- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2006

This week, the New York Yankees broke ground on a privately owned $1 billion stadium next to “the House that Ruth built.” By Washington’s standards, it makes Gotham City look thrifty and taxpayer-friendly. New York residents will bear about 20 percent of the cost, or somewhere over $200 million counting infrastructure improvements, whereas Washington taxpayers will foot the full cost of the $611 million Anacostia waterfront stadium and possibly more if the Nationals’ ploy to hand the city the overruns succeeds (the tally is likely to be over $700 million). Keep this in mind as the owners of the Nationals, the Lerners, continue to obstruct the District’s plans for development-friendly parking schemes and thereby strip the city of part of the means to recoup the investment.

A stadium deal for the exceptionally valuable Yankees franchise would in some ways be incomparable because New York’s stadium will be privately owned and Washington’s will belong to the city. It’s also worth considering mitigating factors like the uniqueness of the New York market and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner’s lucrative television deal. And indeed New York’s stadium deal looks favorable compared with the national baseball-stadium trend line of the last six years, in which cities generally pay half to three-quarters the price tag or the entire cost if the city owns the stadium. But the trend line itself is worth considering since Washington is nevertheless the laughable outlier in that trend. New York’s deal makes Washington’s look even more ridiculous.

Since 2000, seven new Major League Baseball stadiums have been christened, and all the deals were more favorable than Washington’s. All took place in smaller and less affluent cities. In 2000, three stadiums averaging about 67 percent public financing opened: Detroit’s $300 million Comerica Park (38 percent taxpayer-financed); Houston’s $250 million Minute Maid Park (then called Enron Field), which cost taxpayers $180 million or 68 percent; and San Francisco’s $357 million AT&T; Park stadium (formerly called PacBell Park and then SBC Park), which was financed almost entirely by private sources.

In 2001, 75.5 percent of Milwaukee’s $400 million Miller Park was financed by taxpayers and all of Pittsburgh’s $262 million city-owned PNC Park was footed by the same. The year 2003 brought Cincinnati’s $ 325 million Great American Ballpark (86 percent publicly financed). Finally in 2004 Philadelphia covered just over half the cost of the $346 million Citizens Bank Park. Now a $1 billion stadium in New York is under construction with about 20 percent public financing.

New Yorkers have decried the $200 million-plus in public contributions as corporate welfare, which it is. But compared to Washington, which will be bilked for $611 million and possibly more, New York comes off looking nearly wise. All of this makes the ingracious protestations of the Lerners over the city’s moderately inconveniencing parking scheme look all the worse.

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