point of view) that Camden Yards has been a benefit to the city of Baltimore as well as to the Orioles. There are other cities that have had varying degrees of cooperation and success since then, but the latest parks like Washington and the soon to come Miami park have been planned and built haphazardly (there is still very little useable parking in Washington and in that neighborhood no one wants to walk far to the park) and have been failures.

    Yes, sometimes politicians shade the numbers to get a park built or they promise development that never materializes, but if cities and teams work together, Baltimore proves that the concept can work. It’s not the idea that is flawed, it has been the execution.

  5. Mark R said...

    David Samson says that the developments are going to be a great boon for the area!! He said so just yesterday on the TBS game of the week, so stop being such a wet blanket! Geez!!

  6. BillyBeaneismyHero said...

    J. McCann –

    I hope you’re planning on going to today’s opening day game at Nationals Park.  Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until next year’s opening day to see a day game there.  I should’ve played hooky from work today, but alas, I’m sitting in my office.

    Anyway, the area around Nationals Park will take at least ten years to develop.  That’s been the plan all along.  It will get done eventually, but it may take closer to fifteen years, rather than ten.  The city leadership is committed to turning the Anacostia waterfront from a place where people think twice about parking their cars, to a place people are willing to go.  It’s definetly getting better, but it still has a way to go before becoming respectable.

  7. Aaron Moreno said...

    The real problem is that it’s too easy to spend someone else’s money to build a monument to yourself.

  8. kendynamo said...

    scott – i dont think baltimore has benefited that much from camden yards.  i think camden yards and the orioles benefited greatly from being in the middle of the redeveloped inner harbour, but all that was going on long before the put the stadium there, and if they stadium never got built its pretty much indisputable that the land could have gone to better use.  i think it’s closer to a wash in baltimore than other other cities, but thats a lot of taxable prime real estate that baltimore is giving up.  plus have you ever met anyone from baltimore that has used the light rail? 

    washington’s stadium sucks way more because the mistaken notion that the stadium will be a lure and anchor into a neighborhood that was being redeveloped was being used.  stadiums are by the nature ineffcicent uses of space, and thus will not lead an area’s redevelopment, no matter how closely the parties involved work together.  if the navy yeard area tunrs around, it will be because of its proximatey to the highways, metro and the capitol building, not because 81 baseball games a year get played there.

    however, all that said, as a selfish baseball fan, im glad tax money is being wasted on something i enjoy rather than just about anything else i can imagine the government wasting money on.  sorry non baseball fans and thanks subsidizing one of my hobbies.

  9. Joao said...

    No, no, no.  You are using bad evidence to support your argument, Craig.  Listen, I don’t care one way or another.  I live just outside the District (well, not now anyway, I currently live in Brazil), so it wasn’t my taxpayer money going to build a stadium and I don’t have the passion you do for opposing public funding.  BUT.  The claims people were making about development of the area around the Nats ballpark involved a decade-long span, not a year-later type deal.  They are building a new neighborhood from scratch.  Its simply too soon to say whether the park will succeed in doing that.  Go to the website, Ballpark and Beyond (http://www.jdland.com/dc/), and go to the map on the first page and put your cursor over the checkmarks on the map.  Those represent completed developments around the area.  Check the dates on their completion.  Also, poke around the site and look at the “before and after” pictures to see what the area was like before the park.  There are a number of projects that were frozen when Lehman Bros went belly up.  Listen, I’m not saying that if the DC had decided to spend $600 million on a combination museum/harbor or something else there that you wouldn’t have had the same impact in terms of developers buying up all those unused light industrial sites that were there before and either building/planning new mixed use developments, but I don’t think you can say, just one year after the park opened, that the claims were baseless. 

    People in DC compare the Nats park to the area around Verizon Center, but people forget that it took a good 6-7 years after the Verizon Center opened before the area became the destination it is now.

  10. Wooden U. Lykteneau said...

    BillyBeane – There are two more midweek day games, 5/5 and 8/6, both at 12:35.

    J. McCann – What BillyBeane said goes for pickup trucks, too, but I’d recommend taking down the “banner”

  11. Redsauce said...

    DC got screwed by the Nationals park deal, and with the rent thereafter.  It’s a construction zone around the park, and it’s ugly as hell.  Can’t wait to see the matching statues at my game of the year on Thursday night!

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