Photo by jeffl8n on Flickr.

Photo by jeffl8n on Flickr.

Changes may be coming to the location of facilities for 2 DC-area sports teams, the Redskins and DC United. But while soccer is getting the cold shoulder, leaders are trying to entice a football team that won’t help DC at all. They’d do more to help DC by urging the Redskins to keep their practice facilities and stadium away.

DC United

Major League Soccer is surveying fans to see how they’d feel about the team moving to Baltimore. DC united has long been unhappy with RFK Stadium, and considered several DC sites, but always needed the District to provide some public assistance, at least to fund associated infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Mayor Gray and Councilmembers Jack Evans and Michael Brown took a secret trip to Tampa to visit the Buccaneers’ practice facilities. Mike DeBonis reports that “the current thinking” is to take about half of the 50-acre Hill East planned development for a Redskins practice facility, then build a new stadium once the Redskins’ lease in Landover expires in 2027.

Not only would spending any taxpayer money on this scheme be extremely foolish, it’s a bad idea even if the Redskins bought the land at market value and financed everything themselves, which they surely don’t actually plan to do. In fact, having any Redskins facilities or stadium anywhere inside the District would be harmful to its future.

As DeBonis notes, Hill East, aka Reservation 13, is slated to become a mixed-use community with access to Metro on one side and the river on the other. Progress has been stalled due to the economy, but the economy will pick up, and the District needs to be thinking long term.

A practice facility occupies an enormous amount of land but employs or houses very few people. DC needs more taxpaying residents and more jobs, not big practice fields, weight rooms, and gyms for a small number of athletes. Maybe a couple rich ones will live in DC and bring their taxes, but how many really might? If they want to live in an urban area, they already can live here; if they don’t, they won’t anyway.

DeBonis suggests using some of the huge parking lots, which sit on federal land designated exclusively for recreation. But even this is a bad use of space. We could build playing fields for our residents and schools instead. There’s already a skate park going into this area; suggestions from a recent Capital Business forum included adding a velodrome or rock climbing.

It’s also worth thinking about the long term. Some of this land should become an extension of Capitol Hill, and 20 years from now, the feds might be willing to accommodate that. A 2006 NCPC study looked at the site, and suggested some mixed-use development and waterfront parks, along with sites for those memorials and museums every interest group wants to build these days.

DC’s competitive advantage (and Arlington’s) compared to the suburbs is that living in those jurisdictions is much more convenient. Most jobs are in DC and Arlington, and being central, they’re mathematically closer to jobs in other jurisdictions than living anywhere else.

Transportation options are more numerous; there are more Metro lines, more bus options, and you’re much more likely to be able to bike or even walk to work. More retail is within a short walk or bike or transit ride.

On the other hand, land is scarce; DC only has 68.3 square miles (and Arlington 26). Therefore, DC’s best strategy is to use its limited space to attract as many residents and taxpaying jobs (not government and nonprofits) as it can. Football does neither of these.

Football teams only play in their stadiums 8 regular home games per year. Add a few other events, and it’s still empty almost all the time. But when it’s full, huge numbers of people come at once, and many will drive, requiring massive parking surrounding the stadium. Plus, football has a strong tailgating tradition, meaning people want those parking lots.

Dan Snyder, the Redskins owner, also makes a lot of money from that parking. He makes so much that he tried to charge people an extra fee to get into the stadium if they don’t park, but rather walk in or come by shuttle from Metro. And he filed a high-profile nuisance lawsuit against one of DC’s most valuable media organizations. So why are any DC leaders spending time on accommodating the Redskins?

Soccer, on the other hand, frequently uses urban stadiums worldwide that don’t need much or even any parking. A DC stadium could be quite urban in its form. It hosts more games than football, though still far fewer than a baseball stadium or basketball/hockey/concert arena.

Advocates for a deal to keep United in DC say a soccer stadium will bring in economic development around the site, especially if it’s at Buzzard Point, where 2 streetcar lines are planned to terminate. It’d be great to have United there, though the District still shouldn’t spend any appreciable public dollars on it.

Mayor Gray tweeted, “We value DC United & hope they stay in DC. But District is in a challenging fiscal environment now & publicly funded stadium not possible.” Gray (or his media team) emphasized in follow-ups that “no public $ has been expended on Redskins either,” and, “Once again, we’ve put nothing on the table for Redskins.”

Gray should hold that line and never offer anything to the Redskins. We can be sure that Evans and probably Michael Brown would love to, though. Evans even claims to be maniacally focused on keeping the District’s budget lean, but has a giant blind spot when it comes to giving money to organized sports (or, for that matter, almost any development project, though at least those purport to bring in more tax revenue than the tax break is worth).

DC residents are better off with the Redskins in Prince George’s County than inside the District borders. As this year’s Council campaign heats up, voters should ask candidates if they believe in spending any public money on football, and be very wary of any candidate who says yes.