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The conventional wisdom is that the proposed deal to build a D.C. United soccer stadium at Buzzard Point—-whether you’re a true believer or a skeptic—-is better than the one that got us Nationals Park. After all, the city paid nearly $700 million to build the baseball stadium, covering nearly all its costs, whereas we’d only be paying for the land and infrastructure for the soccer stadium, around $150 million total. And in return, we get not only entertainment and tourism, but also a catalyst for development at Buzzard Point and the opportunity to milk new tax revenue out of properties involved in the swap, like the outdated Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets NW.
But D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute Executive Director Ed Lazere, fresh off a Washington Post profile as the leading stadium opponent, makes the counterintuitive argument: In one important respect, Nationals Park was actually a better deal.
The issue is taxes. Whereas the city will fund the D.C. United stadium without any new revenue, the city raised taxes to cover the Nationals Park expenses.
Now some people would consider higher taxes a bad thing. But Lazere argues that raising taxes helps avoid that problem we’re getting ourselves into with the D.C. United deal: pitting the stadium against other priorities.
Technically, we’re not putting up much cash for the stadium, since the bulk of the city’s costs are in assembling the land for the stadium site, and we’re doing that through a series of land swaps. But Lazere rightly argues that if we weren’t trading the Reeves Center for property at Buzzard Point, we could simply sell it to a developer (and probably for more more money, since we have zero leverage in a swap to which we’ve already essentially committed). And with that money, we could fund things like affordable housing, school modernization, and a new Reeves Center in Anacostia, whose funding hasn’t been worked out yet.
Of course, a tax hike might seem like strange policy at a time when the city’s already running big surpluses. But given that D.C.’s tax rates are the lowest in the region, and that our schools and affordable housing aren’t what they could be, it’s not such an outlandish idea. If we really want a soccer stadium, maybe we should be paying for it out of our pockets rather than out of funds that could be used for arguably higher priorities.
Stadium rendering courtesy of D.C. United