The potholes will lead to the sinkhole

Major League Baseball’s return to D.C. in 2005 made me happy. I saw the Phillies live seven times at RFK Stadium this year and couldn’t have been happier. (I could’ve been if we’d won one of the two we lost when I saw them, because then we could’ve played the Astros for the Wild Card, but such is life for a Phillies phan.) Area residents rallied behind the Nationals, showing an exuberance for the team many suspected would develop more slowly over the next few seasons. Major League Baseball made the correct decision, but it was the inevitable decision. D.C. could not be logically excluded over Las Vegas or Portland, and everyone but the D.C. City Council knew it. They were the group that Major League Baseball held hostage negotiated with, though, which is why the District now faces this mess:

The District government filed court papers yesterday to seize $84 million worth of property from 16 owners in Southeast, giving them 90 days to leave and make way for a baseball stadium.

By invoking eminent domain, city officials said last week, they hope to keep construction of the Washington Nationals’ ballpark on schedule to open in March 2008. The city exercised its “quick take” authority, in which it takes immediate control of the titles to the properties.

Under law, the property owners and their tenants must vacate the land within three months unless a judge declares the seizure unconstitutional.

In papers filed in D.C. Superior Court, city attorneys said: “The Properties subject of this action . . . are taken for an authorized municipal use, namely the construction and operation of a publicly owned baseball stadium complex.”

This is crap, of course, because authorized doesn’t mean legitimate, but when was the last time that stopped a government from invoking eminent domain? I hope the property owners have good negotiators to achieve a reasonable price. And attorneys when this ends up in court because the city won’t pay a reasonable price. That’s just me thinking government should serve the public. I could be wrong.

I’m not, naturally, so I’ll move on to this:

Some activists have argued that the stadium is a private project for Major League Baseball, but District leaders say the $535 million project will create significant tax revenue [sic]. Developers have snatched up land just outside the stadium plot in anticipation of a waterfront revival, and the city is planning to create a “ballpark district” featuring restaurants and retail.

Their goal as a Major League Baseball franchise is to win baseball games, but that’s only one goal. The Nationals are a business. Their most important goal is to make a profit. (The owners of the Phillies ran the team for years to not lose money. Big difference. But I digress.)

One way they do earn a profit is by enticing fans to pay money to come to the ballpark. As a business the team controls its expenses for wages, overhead, maintenance, and whatever other expenses a baseball team encounters. How is acquiring use of a ballpark not inherent in their business? What makes the local government better at managing the ballpark than the team that plays there (or a separate private entity)?

It’s inappropriate for the city government to build a stadium solely to generate tax receipts. That isn’t the government’s purpose. It’s not why citizens entrust the government to issue debt, which is what D.C. will do to finance the stadium. Government’s purpose in this case is to provide functioning infrastructure, law enforcement, and tax policies. The team should take care of the rest. Until the city gets the revenue from the stadium, it shouldn’t pay the costs.

This should be obvious to the city, but its eyes are too glued to the golden calf of tax receipts. But how golden is it? Tax receipts generated by the Nationals arrival in D.C. fell short of expectations this year.

The District government appears likely to fall short of its goal of earning $10.5 million in tax revenue [sic] from sales at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium for Washington Nationals games, even as the team is on pace to earn larger profits than estimated just four months ago.

The city’s potential tax shortfall from revenue generated by sales of tickets, parking, concessions and merchandise could be more than $500,000, according to financial officials, who expect to have final numbers at the end of the month.

Meanwhile, the Nationals, still owned by Major League Baseball, exceeded expectations by selling 2.7 million tickets in their inaugural season and will earn a $25 million profit, about $5 million more than the team projected at midseason, team officials said.

Why should anyone who pays taxes to the D.C. government believe the District’s projected tax receipts for the new ballpark district?