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New Baseball Stadium: Location and Funding

Opposition for Public Funding of Construction of New Stadium

David Catania
D.C. Council Member (At-Large)
Monday, November 8, 2004; 3:30 PM

On Friday, D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) proposed a plan that would significantly alter a deal to bring Major League Baseball to the nation's capital by changing both the site of the new stadium and the financing of the controversial project.

Cropp's plan is to move the location of the stadium from the banks of the Anacostia River in Southeast to a site near Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Meanwhile Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) warned that Cropp's move threatened to "blow this thing up" and derail his efforts to bring baseball back to Washington.

A council vote is expected Tuesday.

Council member David Catania (At-Large) was online Monday, Nov. 8, at 3:30 p.m. ET to talk about his position against committee approval of funding the construction of a baseball stadium at the public's expense.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


David Catania: I would like to thank The Washington Post to have this opportunity to take questions on this issue. I look forward to answering your questions.


Washington, D.C.: Why are you against bringing baseball back to the district?

David Catania: I'm not against bringing baseball back to the District. What I am opposed to is spending in excess of $500 million on baseball when we have other pressing needs. In fact, when you include the interest payment on this project, the true cost is $1.4 billion. I believe that the entity which stands to benefit, namely Major League Baseball, should bear a greater burden in this endeavor.


Washington D.C. : The Cropp proposal is being touted by Mayor Williams as a deal breaker due to it breaking with the MOU agreed to by MLB and the District.

Doesn't the proposed capping the funds from the District break with the MOU that DC has with MLB as well?

David Catania: Yes, the proposal the Mayor negotiated specifically requires the District to bear all of the costs associated with overruns in constructing the new stadium. At present, our chief financial officer estimates the cost of the project at $486 million. This figure is likely to increase dramatically because of the way in which they valued the land where the stadium is to be built. One of my concerns is the open-ended obligation that the District will bear regarding this project.


Washington, D.C.: David,

Even if we do save money up front, how can Cropp's proposed site even begin to compete with the mayor's in terms of commerce brought into the city?

David Catania: According to the Feb 2003 survey done by the District government, the RFK site was viewed as preferable by business leaders over the M St. site. Additionally, when one looks at the proposed M St. site, the possible outcome of economic developments is minimal. On the eastern side of the proposed site is the Washington Navy Yard development which is already ongoing. The river is due south of the proposed site so there is no area of development in the river; the west side of the site is the SE/SW freeway; which means that the only area of economic development is north of the proposed site. At present there are eight cranes in this community so economic development is already on the way. This is not so for the site in RFK.


Washington, D.C.: Why should DC residents bear the burden of paying for this stadium when residents of MD and VA will make up the majority of the fans?

David Catania: I share this concern. According to testimony before the DC Council, it is projected that 80% of the individuals that will visit the stadium are from Maryland or Virginia. So, it is a case in which District tax dollars are subsidizing the recreation of suburbanites. If residents of Maryland and Virginia would be willing to submit a commuter tax, I would be willing to subsidize their recreation.


Washington, D.C.: Why should the city be funding a stadium that will be owned by billionaires? How does this deal compare to other deals around the country?

David Catania: I agree. The deal that the Mayor has negotiated is by far the most generous that Major League Baseball has received thus far. Typically, the public has paid on two thirds of the cost of building the stadium over the last ten years. Our decision to fund 100% is a dangerous and dramatic departure from other jurisdictions.

I want to speak to the issue of Northern Virginia "stealing the team" away from us. I don't believe that is a likely occurrence. The deal that Northern Virginia had on the table would have required owners to pay one third of the cost of the stadium. Further, market research indicated that the cost of placing the stadium in Loudon County would have meant dramatically less attendance at the stadium. As a result, the value of the team would have been reduced dramatically if sold to northern Virginia.


Washington, D.C.: Mr. Catania, as a Ward 2 resident and voter, I applaud your efforts to ensure that DC taxpayers have a fair chance to evaluate the ramifications of both plans.

What specific amendments to the legislation do you think are the most important? Which ones do you think will pass?

David Catania: At the committee mark up last week I offered 20 amendments to the legislation. Among other things, I offered amendments that would require a living wage for the stadium employees, a cap on financial exposure to the District and define community benefits. In the deal that the Mayor struck with Major League Baseball there are no specific community benefits. Among my other amendments, I tried to memorialize the promises made to the citizens to garner their support for major league baseball.


Washington, D.C.: Council member Cantania, I support Council member Cropp's plan. Don't you think that a new stadium south of RFK would spur development in Reservation 13 along the Anacostia River consistent with the approved Anacostia River development efforts?

David Catania: I do believe that placing the stadium at RFK would lead to economic development on Reservation 13. Reservation 13 has remained untouched since the closure of D.C. General. Rather than borrowing in excess of $80 million to purchase land around the M St. site, we could invest that money on capital improvements on Res. 13. The absence of capital improvements around Reservation 13 is what is limiting its economic potential.


Washington, D.C.: Didn't the district subsidize the construction of the MCI arena? This seems commonplace in the US. Why the fuss?

David Catania: With respect to MCI, the District contributed resources towards Metro improvements and infrastructure improvements. The MCI Arena itself was privately funded. I would support a similar arrangement with Major League Baseball. It's also important to note that the Arena tax associated with MCI is one fifth as much as the legislation before the Council. Stated differently, the maximum amount paid under the Arena fee was $11,000 per business. Under the legislation before the Council tomorrow, the maximum fee is $48,000 for the baseball stadium. These costs will be passed through to consumers in D.C. in the form of higher prices. Companies that cannot pass these costs along will have to bear them themselves.


Washington, D.C.: Don't you think local businesses, despite their concerns, would rather have the Mayor's plan than NOTHING?

David Catania: It depends on what you mean by local business. The mayor's proposal assumes that 75% of the construction contracts and 65% of the income earned on this new stadium will go to firms outside of the District of Columbia. However, it will be D.C. businesses only that will pay a majority of the cost for this new stadium.


Washington, D.C.: What kind of stadium financing plan would you support, if any?

David Catania: I would support a partnership with Major League Baseball, where the District and MLB share in the costs and the benefits of a new stadium. As it stands now, D.C. will shoulder all of the costs and MLB will get all of the benefits of this new stadium. The District government will be financially on the hook for the entire amount of the bonds. At the end of the day, I'm unwilling to spend $500 million+ for a handful of part-time, low-paying seasonal jobs. In essence, the District government is subsidizing a for-profit enterprise and we are getting very little in return. Two weeks ago, the District lost its ninth largest private employer to Virginia because the state of Virginia used tax incentives to lure the company from the District. As a result, the District will lose well over 1,000 jobs with an average salary of $70,000 per job. The District should be using its limited dollars to retain and attract businesses that bring good jobs and good wages. We should not be subsidizing and industry that does the opposite.


David Catania: Thank you for your questions.


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