A stadium would bring baseball back to Washington after 33 years. But it would cost at least $440 million in public funds.
The stadium could revitalize an industrial area on the banks of the Anacostia River. Or it could run into problems with industrial wastes and underground sewer lines that would lead to cost overruns and delays.
The stadium could draw suburbanites and tourists to a neglected area. Or it could be a losing proposition, like the old Washington Senators.
Grass-roots Washingtonians raise precisely those issues in interviews. Overall, more than two-thirds of city residents think having a professional baseball team in the District would be a good thing for the city. But an equal proportion oppose using city funds to pay for it.
In a series of interviews, fans and non-fans talked about their eagerness to bring back baseball after more than a generation, but they also voiced their concerns about the deal negotiated with professional baseball owners by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).
Fred James Koch, 78, a retired journalist and public relations man who lives in the Watergate, says he strongly favors bringing baseball to Washington, equally strongly favors the deal the mayor has worked out to build a stadium in Southeast, and thinks it will benefit the city economically in the long run.
The proposed stadium site on the Anacostia waterfront is an "undeveloped area, and the stadium will mean economic development. I don't think the mayor will let the taxpayers get stuck with the cost. He would take too much heat.
"The question is whether Williams gave too much up. But when you are dealing with the owners, you don't have a lot of choice."
Freddie Grays, 55, who works as a consultant from his home in Central Northeast, is an enthusiastic supporter of baseball in Washington. "It's good for the area," he said.
"I think it would draw people into the city. I go to Camden Yards. I sometimes go just to eat dinner and don't even go to the game. I think it would bring in revenue to the city.
"I think they should have taken more time hashing out the particulars of the contract. The Southeast site seems valid, but I would like to see the city get a better deal.
"I remember the Senators. My uncle took me when I was a young kid. It made a big impression on me."
Bill Gardner, a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker who lives in Columbia Heights, thinks having a professional baseball team in Washington would mostly be a good thing, but he's not so sure the city negotiated a good deal to pay for it.
"I worry that the deal is being hastily done and will come back and bite us," he said.
Paul Banks, 63, a retired Government Printing Office employee who lives near Logan Circle, strongly opposes the deal negotiated by Mayor Williams to build a stadium with public funds on the Anacostia River.
"I don't think the market is here. A lot of rank and file don't want it here. If they mess up on this deal, it might have an effect on other businesses coming here. Why do we need a team? We got one in Baltimore.
"If we get a team, what kind of a team are we going to get? Not a winning team. Development will come only if it is a successful team. How many years before it develops into a prime-time team?
"That money could be funding schools. I just read in the paper that the buildings are falling apart. Why can't we have a major league school system?"
Maria Allison, 45, a homemaker in Cathedral Heights, said her experience with major league sports is that everything usually costs more than anticipated and that additional public funding is almost always needed to make the plan go through.
"I am skeptical about public funding." she said. "I lived in Canada during the Montreal Olympics, and the government ended up spending more than it expected to spend and not earning as much as it hoped. A lot of the burden fell on taxpayers. There were major tax increases. Overall, it was good for publicity and tourism, but the economic results were mixed."
James Hellmuth, 62, a freelance graphics designer who lives in Takoma, opposes the financing plan. He would like to see a combination of funding sources. "I don't think we should expect business to shoulder everything," he said.
He is hopeful that the stadium will spur development along the waterfront in Southeast. "Maybe it will work. The stadium in Baltimore certainly did.
"This is a part of the city people don't want to go to. Some people are afraid to go there. I would go to games. I used to be a big baseball fan; I would go once or twice a year. The Senators are a magic name for me, the name I grew up with."
Charlene Patton, a retired Lincoln Park resident, went up to her attic last week to bring down her old Senators pennants, baseball caps, bats and other paraphernalia. She would love to see baseball return to Washington, but she is worried about the deal.
"The mayor is holding so few cards," she said. "The owners have us over a barrel. We have a very weak hand. We are willing to do just about anything to get them to come. I don't think we should be that desperate. I would have liked us to say, these are our terms, and stick to them."
On the other hand, she said, "it would be wonderful for the city to upgrade the Anacostia waterfront area." And she hates to give up the possibility of a team. "I would hate it for the young people. Boys should have a team."
She loved the Senators, but, she says, let's put the name "to bed and start over."
Delma Robinson, 61, a semi-retired CPA who lives in Crestwood, thinks taxpayers will end up paying for the stadium one way or another.
"When I look at my cable bill, I see an amount for gross receipts. It will be added directly or added to the prices we pay. But the long-term benefits will outweigh the amount each of us will pay.
"I think it will improve the area and bring in commerce that will generate additional revenue for the city.
"Will the money be used wisely, or just have salaries double? That is a different question.
"I might go to games here maybe a couple of times a month, and during the playoffs more regularly. In the beginning, people will come because it is something new. Then the team will become better, and stars on different teams will be coming through.
"I have been trying to think of a name. I don't want the Senators. The Nationals are too bland. The Grays are in the same category. Other cities come up with names like 'Heat.' We should be able to develop something more exciting."
Debbie Camp, a 26-year-old graduate students who lives in Brookland, opposes public funding for a stadium. "It is so terribly expensive. When I see the state of our roads and read the crime reports, I would much rather see the roads fixed and not get mugged.
"Baseball seems like such a big deal. Who cares? It all seems crazy.
"You see soccer playing in the place where it plays, and then baseball comes in and gets a brand-new stadium! Somehow we are going to have to pay for this. If business pays, they will just hike their prices.
"I am not a fan."