An angry and frustrated crowd in Southwest Washington last night denounced Mayor Anthony A. Williams's proposal to build a baseball stadium in their community, saying they feared being displaced and worried that public money will be diverted from schools and health care.
More than 150 people attended the meeting at Waterside Mall, where city officials, including City Administrator Robert C. Bobb, presented plans for the stadium, to be built nearby. The event, billed as a question-and-answer session, largely turned into a chance for residents to express frustration over what they said was the city's inability to meet basic service needs for the community.
"I've never seen anything like this in my life," said Doris Barnes, 60, who lives in the neighborhood. "We need schools, jobs and homes. We don't need a baseball stadium."
A spokesman for the Southwest Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which co-sponsored the meeting, said the group voted 5 to 1 after the meeting to oppose the stadium proposal.
Bobb said the stadium, which is to be built in Southeast, near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street, would be a catalyst for the kind of economic development that could help bring the area a better quality of life.
"If it was just a baseball stadium, the mayor would never agree to only a stadium," Bobb said. "It's a complete revitalization of an entire area. The stadium itself will be a catalyst."
Under the agreement negotiated by the city and Major League Baseball, the $440 million stadium plan, including renovations to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, would be financed through a gross-receipts tax on large D.C. businesses, rent payments by the team and taxes on tickets and merchandise sold at the ballpark.
A D.C. Council committee will hold a public hearing on the matter Thursday, followed by a markup of the mayor's legislation Nov. 3. The full 13-member council is set to take a first vote Nov. 9, with a final vote possible by Dec. 7.
City officials tried last night to appease the crowd with promises that residents would not be displaced by gentrification and that the city would work to ensure that traffic, noise and other potential problems would be minimized. But many residents, some of whom came from other parts of the city, were not impressed. They applauded when Ed Lazere, a leader of a group called No D.C. Taxes for Baseball, said the mayor's plan was a risky economic deal for the city, with most of the benefits going to baseball owners.
"So many details have been undetermined, undecided and unresolved," said Alan Thomas, 43, of Southwest. "How can you go around the city presenting proposals when it seems to me so many proposals are in the drafting stage only?"
At some points, residents shouted down Bobb, who told them: "I can understand your anger and frustration. I want to engage and have a conversation. I will respect you if you respect me."
But Raymond Blanks, who came to the meeting from Lincoln Park, told Bobb: "You have no credibility with the people. In your zeal to speak with the community, the absence of the mayor speaks louder than words."
In addition to the Southwest ANC, the other co-sponsor of the meeting, the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, was also to take a position last night for the Thursday hearing.
Also yesterday, council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) proposed raising the gross-receipts tax on the city's biggest businesses to a level that would help pay for the new stadium and generate new revenue for libraries and recreation centers. Graham is among several council members who say they will support the mayor's plan provided the city also finds ways to bring more money to neighborhood programs.
Under the mayor's plan, businesses with less than $3 million in annual revenue would pay no tax. The mayor's proposed tax would be capped, so any D.C. company with more than $16 million in revenue would pay the same amount: $28,200. Under Graham's proposal, however, the payments would be prorated so that the more money a business generates, the more that business would pay.
Also, Graham wants to raise the proposed surcharge on tickets to baseball games from 10 percent to 12 percent. That would mean an increase on the average ticket price of about 46 cents, his staff said. Overall, Graham estimated that his plan could bring in more than $5 million annually for libraries and recreation centers.
But even as Graham offered his proposal, the mayor's legislative aides were discussing other ways to raise additional money for neighborhoods. The aides have floated the idea of creating a mechanism known as tax-increment financing, which would create a district around the new stadium, put a special tax on business development that comes there and send proceeds to neighborhood programs, several council members said.