Picture the Notebook at the ballpark for the first playoff home game in Washington in 79 years.
If a foul ball comes my way, my year will be complete, even if my son Peyton snags it first. Seven years of mostly also-ran seasons pale against the regionwide excitement over the Nationals’ success.
Of course, Washington almost didn’t get the baseball team.
“Baseball was never excited about going to Washington,” said Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans. “They didn’t like the history; they didn’t think the team could survive here,” he said on Friday’s WAMU 88.5 Politics Hour. Evans noted that had Virginia officials committed to floating stadium bonds, the team would be in northern Virginia.
Evans was a lead architect of landing the team in the nation’s capital.
A full-throated debate can still erupt about whether the city should have committed $800 million in funding for the stadium. Couldn’t the money have been spent on other public needs?
Evans noted that the city borrowed almost $600 million for the stadium and is well on its way to paying off the bonds early through a utility tax, a business tax and dedicated sales taxes from the stadium itself. He said the city couldn’t simply borrow $600 million for more traditional government spending because there would be no additional revenue generated to pay the bonds.
“In about five years the real estate taxes that we are getting will more than pay for what the stadium [cost],” said Evans, the longtime chair of the council’s Finance and Revenue Committee.
Evans also points to the Verizon Center and the convention center, both of which he says generate millions more in taxes than the facilities cost to build. Although businessman Abe Pollin financed the Verizon Center itself, the city spent more than $100 million on land and infrastructure to prepare the site.
On the Politics Hour, Evans said the council went through 12 different votes to commit to the stadium in order to draw the baseball team.
“On the council it was difficult. There were seven council members who stuck with this issue all the way through, and without them we wouldn’t have had it. And it starts with [former Chairman] Linda Cropp,” Evans recalled.
“Linda got a bad rap at the end,” he said. “She was trying to get a better deal for the city. It looked like it was going to impede baseball. But at the end of the day, without Linda Cropp’s leadership on that council we wouldn’t have gotten the baseball thing done.”
Evans laughed at one irony of the whole situation. He said Adrian Fenty opposed the stadium deal as the Ward 4 council member, insisting that old RFK could be renovated well enough.
“Adrian Fenty voted against it 12 times and [then] threw out the first pitch as mayor,” at the new stadium, Evans said. Fenty had succeeded Mayor Tony Williams, who threw the city’s weight behind the stadium deal along with a bare council majority.
But enough history.
Evans said each game of the division playoffs will generate, at minimum, almost $1 million in added sales taxes from concessions, merchandise and increased sales in any number of bars and restaurants showing the games.
“There’s no question, you get a World Series here, and you’ll sell out every hotel room in the city,” he said.
He said the added revenue more than pays for the additional public safety and transportation costs the city incurs to get people into and out of the stadium.
While we’re at it, let’s go all in on sports in this column.
What about the Washington Redskins returning someday to the District?
“It is a doable thing,” Evans said. “It’s not a question of if it will happen, but when it will happen. The Redskins have a lease in [Prince George’s County] until 2026. And at some time between now and 2026, there’s no doubt in my mind the Redskins will return to the city and build a brand-new stadium at the RFK site. That’s going to happen.”
Evans noted that he expects the football team to pay for any new stadium with the city picking up infrastructure costs. Many residential groups on Capitol Hill aren’t on board with Evans’s optimistic view. The residents are worried about overdevelopment and whether the big ’Skins operation would eat up valuable land that could go to other economic ideas, parks and recreation space. Evans says all of that can be worked out.
More sports? What about plans for a soccer stadium for D.C. United?
“I would say we are in final negotiations on the soccer stadium as well,” said Evans. He said the new ownership of the soccer team is more willing to put up money for a stadium, which could seat about 25,000 people. One key site is diagonally across South Capitol Street SW from the baseball stadium.
“It is a perfect area, bringing a lot of synergy with the baseball stadium,” Evans said. He also said there’s a lot of support for a soccer stadium because it doesn’t involve huge amounts of money.
Baseball, basketball, soccer and football: Evans has said his ultimate goal is for the city to bring in all of these big businesses to generate jobs, revenue and opportunities, in addition to the recreational goods like playoffs and the World Series.
• A final word. Casual consumers of TV, radio and print media might never have known Bill Line. The spokesperson for the National Park Service here in the nation’s capital knew his job and wore his ranger hat with pride, even as he biked around the city.
District police confirmed this week that Line died Sunday in an apparent suicide at his home in the city he loved.
For many years, Line helped all manner of journalists understand and appreciate the Park Service. He was sometimes grumpy, and he was sometimes long-winded with his explanations of policy, but he was never bored nor too busy to speak to the media. Many a spokesperson could learn a thing or two from him.