Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, December 10, 2012

One of the stupidest ideas of all time: "trading" the Washington Redskins for the FBI headquarters

Note: in comments, Alex B. makes the point that this concept hasn't been floated by the Executive Branch but by Councilman Jack Evans, who has a big h*** o* for the Redskins, e.g., how he, Mayor Gray, and CM Michael Brown were trying to recruit the Redskins practice facility to DC ("Gray Admin Mum on Tampa" from the City Paper), although fortunately they're going to Richmond instead.  See "Redskins camp, Bon Secours expansion part of $40 million deal from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Alex B. cites this article, "Jack Evans wants to swap the FBI for the Redskins," from the Washington Post.

NBC4 reports that DC Government economic development officials
football-obsessed City Councilman Jack Evans has approached Prince George's County economic development officials, offering the FBI headquarters in return for the Washington Redskins football team.  See "D.C. Would Swap FBI Headquarters for Redskins."

Now despite all the excitement around new quarterback Robert Griffin III, who if he stays healthy, likely will lead the Redskins to prominence after many years of mediocrity, the reality is that professional football as an economic development generator is pretty much proven to not be all that successful.

I can't remember the number, but Prince George's County generates very little income from the Redskins, something like $6 million/year, and that's only because they assess an admissions tax on tickets.

This is yet another demonstration that DC's executive branch doesn't really understand what economic development is supposed to be about, which is building and growing the local economy, and generating the most financial return possible and increasing economic returns, from the actions involved.  See the past blog entry, "Unstrategy for economic development in DC."

I won't argue the branding value of professional sports.  I will argue that because football stadiums cost so damn much (e.g., the new stadium for the Dallas Cowboys cost a lot, see "The cost of Cowboys Stadium has escalated to $1.2 billion" from the Dallas Morning News, and a new stadium in Los Angeles for professional football would cost the same according to "L.A. football stadium plan still faces major hurdles" from the Los Angeles Times)), and are used so little--8 games/year, and maybe a couple more times for playoff games, and at least in the first 5-7 years of existence, as a Super Bowl location--it's almost impossible to generate significant positive economic return (I won't say "return on investment") from public monies spent.  (Also see "In Stadium Building Spree, US Taxpayers Lose $4 Billion" from Bloomberg Businessweek.)

Figuring that if real estate developers were spending this money on other types of development, they'd be aiming for a 7% to 12% return (or more, ideally), you'd need a lot of financial return to make any sense for doing something so stupid.

I haven't written a review yet of DC's new "economic development strategy" because I want to write it as a kind of review essay looking at some other writings about what cities should do in economic development.

I make the point that there is a difference betwen doing "economic development" which is often focused on helping new entrants into a city rather than growing your own, which I call "building a local economy" (Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan calls it "economic gardening," see "Rick Snyder Takes a Venture Capitalist’s Approach to Governing Michigan" from Governing Magazine). 

Building a local economy as an approach is focused on maximizing return on investment, looking at all the costs and revenue streams of projects, and making hard choices.

It's also more focused on building the infrastructure that supports economic development, such as transit, utilities, higher education, the ability to organize business, support of research and financing networks, business development, maintaining the existence of lower cost space, etc.

I have to admit that Verizon Center is an important anchor downtown--although I am correct in arguing that it hasn't been the reason that the area improved, but it has definitely been a key factor--and I have to admit that the baseball stadium is a key element in the repositioning of the "Capital Riverfront" district.

In both cases though I argue that there are a lot of problems with the general argument and that if there weren't also residential and retail (not yet present to a great extent in Capital Riverfront but that's changing) the areas would suck, just like how the area around Tiger Stadium didn't contribute all that much to that part of Detroit, how Cap Centre didn't do much of anything for Landover, how stadiums in Philadelphia and Atlanta don't really contribute all that much to local economic improvement--but Wrigley Field does, because it's integrated into the community fabric of its neighborhood in Chicago, and LoDo does and doesn't--it's integrated into the community fabric, but the neighborhood had been revitalizing long before the stadium came along... note that I also argue that Camden Yards hasn't been as effective as the Verizon Center in spurring revitalization in Baltimore, even though it has contributed to branding and other objectives--partly this is due to DC's possession of a robust transit network, which can move lots of people to games/events without increasing motor vehicle traffic on the street.

.... anyway.


Interestingly, the New York Times has an article, "An N.F.L. Team at the Rose Bowl?," about how the Rose Bowl in Pasadena could be used as an interim stadium for a new football team in LA, while a new stadium is built, but that residents have already said they didn't want a professional football team in the city--through a referendum.

From the article:

Pasadena, pressed for money to cover overruns on its $150 million renovation of the Rose Bowl, has offered the 90,000-seat stadium as a temporary home for a team until a final home is built.

That move has set off a storm of protest — with threats of legal action and a recall drive against a City Council member who supported it — reflecting this community’s ambivalent relationship with an iconic stadium that has long defined it, but at a price.

For up to 12 weekends a year designated for big events, like U.C.L.A. football games and the actual Rose Bowl extravaganza, the fields, parking lots and golf course that surround the stadium in the Arroyo Seco are overrun with parked cars, tailgaters, party tents and rowdy celebrators. ...

The City Council voted to move ahead with the plan — approving an environmental impact report and expanding the permitted number of so-called displacement events to 25, from 12, to accommodate 13 N.F.L. home games — after a raucous four-hour debate that has rolled on even after the last gavel was dropped. The measure was described by supporters as a critical, but not binding, step to position the city to take advantage of badly needed revenues. ...

As much as Pasadena might be identified with football — the Rose Bowl game is played there every January, and it has been the host of five Super Bowls — there has always been a limit to just how much football it wants. Residents voted overwhelmingly in 2006 against a referendum to court an N.F.L. team.  (It was 9,992 in favor and 25,662 against.)

For a variety of reasons, DC's Home Rule Charter doesn't give much authority to citizen referendums and says that any referendums concerning finance of the city are illegal.  While I think such provisions should be changed, I certainly see the value in doing a referendum on this...

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At 5:15 PM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

This is yet another demonstration that DC's executive branch doesn't really understand what economic development is supposed to be about, which is building and growing the local economy, and generating the most financial return possible and increasing economic returns, from the actions involved.

Just a quick nitpick: I haven't seen this particular plan come from the Executive branch. It seems to be all from Jack Evans.

From Mike DeBonis:

A Gray administration official not interested in “fueling this stupidity” declined to even entertain the suggestion of a deal. Evans declined to name any administration officials who have joined in his quest.

At 6:13 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Urgh. Thanks for the correction.

At 6:46 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

In terms of branding, I was making the point on mid-market and smaller teams and incentives for them to push themselves nationally.

However, I had a senior grumpy man moment today. On the circulator, a young woman was trying to decide between the Dupont and Union station lines and tying everything up. She was trying to ascertain "penn quarter" and the bus driver had no idea where that was. I spoke up and said "Verizon center" to which he said "lady, you're on the wrong bus."

So there is some branding on the more local level as well. Not sure it is worth spending a billion to brand the "riverfront" as the "stadium" area but at least people know where that is.

At 8:37 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The Metrobus operators won't tell people about the Circulator either...

There are lotsa issues about this.

At 12:57 PM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

Well, forget my dismissal of the Executive Branch's interest:

“[The FBI] is in the city, it certainly will continue to create a certain level of business in the city. But you know if it were outside the city we’d love to have it over in Landover,” Gray said, smiling. “We’d love to have the Redskins back.”

So, yeah.

At 2:15 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I forgot about how on my neighborhood listserv people suggested putting the FBI at Walter Reed to make the neighborhood "safer." Not unlike how Shaw ANC justified a hotel at 7th and Rhode Island as attracting tourists who then would attract more police presence to protect them and thereby the neighborhood.

I do hope I get around to doing the big writeup. It's just the way I want to do it is more a review essay.


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