- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Anacostia sorely needs new development. But city officials seek to bring it the wrong way with yet another stadium handout.

Taking $150 million in city tax dollars from coffers to finance a 27,000-seat Poplar Point soccer stadium for D.C. United means it’s “Groundhog Day” at City Hall. Of course, this time, officials seem to have learned not a thing from the last raiding of the public treasury for a baseball team. Back then, the city effectively launched a bidding war with itself.

D.C. lawmakers, including D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, and members Jack Evans of Ward 2 and Marion Barry of Ward 8, are pushing the soccer stadium plan for Poplar Point - which is part of a larger mixed-use development initiative for a forlorn 110 acres on the river. The contrasting examples of Washington’s Chinatown development and the debate over Nationals Park on the Anacostia waterfront highlight what’s wrong with the idea. One is vibrant and the other is headed toward the same outcome. But only in the case of the Nationals and the new stadium did city officials allow public money to be the primary driver - while vital city services languished.

The RFK Stadium-National Guard Armory is a perfect example. It cost tens of thousands of dollars to transfer RFK from baseball to soccer and back again. What’s more, building a new soccer stadium means a complete abandonment of RFK. (What to do with that gray elephant?) Meanwhile, the men and women who serve in the Guard can’t even get their restrooms and other facilities upgraded and modernized.

The council should take its cue from Chinatown: Financing infrastructure improvements around private development is a superb use of tax dollars. Sports mogul Abe Pollin’s $220 million investment in the previously downtrodden Chinatown neighborhood has yielded considerable dividends for the entire city via extensive commercial development, a humming downtown and increased tax revenue. The use of tax dollars was limited. This freed resources for their rightful use in core public services.

But city officials handed an estimated $611 million to the well-heeled dons of Major League Baseball in the case of Nationals Park on the Anacostia waterfront. Before, during and after the handout, evidence abounded of serious neglect of vital public services - all of which have prior claim on city money. We refer to the fire and emergency response crisis; the bottom or near-bottom national performance of D.C. Public Schools, which is a national embarrassment; and ongoing infrastructure difficulties including street repair and Metro funding. Any of these new or continuing problems are a lasting shame for those voices who advocated city tax dollars for a baseball stadium - and now advocate the same for soccer.

We call on the rest of the D.C. Council and Mayor Adrian Fenty to see to an end of it. The District must not pour tax money into stadium boondoggles for wealthy sports magnates.

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