When you don't believe you're really "world class," you make bad deals
In "Beyond Washington, Most Teams Cover Stadium Overruns," the Washington Post reports on the DC Government stadium contract with Major League Baseball. In most of the recent stadium projects across the country, other communities negotiated agreements where the teams pay for stadium cost overruns. It should have been clear beforehand that it would be likely that the costs could and would significantly increase by the time the stadium is finished. According to the Post article:
"In all but one of the six cases, the team was obligated to pay the extra costs." ... Washington's concession on the overruns was just part of a deal that some baseball officials have privately said is among the most generous they've seen -- even by the standards of an organization that, by virtue of its monopoly status, enjoys extraordinary leverage over cities trying to get or keep franchises.
District officials, determined to return a baseball team to Washington and led to believe that the league might relocate the Montreal Expos elsewhere, gave baseball virtually everything it wanted -- naming rights and stadium, parking and concession revenue. And by initially offering to fully finance the stadium, the District bucked a 14-year trend in which cities were demanding that teams pay a significant share of building costs."
This is but another instance of how District officials appear to believe that the city has little to offer, and must make extraordinary concessions in order to attract business.
The Brentwood Shopping Center [now called Rhode Island Place] is another case in point, where the City gave up land (that granted could have and should have been better used) and incurred significant financial and programmatic costs in return (not having an impound lot for some time, etc.), to attract big box retail businesses, without protections--they sold the land for a Kmart and now that Kmart isn't coming, the City has no recourse to get the land back. Not to mention that they didn't encourage-require the developer to build an urban-oriented project on land a 4 minute walk from a subway station--the site cries out for mixed-use, in particular housing.
Despite all the talk about DC being a world class city (see this speech by William Hanbury, President and CEO, Washington, DC, Convention and Tourism Corporation) I would aver that District officials don't believe it.
Somehow it is a delicate business to marry professional expertise, citizen involvement, and advocacy. Any of these spheres are likely to fail in isolation, but clearly too often the City government engages in such negotiations without really trying to bring in other voices (Divergent views, or the "odd-man" hypothesis as written about in the book Andromeda Strain by Chrichton). It leads to bad deals.
As I said in a recent e-conversation (discussed in a blog entry about the Kennedy Theater and its upcoming butchering at the hands of the DC Office on Aging, with complicity of the DC Historic Preservation Office):
"When you ask for nothing that's what you get. When you ask for the world, you don't get it, but you get a lot more than nothing."
Maybe instead of having self-esteem classes in the DC Public Schools, we need to have them for elected officials and government workers.
When you give the world away, without even being asked for it, at the bargaining table you've lost any leverage you might have now or in the future.