- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The cost of the proposed ballpark along the Anacostia River in Southeast is forever rising, certain to provoke a lot of grimacing, consternation and hard swallowing along the way.

This is the exercise in fiscal folly that began with a $340 million price tag in the spring of 2004, now destined to exceed $600 million before the first spade of dirt has been turned.

This is not intended to take the joy out of Washington’s reinvigorated relationship with baseball after a 34-year pause. Major League Baseball was only too fortunate to have the robust demographics of the nation’s capital at its disposal. Try as they might to look elsewhere, Commissioner Bud Selig and his minions inevitably accepted the combination to the city’s vault.

Now the 13 members of the D.C. Council are coming up against the hard realization that the proposed ballpark is poised to be a money pit, as property owners, developers, MLB owners and construction companies endeavor to feast on this trough of bounty to the end.

It only promises to become more convoluted. We have not endured the first construction delay because of inclement weather. We have not had the first cost overrun. We have not learned of this or that unexpected snag yet.

And we can expect all these developments in the next two years, as the existing structures are razed and a ballpark intended to revitalize the area is built next to one of the most polluted rivers in America.

The odoriferous Anacostia River is just one of the many potential impediments in turning the neighborhood into a hot destination. A filthy river is no one’s notion of an idyllic centerpiece.

The long-term vision of city planners is that the ballpark will do for the Navy Yard what the MCI Center has done for Chinatown.

When Abe Pollin’s facility was opened in December 1997, Chinatown was a run-down neighborhood fraught with urban ills. Now it is a gleaming, vibrant hub of activity no longer dependent on the suburban infiltration of game night. Chinatown beckons shoppers, diners, moviegoers and the hip these days.

It has been suggested that Chinatown has evolved into an antiseptic vision distant from its history, made all the more jarring by the hokey Chinese characters looming from the facades of upscale retailers and eateries. That is a mostly architectural carp that trivializes Chinatown’s emergence.

Can a ballpark do the same in a previously forgotten parcel of the city? That remains the bet of the city and developers, and that bet is ever more problematic than it was on Seventh and F streets in Northwest.

And that bet seemingly rises in cost with each utterance of a D.C. Council member. The council is going to approve the lease, one way or another, despite all the huffing and puffing and grandstanding going into an election year.

There is no good financial explanation for a ballpark being made a ward of the business community in order to line the pockets of MLB and the new ownership group. All those costs eventually will be passed down to the consumer, as the mayor’s office and D.C. Council members know only too well.

The latest blustering of the D.C. Council has all the feel of an exercise in plausible deniability. As the ballpark rises from the ground and the costs mount, council members want to be able to tell constituents that they fought and tinkered with the deal every painful step of the way.

It was a bad deal from the outset, but a deal nevertheless, which is why MLB feels comfortable in going to arbitration, if necessary.

It is a bad deal with an uncertain payoff that promises to become worse.

And all the political bickering is so much background noise, so much hot air.

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