THE STATE-OF-THE-ART stadium for the Washington Nationals that is taking shape does not resemble the deal that was sold to the D.C. Council and District taxpayers by the Williams administration and the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. As it stands, the publicly financed ballpark is going to cost more and provide fewer of the features (such as underground parking, improved roads, and expanded Metro platforms, escalators and elevators) necessary to create a vibrant entertainment district around the stadium. The question of the hour is this: Why build a stadium that because of escalating costs will not deliver the enhanced facility and improved infrastructure as promised?
The question is germane because the mayoral aides who negotiated the stadium agreement with Major League Baseball have not inspired great confidence in their budget projections. For instance, they estimated that the 41,000-seat stadium would cost $395 million, but they included no money for infrastructure in expectation that Metro and the federal government would pick up the tab for those expensive improvements. It turns out that the city's chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, had to raise their estimate to include infrastructure costs, based on the realistic assessment that the federal government and Metro were unlikely to carry the District's water on the stadium. The same team that produced the unrealistic budget also chose an architectural team whose stadium design sent costs soaring from $244 million to $337 million. Finally, as predicted by D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), a critic of the stadium plan, land costs have turned out to be $70 million more than city financial experts projected. To make the numbers fit under the $535 million ceiling set by the council, city aides are cutting corners on the original plans. But why should that be the only option?
If Major League Baseball doesn't want the quality of the new stadium compromised with cutbacks, the owners could provide the necessary funds themselves. Alternately, Major League Baseball could include the added costs of the improvements in the asking price for the lucrative Washington Nationals franchise. Conversely, the parties could reconsider their agreement to leave Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium after the next two seasons and devote their time, talents and treasury into making that ballpark and Washington landmark a permanent home for the Nationals. Putting a greater burden on the taxpayers, or giving them less than promised, won't get the new ballpark to first base.