- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2008



Publicly funded stadiums rarely pay off. And yet the District of Columbia - admittedly just one of many American cities to fall prey to the practice - continues to step over itself to offer tax dollars to sports moguls. The latest example, the proposed $150 million Poplar Point stadium for the D.C. United soccer club, would be a worthy addition to the District if private funds were underwriting it. They are not.

“[A] soccer stadium that is used just 20 to 30 times per year cannot realistically be expected to be a driver of economic development,” economist Brad Humphreys, a stadium-finance expert at the University of Alberta, said yesterday in a joint statement with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute and Friends of the Earth. The institute opposes the subsidy, as it did Nationals Park several years back. The 26 economists it marshalled all doubt the logic being advanced by stadium proponents. Even assuming that Mr. Humphreys’ event tally is low, public funding still would not be worth it. In a city with failing schools and a surging crime wave - and excellent major-event options, we would point out, beginning with RFK Stadium for soccer - how could it be?

Study after independent study shows that it is not. Publicly funded stadiums “have no effect on the growth rate of real per capita income and may reduce the level of real per capita income in cities that build them,” Mr. Humphreys wrote with Dennis Coates in the most readable survey of the arcane field of stadium finance in Regulation magazine back in 2000. The reason, as the 26 economists write this week, “appears to be that sports stadiums do not increase overall entertainment spending but merely shift it from other entertainment venues to the stadium.”

Of course, this “shifting” greatly enhances the value of a franchise when a publicly funded stadium is agreed to. Little wonder.

No one denies that Poplar Point is a forlorn corner of the nation’s capital that sorely needs development. But Mayor Adrian Fenty and the D.C. Council are ill-advised to pursue this project as long as the District’s failing schools and crime resurgence continue to cry out for attention.

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