Thursday, May 22, 2008; 12:00 PM
Potomac Confidential fills the midday lull with discussion by Metro columnist Marc Fisher who looks at the latest news with a rigorous slicing and dicing of the issues that define who we are and where we live.
Today's Column: Nats Risk Priceless Goodwill For $100,000 a Day in Damages ( Post, May 22)
Fisher was online Thursday, May 22, at Noon ET to look at the debate in Montgomery County over whether to allow dogs on school grounds, the impact of $4 gas on holiday weekend plans and the latest dispute between the Washington Nationals and the D.C. government.
Check out Marc's blog,
In his weekly show, Fisher veers wildly from serious probing to silly prattle, and is open to topics local, national, personal and more.
Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks. Are we enjoying that $4 gas? I'd be curious to hear if you've actually cancelled travel plans because of the price of gas, or if you're bulling ahead and would do so even if gas were $5, $6 or $10 a gallon.
The debate over whether parents ought to bring the dog along when dropping kids off or picking them up at school has been raging in my email queue ever since Sunday's column on the Bethesda woman who is leading a campaign to get Montgomery County to crack down on those who take their dogs with them onto school grounds. Is there a fair way out of that standoff between dog lovers and those who fear or just don't care for dogs?
Today's column about the Washington Nationals' contention that their new stadium really wasn't ready in time for Opening Night has the comment boards blazing--those who opposed the baseball deal from the start seem to see this as another reason to be against the existence of the franchise, while others are just angry that the team would be this petty. What meaning do you see in this spat between the Nats and the District?
So, off we go, into the wilds of your comments and questions, but first, a pause for the Yay and Nay of the Day:
Yay to the Rockville residents who are pushing MoCo Executive Ike Leggett to name the new library Rockville Memorial Library in honor of the county's Iraq and Afghanistan war dead, rather than in honor of Leggett's predecessor, Doug Duncan. This issue has been kicking around for a year, but it's coming to a head soon, and the activists who call for a permanent reminder of those who died fighting in an unpopular and seemingly endless war have certainly gained the moral high ground.
Nay to Gov. Martin O'Malley for taking the easy, weaselly way out on the bill that would have tightened regulation of so-called alcopops, the sweet malt beverages that are aimed at young drinkers. Rather than vetoing the bill that cynically seeks to keep those drinks in the same category as beer, O'Malley is letting the bill become law without his signature. So he's saying he's pretty much against the bill, but his inaction speaks in its favor. Not impressive.
Your turn starts right now....
Falls Church, Va.: It's obvious what the city must do -- close the stadium to complete the construction. We wouldn't want the fans to be at risk, now, would we? I wonder which the Nationals would rather have -- the revenue from game days, or $100,000 while construction is "completed"?
washingtonpost.com: Nats Risk Priceless Goodwill For $100,000 a Day in Damages ( Post, May 22)
Marc Fisher: You mean, call their bluff? I like that spirit. Of course, the Nationals management would do no such thing, and while there are, as with any major new project, thousands of items on the post-construction punchlist, the fact is that the place is open, attractive, and working nicely.
Odenton, Md.: Marc, your column about the Nats dispute creates as many questions as it answers. What does the $100k/day request really mean? Is this an actual lawsuit? Where do things stand today, precisely, between the Nats and the city?
Marc Fisher: No, there's no lawsuit, just a series of snippy letters among the various lawyers and representatives of the city and the team.
The two sides are still talking and hope to settle this, but they're still pretty far apart.
The $100,000 a day is a penalty that's set in the contract as a way to assure that the stadium got done in time. It's counterbalanced by incentive bonuses that the construction company was eligible for if it got the work done by the deadline. So the Nats could argue that the city isn't out any extra money if it gives the construction incentive dollars to the team rather than the construction company. But of course, there's nothing that says the Nats would have to accept that money, and if they were thinking about the team's future and reputation and image, they might seek to get the money and then not accept it, or give it to their foundation for inner-city kids or something like that.
Rockville, Md.: Marc,
Went to the stadium for the first time this week and it was a great experience except for one thing: a group of middle-aged women behind us who came to the game to drink and socialize. Any chance we can get a "no-talking about life section" at the stadium? I would pay extra.
Marc Fisher: Tough customer. And why is talking about life at the ballpark a bad thing? Seems the perfect place for it. Though I can understand your frustration if they weren't into the game. And I can understand their lack of involvement in the game if it was, for example, the 11-0 blowout or the 12-2 loss or, well, you get the picture.
Bowie, Md.: So, the Lerners, who have a reputation for quality and meticulousness and solid business sense, have a beef with the District government, which has a reputation ... well, we'll leave it at that. Gee, public goodwill aside, it's awfully hard not to assume the District done wrong again. Would the Lerners really sacrifice goodwill for the letter of the contract unless they thought it was necessary? And by the way they could easily have made this public but chose not to.
Marc Fisher: Right, but here's a question: Would they have embarked down this road if they knew the dispute would become public? Some of those who are involved in the case told me that the owners were just doing what they would ordinarily do on a housing or retail construction project, and that they figured this would all remain behind the scenes. But working on a public project requires paying attention to how things play with the taxpayers, and there apparently was not attention paid to that in this instance.
13th St. S.E., Washington, D.C.: Do the Lerners believe that we owe them something for bringing baseball back to D.C.?
At every turn they seem to think we should bow and give them their every wish despite the predicted $45 million operating profit and ohhh a free stadium. This latest dispute over the $100k a day penalties is ridiculous.
Thanks for doing the chats.
Marc Fisher: Thanks for joining in...
But I don't think it's entirely fair to describe the team owners as being driven exclusively by the bottom line. Of course they want this to be a big winner for them, financially as well as in all the feel-good ways that drive sports franchise owners. But the Lerners have committed to not taking money out of the operation for 10 years, and they've built up a farm system and invested in the team's future in various impressive ways. And they've added their own money into the stadium, which is owned by the city.
So while we can gripe about various charges that seem excessive, the bottom line is that it's in the owners' interests to build up the fan base and create a winning team.
Sec 114 Row E: Goodwill? From the D.C. Council?
I'm with the Lerners on this one, it's not worth pursuing goodwill from that group.
The DCC still thinks that the stadium was a gift -- to the Nats, it's more of a mortgage or lease than an outright gift. The Lerners have a 30-year lease and will make rent. Also note that the stadium generates direct taxes on every dime spent at the stadium and indirectly, is driving up property taxes around the stadium.
Hasn't the WaPo already reported that the payments coming in from the Nats ballpark are ahead of expectations?
Marc Fisher: Yes, indeed, the revenues are so strong that it looks like the District will be able to pay off the bonds on the stadium years ahead of schedule, perhaps many years, just as has happened with the MCI Center downtown. So the economic theory behind the stadium plan is being very much justified by the facts.
And there's no question but that the stadium's impact on development in that part of the city is quick and enormous, generating far more tax dollars than could have been imagined without the stadium's existence.
Bowie, Md.: Can DC taxpayers sue the Nationals for failing to finish the construction of any semblance of a baseball team in time for opening day?
Marc Fisher: Zing!
Well, the starting pitching has been a pleasant surprise. Now, about that outfield....
Arlington, Va.: Today's column on the stadium dispute made wonder if you read your own paper. If you remember back to before the franchise was awarded there were hopes/prayers that the eventual owner would fork over some money for more parking. When this was suggested to the Lerners, the reply was a chilly "that wasn't in the contract." I don't remember date and reporter, but The Post then had an article to the effect that this should have been no surprise to anyone familiar with the Lerner business history and their strict adherence to the letter, not the spirit, of their contractual obigations. The article had several past examples when they have gone to court over contractual details that many would consider trivial.
Marc Fisher: Indeed, one of the main reasons I thought this was an important story to report is exactly that background, which the Post reported during the run-up to the choice of ownership groups. And the question now is whether the same kind of business practices and style are appropriate now that the family is into a far more public kind of operation.
Washington, D.C.: Marc: I'm surprised that the contract between the city and the owners didn't specify in more detail what completion of the stadium entailed. That being said, it doesn't sound like the owners were denied anything by having to commute for a couple months from their offices at RFK to Nationals Stadium. I'm inclined to agree with you that this doesn't help their reputation in the city.
Marc Fisher: The contract--actually, there are two contracts in question, which is part of what all the legal wrangling is about--does indeed specify what "substantial completion" means, and yet there's enough wiggle room for each side to have its own interpretation of the term and of what kind of punchlist items are really substantive and which are insignificant.
The many praising comments by Nats executives about the stadium certainly make it hard to believe them when they argue that the place is not finished.
Montgomery Village, Md.: Marc
There seem to be many missing parts to your story today. Did D.C. issue an occupancy permit for the stadium? Are the unfinished pieces significant items or merely "punch list" things? Do they make it impossible or difficult for the Nats officials to use or occupy the space? Who is ultimately liable -- the city or the contractor who didn't complete the work on time or satisfactorily?
A little less sensationalism and more facts please.
Marc Fisher: I'm searching and can't quite find the sensationalism in today's column. Perhaps you can point me toward it. The "facts" that you seek are, as the column notes, the heart of the dispute between the city and the team: They are fighting over exactly the questions you pose--which unfinished items are really significant and which are just punchlist, routine matters? Yes, the District issued all the necessary permits for the stadium and both sides say the building is safe, but the owners are questioning whether the city perhaps had an incentive to approve the building before it was really ready.
Bethesda, Md.: Why does D.C. have the worst sports team owners? When you're a four sport town, and your hockey team has the best owner, that's kinda sad (if you're not in Detroit).
Marc Fisher: Well, no one will argue with you about Snyder, but I think you'd get a pretty good argument against you on most of the others: The Lerners so far show that they intend to build this into a top-tier franchise, even against the stacked deck that Major League Baseball and the Orioles greeted them with.
Abe Pollin is a total class act--sure, the franchise hasn't exactly been overstuffed with success, but he is to many the model team owner. He's certainly a hero to many for having built his arena with his own money. Similarly, Ted Leonsis has done wonders of late in building his fan base and creating excitement in a tough sport.
Prince George's County, Md.: People aren't traveling because of $4 gas for a one-time trip. They aren't traveling because they have been drained dry for the past several months. When I spend an extra $50 a week on gas and food x the past 24 weeks = $1,200, I can't afford to pay for a regular vacation. I can afford to visit the National Zoo because it's free.
Marc Fisher: That certainly sounds right to me, yet as Eric Weiss's story in today's Post reports, if there is to be any decline in Memorial Day Weekend travel this year, it will be slight, perhaps one percent. My sense from watching gas sales numbers is that people will do almost anything necessary to be able to afford gas--if we're cutting back, it's largely in other areas.
Laurel, Md.: I have changed my summer vacation plans. I'm going to drive instead of fly.
No way I'm going to fork over $15 so I can bring my shampoo bottle with me.
Marc Fisher: Lots of comment floating around on the decision by air carriers to start charging for checking even a single bag. Instead of nickle and diming customers, why not just fold the extra charges into the fares? With gas prices soaring, it's hard to imagine anyone being surprised that air fares would spike too.
$4 gas: Mmmm, so much better than the cheap stuff...
Actually, given that air fares are increasing (and nickle-and-diming like mad) we've found that driving is a better way to bring our summer travel in under budget. What used to be a $200 plane ticket is now a $350 ticket. Two of those, plus a rental car on the other end... we're better off spending 8 hours in the car for $150 worth of gas roundtrip. It cuts our time at the destination, but it saves us a lot of money.
Marc Fisher: That's my view, too--driving's advantage over flying seems to grow by the day as flying becomes more onerous and unpredictable.
Anonymous: Marc, DI am of a later generation than you. I am kind of confused with this gas thing. It seems there is no real justification for the increases but greed. I mean the Middle East has been volatile since biblical days. Rebellions and other issues in in Africa and south america are commonplace, but it has never stopped production to where there has been a shortage. So all that to say, where's is our outrage and protest. Is protesting a lost American art?
Marc Fisher: I like the idea, but I don't imagine it would do any good. There've been several attempts in the past few months to rally people to boycott gas on a given day or week, but nothing seems to connect with people, largely because I think most consumers see that this is a set of forces far larger than your local gas station owners (who are really being hurt by the rise in gas prices, as their profit margins get squeezed harder and harder by the oil companies) or even the federal government. The element missing from your list of explanations is the powerful boom in China particularly, where the rapid increase in wealth is creating more and more car drivers and people living a Western-style, high electricity usage life.
RE: Gas and one time trips: I agree with the previous poster about the one time trip theory, but I'm on the opposite side of it.
My wife and I live and work in the city. I walk to work or take public transit and her drive is just a couple miles across the city three or four times a week and we really limit our driving in other situations.
That said, when we go to see her family for a week in Michigan in June we are driving instead of flying because it is still cheaper to drive than fly to Grand Rapids, and we chose to live in the city so we can be close to everything.
So we are happy to do the "one time" gas travel cost which is about 635 miles each way in a Ford Focus. Flights are over $350 into GRR. 12-18 months ago flights were $200. Craziness.
Marc Fisher: Makes sense. And I love driving vacations--even with the more congested highways of summertime.
Takoma, D.C.: Stupid airlines. The people I really pity in all this are the poor folks who work at the check-in desks, who are going to have to explain this policy to irate travelers fifty million times a day. Yuck. I'm sick of these stupid airlines treating everyone so badly.
Marc Fisher: There was a fascinating piece in the Wall Street Journal a while back that explained why the airlines are so willing to cut service and destroy their own images--it's because while we all love to moan and whine about lousy service, we're vastly more driven by fare levels than by any amount of inconvenience or mistreatment at the customer service level. It's all about the Benjamins.
Drive $ vs. fly $: For the 8-hr. drive vs. fly, that's not much more than flying if you take into account the commute to airport, the wait to check-in, wait in line for security, wait at terminal, wait for delays, wait for takeoff, etc., then wait to board and taxi time when you arrive and all that
Seems like that adds up to several hours.
Marc Fisher: Yes, and perhaps that's what's changing--our sense of how far we're willing to drive to avoid the hassle of flying. If that tipping point was once, say, 300 miles, it's probably now more like 500 or 600 miles. I now hear people talking about driving to Chicago or South Carolina who would always have chosen to fly in former times.
Springfield, Va.: Marc,
We spend a week each year at the Outer Banks. With a few side trips to the store and such it's about a 600 mile week -- at 25 mpg that's 24 gallons. Going from $2/gallon to $4/gallon costs me an extra $48; compared to the cost of renting a house, pet sitters and food, it's not going to keep me home.
Marc Fisher: Right, so folks cut back on--what, groceries? Lawn care? Medical care? Insurance?
Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Marc,
I missed last weeks chat because I was away on business but I just want to say how happy I am that you are staying at The Post. I agree with you about only half the time, but I enjoy reading your columns a great deal and may have canceled my subscription to the Post without them. Keep up the good work.
Marc Fisher: Very kind of you. And here's the alternative perspective....
Washington, D.C.: Mark, I was really hoping that you'd take the buyout. Now I have yet another reason to not only not subscribe to the Post, but to limit how much I visit the Web site.
It's not you personally, but your opinions.
Marc Fisher: Thanks. Goodness, we certainly wouldn't want to read anything we don't agree with, right?
Manchester, N.H.: The bill regarding malt beverages classifies so-called alco-pops exactly where they need to be. They are made in the same process as beer, therefore are a style of beer. (Much to my chagrin, as I detest the sickly-sweet things.) If they need to be sold only in liquor stores, than the same needs to be said for beer. Of course, nobody in all of this is asking where the parents of underage-drinkers are.
Marc Fisher: Good point--and if the governor or other politicians did ask those parents, I think it's fair to expect that they'd hear a pretty strong current of opinion that whatever the chemical composition of the alcopop drinks, they are not the same as beer and the state ought to do parents a favor and push the industry toward a more responsible marketing approach.
South Gaithersburg this time: Marc, I'm surprised that you didn't mention O'Malley's open snarkiness with Peter Franchot over the amount of the school construction funds that Montgomery County Got at the Public Works Board.
Seems like before he was elected he wanted us to believe he was from Rockville.
Marc Fisher: Yes, that's a good issue--of course, it's always easy for Maryland politicians to claim that Montgomery is doing just fine because it has such high test scores and gets so much money. But the issue isn't the dollar amount--it's the proportion of state resources that go to MoCo, and there, the county is getting stiffed, as usual. But hey, keep on electing governors from Baltimore--that's working just wonderfully for you, isn't it?
Dogs and School: Can we also require all children to be taught how to act around cats? I have a cat and I don't want it to have to interact with kids who haven't been "properly trained." In fact, if you haven't been to cat interaction school don't even come over! If my cat scratches you, it's your own fault.
What do the goldfish, snake, ferret, hamster, gerbil, and parrot owners out there think?
Marc Fisher: I am signing up for training classes in how to behave around household fish bowls.
Alexandria, Va.: Re: bringing the dog in the car to pick up the kids -- it's in the car! Or hopefully on a leash next to a car! The reason many children are afraid of dogs is they aren't exposed to them early in life. We can't keep sanitizing life and taking all the fun out of it. Get a life, people!
Marc Fisher: But if two-thirds of people don't have dogs, then why is it important for that large majority to train itself on how to deal with the excesses of the small minority of the remaining third who don't take proper precautions with their dogs?
Either north Rockville or South Gaithersburg: It's very nice, but no matter how you slice it the new Rockville library is sitting under someone's stack of condos. That's not a very fitting memorial to anything, particularly our war dead.
Marc Fisher: What better way to build a library? Why should a neighborhood library be an island unto itself? Why shouldn't it be integrated into a community where people live and work?
Two unrelated questions: What happened to Smooth Jazz 105.3?
How long before oil hits $200 a barrel?
Marc Fisher: The station's format was axed and changed to a canned, all-oldies package that's pulled in off the satellite. Plus Imus in the morning.
I don't think you'll be seeing $2 gas again.
McLean, Va.: Marc,
Alco-pops or Dippin' Dots?
Marc Fisher: Rough choice, but blend the two of them together and you might be onto something.
Dog Whisperer: Next thing you know, there will be a movement to have reporters go to school so they can learn how to act around politicians.
Marc Fisher: Imagine the clamoring for student-led classes at that school.
"Right, so folks cut back on -- what, groceries? Lawn care? Medical care? Insurance?": Um, Washington Post subscriptions? Ha ha, sorry, couldn't resist. Not I.
I think people are cutting back on savings or adding on debt or not paying their mortgage (since they chose one they could barely afford to begin with). Or, if people go out just one less time per week, that probably pays for the extra gas for most people.
Marc Fisher: Yes, restaurants are feeling it, no question about that. Good point.
And keep your subscription--at 50 cents a day, the ounce or two of gas you might get out of the deal wouldn't get you to the next traffic light.
Instead of nickle and diming customers, why not just fold the extra charges into the fares? With gas prices soaring, it's hard to imagine anyone being surprised that air fares would spike too. : We've been living with pretty low fares for a long time. Air travel SHOULD be expensive, and it the airlines want to charge me less for bringing less stuff with me, I don't mind. People are going to have to start realizing that if you want air travel that is safe and runs properly, you are going to have to pay for it. I can't believe the airlines can keep going on the low fares they charge.
Marc Fisher: But when airlines have tried to go high-end, it has failed. While many of us think we'd be willing to pay more for good service, and even more of us love the idea that higher fares would weed out the riff-raff and return air travel to a more exclusive clientele, the fact is that almost every class of traveler is far more driven by price than by any extras airlines might offer. Most of us would probably agree to get out and push back the planes manually if by doing so we could keep fares down.
Alexamdria, Va.: The airlines don't get it.
Of course people choose their flight/airline based on price. None of the airlines go out of their way to provide service as a differentiator.
If some airline marketed their flights as being of higher service -- free food, free carry-ons, etc, and the price was $40-75 more, people would fly that airline.
Marc Fisher: I wish you were right. But you're not--and every airline can show you the research that proves it. (The irony is that they wish you were right too. They're losing their shirts trying to cling to the low fare concept.)
Luggage Fee Explaination: A primary reason why airlines are tagging on these baggage fees as opposed to raising fares is that these fees are applicable for everyone no matter when you bought your ticket. There are laws that prohibit companies from coming back to add an extra fee on an already purchased ticket. No such limitations on charging those same folks $15 to check a bag.
Marc Fisher: Excellent point--thanks very much for that explanation.
McLean, Va.: With prices for everything getting so expensive, I'm cutting back on the number of pairs of pants I take to the cleaners. You never know when they might lose a pair. I can't afford to lose a $64 million pair of pants.
Marc Fisher: No! You should take MORE pants to the cleaners, hoping that they might lose a pair and you could then take your stab at megariches--or at least worldwide infamy.
Annandale: Va. Does the pants attorney write in every week to annoy you?
I would think he is capable of some doozies.
Marc Fisher: I am sad to report that Pants Man no longer returns my calls. I cannot begin to imagine why.
but to limit how much I visit the Web site. : It's a good thing, too, this person isn't wasting their time coming to your chats. Ha ha.
Marc Fisher: Shhh, he's out there, lurking. Can't write in today anymore, of course, because he has Made A Point and must Stick With It.
At 50 cents a day, the ounce or two of gas you might get out of the deal wouldn't get you to the next traffic light.: Marc, I often find a lot more than 50 cents worth of gas in the Post, particularly on days the paper publishes stories by Gene Weingarten and Hank Stuever.
Marc Fisher: Weingarten would be pleased no end by your gaseous compliment. And can we please have a round of applause for Hank, who did a masterful job of announcing at the Presidents' Race piece of the Post Hunt last weekend, in the rain yet.
Great Snack:: Drunkin' Popdots
Marc Fisher:"Dip 'em, pop 'em, hey, last call for Drunk Dots!"
Right, so folks cut back on--what, groceries? Lawn care? Medical care? Insurance?: We cut back on the number of Nats games we attend.
Marc Fisher: ThreadWeaver Award of the Day nominee....
Alco-pops and Dippin' Dots: Skittlebrau!
Marc Fisher: I think we've started something here.
Manassas, Va.: Gee, I can't wait to fly this summer and find the security lines and the boarding process slowed down as people decide to roll-on (rather than "carry on") their behemoth bags rather than shelling out the extra fee. What joy.
Marc Fisher: The winners in this latest twist in flying culture: FedEx and UPS. Watch for lots of folks to ship their luggage ahead--far better chance of the stuff getting there, and often cheaper too.
Washington, D.C.: Marc,
Have you any comment on the way Ft. Reno is being handled? Yesterday the mayor released a memo that stated how all subsequent testing of new soil samples (include those from the six areas originally tested by the Core) are well below the threshold of 43 ppm. Oh, and the park will remain closed. Of course it is a question how much testing that results in safe levels will be needed to override the 17 positive samples of the Core. What to make of this?
Marc Fisher: It's confusing, of course--first the levels are high, then they're not. I never saw any justification for shutting down the park, so I'm all for reopening it ASAP. This is classic government overreaction to a number, with no regard for the fact that the park has been used and enjoyed by a great many people with no reports of ill effects.
Arlington, Va.: Correction to one of your posters:
Washington is a 5-sport town: Redskins, Nationals, Capitals, soccer and
LACROSSE -- GO BAYHAWKS!
Marc Fisher: Don't leave out the roller hockey team that plays at the Armory, and the minor league hoops squad in Montgomery County, and the women's football team that's been around a few years.
Alexandria, Va.:"Springfield, Va.: Marc,
We spend a week each year at the Outer Banks. With a few side trips to the store and such it's about a 600 mile week -- at 25 mpg that's 24 gallons. Going from $2/gallon to $4/gallon costs me an extra $48; compared to the cost of renting a house, pet sitters and food, it's not going to keep me home.
Marc Fisher: Right, so folks cut back on -- what, groceries? Lawn care? Medical care? Insurance?"
Marc Fisher: We can only hope so.
105.3: Great question. Is this piped in canned oldies more profitable? I don't see how.
Marc Fisher: It's 105.9, and yes, it could end up being more profitable because the company no longer has to pay to have any local staff--no deejays, no music director. Who needs employees when you can pipe in canned programming? And then of course the station owners wonder where the audience has gone.
Va.: As someone who doesn't like beer I have to say you are wrong wrong wrong that malt beverages should be separated from beer. They have an equal if not lower alcohol content than most beers. It's actually harder to binge drink on them -- the sweetness makes them tough to drink fast, and feel more filling. Plus, they're more expensive than the cheap beers at your average high school party.
I don't know about Md., but in Virginia, beer/wine sales go until midnight 7 days a week. Liquor stores have much more limited hours. I would be pretty peeved if my local college rugby team could purchase 4 cases of Bud Light at 11 p.m. on a Thursday night, but I couldn't buy a six-pack of Mike's Hard Lemonade at the same time.
Marc Fisher: It's exactly the more limited hours and locations of liquor stores that makes many parents and anti-drunk driving activists want to move alcopops out of the beer category and into the same family as harder stuff.
Cut back on: It kills me, but I used to go the theater here in D.C. about 4-5 times a year. I fear that I will not be willing to spend 60 bucks a seat anymore to Shakespeare, Arena Stage or Studio Theater anymore. I wonder if casual theater [goer] such as me are doing the same and what the result will be for the D.C. theater scene.
Marc Fisher: Arts groups share your worry and they are indeed seeing softness in both subscriptions and single ticket sales--they're very much in the same boat as restaurants and other optional expenses that are easy to cut back on. Not a pretty picture.
Re: Gas Price Cutbacks: Well, I know for myself, it's certainly choosing $5 walk-up tickets rather than seats costing many more times that much at a certain incomplete facility in SE DC. Judging by the rows of empty seats in the $150 and $300 seats, it seems even the wealthy are doing the same.
On a similar cost-cutting baseball related topic, do you know when/if we will see street vendors lining Half St. selling us $2 half-smokes and peanuts like it used to be on the walk from the Metro to RFK?
Marc Fisher: Go check it out--there are already a few vendors hanging out along Half Street, including the On the Fly carts with BBQ from Rocklands in Glover Park.
McLean, Va.: I predict that before too long, one of the major airlines will go the eBay route and auction off tickets to each flight, with a reserve amount for each ticket that guarantees a break-even deal for the airlines at 80 percent occupancy. Then the market for air travel will find its own level, as potential customers are forced to consider how much they are willing to pay to fly.
Marc Fisher: Great idea, but isn't the opposite already in force, through Priceline and similar ventures?
Flying: Midway Airport in Chicago has implemented a terrific method for security lines. There is one line for experienced travelers, one for casual travelers and another for families with young children. Of course the passengers self-select and some gravitate to the quicker lines (thus slowing them down) but it really moves things along when you aren't stuck behind a family with young children and strollers etc.. etc...
Marc Fisher: Fascinating, but why would anyone voluntarily choose the slow line? Why doesn't everyone in the queue declare themselves experienced and clog up the fast lane?
Washington, D.C.: Marc, you're missing the point. If gas costs more, people (so far) just absorb it. They might trim their grocery budgets, or get a domestic beer instead of an import. They're shorting their savings and future wealth instead to live now.
Marc Fisher: Yes, exactly. My friend and colleague Joel Garreau, who is especially wise on these matters, figures that a large number of us would give up the house to fill the gas tank.
Ft. Reno, D.C.: I loved how the guys putting up the snow fencing around Ft. Reno HAD TO WEAR the requisite contamination suits -- as if all putting up some fences exposed them to some extreme danger!!
Marc Fisher: Everybody loves a crisis.
Washington, D.C.: Why does everyone give the Lerners so much credit? They did nothing to get a team here -- other potentail ownerhip groups worked years behind the scenes. They swooped in once others had done the work, bought the team, and acted like heroes. The stadium was ready and open for business on opening day. Trying to get more money out of the city is very sad. Perhaps they should refund part of my season tickets for putting a AAA team on the field instead of the MLB team I paid inflated prices to see.
Marc Fisher: The Lerners have done a good job so far. Sure, the team is subpar, but you can already see some of the fruits of the owners' investment in the young players who are coming up. The opening of the stadium came off far better than expected, and the transportation situation, which many folks, including me, thought would be a disaster, has been totally smooth.
Library: I think your time would be better spent on investigating why all the media outlets (Including WAPO) have agreed not to show troops coming home in body bags. I think its abhorrent that the media has colluded with the government to keep information away from the public. And of course no one reports on it because they agreed to it.
Marc Fisher: I think you're pointing at the wrong culprit. Go back and you'll see that we regularly ran the pictures from the delivery of returning caskets in Delaware--until the feds put a stop to allowing media access. Look at the reader protests over our publication of photos of dead or dying children in Iraq in recent weeks and you'll see that the reticence about showing what's really happening is coming from a government that's trying to manage the flow of information, not from the press.
Already spent more than $28,000 on Nats tix:"But the Lerners have committed to not taking money out of the operation for 10 years"
I believe this is a mischaracterization. Presumably, members of the Lerner family are compensated for working for the Nats organization in a variety of capacities. This would indeed be "taking money out of the operation" if salaries are unnecessary or excessive or if other spending is careless to the point of causing the baseball product to suffer. What the Lerners actually mean is "We're not going to use Nationals revenue to fund our other business interests for 10 years." Right?
Marc Fisher: No, it means they're not taking profits. Of course they're paying their employees salaries. But they're pledged to plowing profits back into the building of the franchise--we'll see over the next few seasons how serious they are about putting a contender on the field, but that's what they say and there's no evidence to the contrary as yet.
Washington, D.C.: Your discussion last week of the future of newspapers was interesting. Am I out of touch with the regular reader? I feel it's people like you, Wilbon, Weingarten, Sietsema, de Moraes, Robinson, and Dana Priest that make the paper unique and worth reading. I don't understand the model of having senior writers on A1 covering what is essentially "Headline News."
washingtonpost.com: Discussion: Potomac Confidential ( washingtonpost.com, May 15)
Marc Fisher: Right--and while it remains essential for newspapers to cover the major breaking stories, I'd agree with you that the real value any paper can provide is to advance the important stories of the day through reporting that goes well beyond the obvious headlines. That's why you will continue to see a major emphasis in the Post on investigative and explanatory projects, as well as strong beat coverage.
Alexandria, Va.: In case Nats officials are lurking: I've been to dozens of giveaways at various sports venues, mostly Camden Yards and the Verizon Center but others as well. SOP is when a patron passes through the gate, you hand him or her the item. The Nats, however, have central distribution points that let unscrupulous patrons load up, to the detriment of those who get none. A few weeks ago a kid in my row had 8 Dmitri Young bobbleheads, which his proud father said he was going to sell on eBay. Same thing on Tues. My family and I entered the stadium around 6:20, and it looked to be empty, but all the T-shirts were gone. Please, folks, it's not that hard to get this right! Thank you very much.
Marc Fisher: Seems like a fair point--let's see if they make the fix next time.
Washington, D.C.: Marc -- Not sure if you are aware of this, but there are large numbers of cabbies who are putting their meters away at night when they go to areas such as Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, etc. Obviously, they are trying to take advantage of this zone situation for as long as they can -- even if they have had a meter installed! Curious for your thoughts on the matter.
Marc Fisher: And even more cabbies than are doing that are somehow operating under the belief that meters will magically appear from the skies on the day the city starts enforcing the law. I've been in 14 cabs in the past two weeks and only one had a meter installed, and it was turned off. I know hundreds of meters are out there and operating, but I've yet to be in a metered cab.
Shaw Neighborhood: This sorry episode shows again that either the District itself should have bought the team and built a stadium for the city. The Lerners are trying to exact their pound of flesh and it is more than fair to expose their demand to the sunshine of public opinion. We should join in a loud, collective "BOOOOOOOOOOO!"
Mayor Fenty began his term with a focus on education, not enriching sports cartels like MLB. Let's hope we don't agree to any more corporate welfare projects for D.C. United or the (inappropriately named local football franchise).
And if we are going to use tax dollars in this way, let's open up the process, have some visioning hearings and an open proposal process for all D.C. residents to apply. I've got a business plan or two that might possibly break even after 30 years....
Marc Fisher: Wait--a sports franchise operated by the District government. Wow, now that's a concept. So, hot dogs would be available only after game's end, and only if you waited a few days for a permit?
The reason many children are afraid of dogs is they aren't exposed to them early in life.: Or maybe they're afraid because a dog that wasn't trained how to be around humans bit them or jumped on them while they were minding their own business trying to get into their school.
Marc Fisher: And the other view....
Clifton, Va.: Because of idiotic Fairfax County regs my two collies cannot participate in reading program for elementary school students like their collie buds do across the rest of the U.S. No dogs and no exceptions.
Excuse, me my tax dollars go to support the schools and maintain the property and if we want play on school fields or run laps on the track at my local HS we should be able to.
My dogs are cleaner and carry less germs and bacteria than many elementary school students and all male high students.
Time for the law and regs to change.
And we all know my collies are smarter than your valedictorian and any WP columnist, even Wilbon!
Marc Fisher: And some other doggie views...
Alexandria, Va.: The problem isn't dogs -- it's bad dog owners.
I have a dog, and I hope that I'm not a bad owner. I acknowledge that some people don't like dogs and others are afraid of dogs.
But there's lots of dogs out there, roaming off leash. There's lots of folks that think the local baseball field is a dog park, and don't bother to clean up the mess the dogs leaves in centerfield.
I pick up after my dog after I walk her. But as much as I try, some stuff sticks to grass. And I cannot sponge up her urine.
And that shouldn't be welcome at school property where kids seem to play (rightfully so) on every patch of available grass.
Marc Fisher: Two more...
Silver Spring, Md.: I've been following the dog issue with great interest, as I'm one of those "dog haters," as people accuse me of being. I was bitten as a youngster and have a phobia to this day. When I was in elementary school, it was more like outright terror. To this day, I don't particularly care how nice and friendly and wonderful your dog is and that he just wants to get to know me or have me pet him -- I want nothing to do with your dog. Leaving school was like running a guantlet; dogs straining at their leashes in anticipation. Yikes.
I constantly feel like dog owners think I'm a terrible person because I don't share their love. I'm not advocating banning dog ownership, but I do advocate much more responsible ownership than I see out of the vast majority of owners. Not everyone wants to be greeted by your dog, and someone of us are just downright scared whenever we see a dog coming towards us (doubly so when it's off a leash!). I just wish dog owners were a little more respectful of us.
Marc Fisher: Nicely said...
Dog days: Dear Marc,
I don't understand dog lovers (and I am a dog person, owning 1 dog currently). Why do dogs have to go everywhere? If these people had hamsters, would they carry the cages around? Do they attach leashes to their cats? I just don't get it. Dogs are dogs, who need to do dog things, which doesn't include going to an elementary school.
Marc Fisher: And now a few words on how people are cutting back to be able to afford $4 gas....
S. Rockville, Md.: What are people cutting back on? It's the extras for us. Fewer nights out. And when we go out, no dessert, maybe no appetizers. I can't tell you the last movie we went to see in a theater. So we're supporting the local economy less because we're supporting Big Oil more.
Marc Fisher: Go with the appetizers and the desserts--skip the entree. You'll come out ahead in both taste and dollars.
Re: Springfield:"Right, so folks cut back on -- what, groceries? Lawn care? Medical care? Insurance?"
Actually I cut back on the Post and now read it on-line for free -- unless you count those annoying pop-up ads. Thanks!
Marc Fisher: Ouch.
We're way over the hour, so just a couple more and out...
Washington, D.C.: Your reporting about the Lerners demanding $100,000 per day in late fees from the city because the new stadium was technically incomplete by opening day reminds me of the axiom that nice guys never become billionaires (millionaires, perhaps, but not billionaires).
However, I never thought there was a whole lot of goodwill between the D.C. City Council and the Lerners to begin with. For example, when the owners of National Harbor in PG County made the very generous offer to hold at no cost to the Nationals Foundation their annual gala, the Lerners were pillored by several members of the DC Council. As charity (and not the Lerners) was the primary beneficiary of the substantial cost savings of not holding this year's gala in the City, don't you think that grandstanding of several members of the D.C. Council on this and other issuess could have ticked off the Lerners?
Marc Fisher: Yes, there've been some rough spots, but all sides say it is mostly a good working relationship. And no, I don't see any evidence that this latest dispute is a retaliation for anything that came before it--it's just the way business is done in some quarters.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Marc,
Just curious -- what made you decide to write the column today(yesterday)? It didn't sound like you've gathered significant information in the past few days... if that's true, why were you sitting on the story for however long it was?
Marc Fisher: No delay--I started reporting the piece immediately after I obtained the documents, and wrote and published immediately after I'd been able to speak to all the parties involved.
Washington, D.C.: dJust a silly question -- would we have felt the same 'angry' and 'outrage' on this 100K/day thing had the stadium filled to the gills every night and the team was 25-15?
Marc Fisher: Quite possibly not--but no matter how the team is doing on the field, this is the time for the franchise to be concentrating on building the fan base, and a move like this doesn't at all help in that pursuit.
Marc Fisher: That has to kick things in the head for today, folks. My apologies to the great many of you I couldn't get to this time. Come on back next week--and thanks for spending your lunch hour on the big show.
Enjoy the long weekend--and hey, take in a game at the new stadium and see if you can find the unfinished bits.
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