Opening Nationals Stadium Means D.C. Economic Success

by Suzie Raven

Babe Ruth once said, “Never let the fear of striking out get in your way." The Washington Nationals and the District of Columbia took a gamble together, building a baseball stadium with public funds. With opening day at Nationals Stadium today (March 30), the city moves into the next inning.*

Constructing a new baseball stadium was part of the 2004 deal that brought the Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C. Building in Southeast D.C. made sense: the Anacostia River is lined with some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods and there's little evidence that the Navy Yard once was a thriving economic center. The district made a deal to build the stadium, and the city needed a way to help that area.

So far, those goals seem to be on track. The Nationals expect $50 million in additional revenue in 2008 (hopefully they will use it to acquire more talent). As expected, new office buildings, retail centers, residences and restaurants have followed the new stadium. The economic impact is expected to spread as far as Prince George’s County, the Maryland suburb closest to the stadium. PG County also needs the economic help.

Even though early signs point to success, it’s not over with this year's home opener. Not all of the office space has been filled. What will become of Major League Soccer’s D.C. United? Or to the non-profit Positive Nature? Positive Nature runs an after-school program which includes tutoring, sports, art therapy, and a lot of general, much needed one-on-one time for at-risk kids. It’s a wonderful program that is struggling to make ends meet while paying a 755 percent increase in property taxes over the last two years.

The new ballpark will generate plenty of revenue for the district, but that doesn’t mean the city should discard what D.C. United brings, even though it’s a smaller economic concern than the Nationals. (The commissioner of Major League Soccer has told the owners of the United that if they can't strike a deal with the city soon, they need to move outside of the district. And the city is not rushing to close such a deal.) Yes, Nationals Stadium can transform Anacostia much as the Verizon Center transformed Chinatown. That doesn’t mean the district shouldn’t look for ways to help groups like Positive Nature find affordable options for its programs.

Right now, Washington's relationship with the Nationals puts us somewhere in the third inning and the city has a lead. Commerce is returning to Anacostia, and the costs are relatively minimal. The only permanent resident who lost his home was given $1.5 million, which he used to pay off his mom’s hospital bills. The district doesn’t have a no-hitter, but a little tightening in the infield could make a big difference by the end of the game.

*The Nationals officially debuted their new stadium in an exhibition game on Saturday, March 29 against the Baltimore Orioles: the Nationals won that contest 3-0. The Nationals open their season tonight, March 30, in their new ballpark against the Atlanta Braves.

(The photo of the construction at Nationals Stadium is from late 2007 and is by D.F. Shapinsky for PINGNews/Shapinsky MultiMedia via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. The PINGNews homepage is located here.)

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