Washington Nationals Stadium: blessing or burden?

The debate over who should have financed the Washington Nationals baseball stadium lingers on, four-and-a-half-years after it was built. And while a successful season may bring excitement, critics say it doesn’t erase the facts.

Four-and-a-half years after opening its doors, the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium has brought with it a stream of fans, and this year a team that’s made it further than anyone expected. But the success of the Nats is resurrecting old questions about the stadium, and more specifically, the question of whether the fans in all their sea of red has brought the city out of the red, in terms of paying for stadium.

Ed Lazere, the executive director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, said no. “What we ended up with was one of the most expensive stadiums ever built and one of the most heavily subsidized stadiums ever built, where 97 percent of the expense is being paid for by the District and all the future repairs will be paid for by the District,” Lazere told RT.

Eight years ago, his organization fought to have the owners of the team share in the expense of the stadium.

“The people who own baseball teams tend to be wealthy and have a lot of money and in general we think it makes sense for businesses to pay for their own facilities or at least to share in the cost,” he said. “We were just looking for a balance as opposed to a plan where the city put up all the money and the team owner got all the gains.”

What happened instead was a $667 million dollar project paid for almost entirely by taxpayers. Lazere said it only gets back about a third of its expenses in taxes on the stadium itself and concessions inside.

Many fans marvel at the impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

“When we walk where we park we walk thru a lot of the rejuvenated areas where they’re building condos and houses and little shopping center things,” said Alexandria Resident and Nats Fan Leticia Harrison. “It needed a clean-up down here.”

But others worry the new construction will result in a whole lot of money spent without the promise of it coming back in.

Gregory Norris, a fan from nearby Columbia Maryland, pointed to the empty apartment buildings surrounding the stadium.

“Every time i come down here I park by these buildings are they’re empty or partially empty,” he said. “When you build a ballpark like this you can’t anticipate that people will want to live next to it.”

The impact of sports stadiums on neighborhoods and taxpayers is the subject of the book Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit. Co-author Neil deMause was approached to write about this just this month.

“The Washington Post outlook section emailed me last week and said would you like to write an op-ed talking about how the case for the fact that the Nationals are a success on the field they are not necessarily a benefit to the city,” he recalled. He wrote an in-depth article, which outlines various ways in which the stadium does not benefit the city, but was later told the article would not run.

“They said they had serious concerns with my facts and I came back and gave them documentation for all my facts and they said no sorry we still don’t want your story,” he said.

According to the Washington Post, the decision not to run the piece had nothing to do with ad dollars or whether or not an editor agreed with the author's opinion.

Now it’s becoming clear that a successful season will leave questions lingering about if the taxpayers needed to foot the bill or if another path could have been taken.