In Pr. George's, a Stadium Plan Merits a Yellow Card

From left, State Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's), Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson, Del. Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George's), County Council Chairman Marilynn M. Bland and D.C. United co-owner Victor MacFarlane display D.C. United jerseys last week.
From left, State Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's), Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson, Del. Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George's), County Council Chairman Marilynn M. Bland and D.C. United co-owner Victor MacFarlane display D.C. United jerseys last week. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Colin Helmer
Sunday, February 22, 2009

Here we go again. Another professional sports team is looking for a new home and wants public financing to build it ["P.G. United? Co-Owner May Move D.C. Soccer Team to Prince George's," Metro, Feb. 13]. I can't help but think that the officials backing D.C. United's proposal stadium are ignoring lessons we should have learned from the last state-funded stadium in Prince George's County: FedEx Field.

Sports marketers promise all sorts of economic benefits, but look at the neighborhoods around the NFL stadium and you'll see how hollow those promises are. FedEx Field is a self-contained facility that fans visit and leave; they contribute little to the surrounding area, except for the noise and pollution from their cars. The proposed soccer stadium may be built near a Metro station, but is there any reason to believe that the prospect of a long subway ride will make fans more willing to linger and spend money? Aren't they more likely to satisfy their hunger and thirst inside the stadium and head straight home after a game?

Advocates of the new project claim it will pay for itself, although D.C. United co-owner Victor MacFarlane has acknowledged that Maryland will be "on the hook" if the stadium does not meet revenue projections [Metro, Feb. 17]. Even if the team's assumptions prove true, loans issued for the new facility would affect the state's credit rating and potentially increase its cost of borrowing. You can't have it all, and if the state extends its credit to a soccer stadium, it will have less to spend in other areas.

But there's no need to argue about whether investing public resources in a new soccer stadium makes sense. There is a simple way to test the team owners' assumptions and claims of economic benefit.

Before Maryland officials consider whether to support this project, they should commission an impartial third party to analyze the economic costs and benefits of the public investment in FedEx Field. The University of Maryland would be one possible candidate for the job. Such a study could determine whether the state's investment in the football stadium paid off for the general public and offer an indication of whether the proposed new soccer stadium could fulfill the promises being made for it.

And if the state ultimately decides to support the venture, studying the FedEx Field experience would give both Maryland and Prince George's officials information that would help them negotiate the best terms for the soccer stadium.

Before we build another state-supported stadium, let's take the time to be sure this is the kind of history we really want to repeat.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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