- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

See what Washington’s stadium spending spree has wrought? Our best businessmen now consider sports giveaways to be the norm.

Abe Pollin, one of the finest Washingtonians, period, is asking for $50 million in city bonds to upgrade the Verizon Center, which is the home arena for the Washington Wizards, Washington Mystics and Washington Capitals. What a strange moment for the District. The only answer is a firm “no,” albeit with regret and fondness for the 83-year-old Mr. Pollin, who built the arena with private funds and is one of the city’s greatest patrons. Despite years of giveaways, there is no sports-finance entitlement in Washington, even for Mr. Pollin.

We suppose a sports magnate can be forgiven for thinking otherwise. City financing for the $700 million-plus Anacostia waterfront stadium for the Washington Nationals baseball team is much more egregious than Mr. Pollin’s request. The same may also prove true of the city’s planned giveaway of 110 acres of Poplar Point to build a soccer stadium for D.C. United. If and when the Washington Redskins return home — we think that they should, just not fleece taxpayers — another is possible. In short, weak-kneed concessions for sports franchises and facilities are the indisputable pattern in Washington of late.

Saying no to Mr. Pollin after buckling to Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer is more than a little ironic, since Mr. Pollin is so committed to the District, and has been so reasonable about related matters in the past. The 10-year-old Verizon Center was built the right way: with private financing for the arena while the city covered the infrastructure costs. The arena is widely (and rightly) credited with revitalizing Chinatown and helping return downtown Washington to vibrancy. Meanwhile, here’s a measure of the man’s philanthropy. This year, Mr. Pollin and his wife, Irene, are donating $100 to area schools each time Washington Wizards Guard Gilbert Arenas scores a point. Last season, the All-Star scored 2,346. He is on a similar pace this season.

A major concern with the Pollin request is that only $8 million of projects is specified in his $50 million request. One project is luxury suites and the other is scoreboard upgrades — but neither is a remotely justifiable use of public funds. The remaining $42 million would be spent on future unspecified projects.

No way. The D.C. Council rejected proposals to renovate D.C. schools because critical details were missing.

Abe Pollin’s commitment to the capital is beyond dispute. The trend of sports giveaways is indisputable, as well. Mayor Adrian Fenty and the D.C. Council need to stiffen their spines and make these sports moguls understand that they — not D.C. taxpayers — are the ones who should ante up for the economic benefit from using the name “Washington.” It’s just that simple.

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