- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003

Cascading attendance figures and lousy television ratings prove that millions of baseball fans across the nation are expressing less and less interest in the erstwhile national pastime. Meanwhile, scores of financial titans with the wherewithal to own or buy a Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise are also abandoning the sport en masse, either by trying to unload teams at depressed prices or deciding against bidding for one. In this environment, Mayor Williams, who never impressed anyone as a sports fanatic in earlier years, has become increasingly obsessed with bringing baseball back to the District. So obsessed, it seems, that the mayor appears to have opened up a bidding war with himself to lure the Montreal Expos to the nation’s capital.

How else to explain the mayor’s recent hefty increase in public-sector support for building and financing a new ballpark? More than two years ago, as Eric Fisher of The Washington Times reminded us in yesterday’s news story, Mr. Williams offered public support totaling $200 million to lure a major league team to the District. Last winter, D.C. officials provided MLB executives with a preliminary financing outline that would have limited public stadium financing to $275 million.

This week, the mayor upped the ante by more than $60 million. He has now presented the D.C. Council with a ballpark package totaling $338.7 million, which includes $40 million to fund lending reserves and $9 million in bond acquisition costs. The package also includes $15 million to renovate RFK Stadium, where the team would play its first two or three seasons while a new $436 million ballpark was constructed. The balance of the package — $275 million — would directly subsidize the construction of the ballpark, representing nearly two-thirds of its cost. Despite its disproportionate contribution, the mayor’s package would unaccountably allow the team’s eventual owners to defray their share of ballpark costs by the amount of the stadium’s naming rights, which would generate between $2 million and $4 million per year.

It is easy to understand why Mr. Williams would regard the return of a major-league ballclub to the District as a legacy. And we defer to nobody in our keen desire to see baseball return to the nation’s capital, where it belongs. But in a region where Jack Kent Cooke and Abe Pollin opened their wallets to finance the vast majority of costs associated with their sports palaces, we draw the line at public officials dipping their hands in taxpayers’ wallets (without their consent, no less) to finance the vast majority of costs to build a ballpark. Some legacies simply are not worth the price.

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