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, November 10, 2014

Taking a city park for a Washington Wizards practice facility: Yet another example that DC needs a public capital planning and budgeting plan and process

According to NBC4 ("Leaders Hope Wizards Training Facility in Shaw Could Lure Players to City Living"), there is a proposal to build a Washington Wizards practice facility in the city, on land currently used as park space.

Note that I didn't realize that this is something that the team has been working on for awhile according to this 2013 Washington Post article, "Washington Wizards plan for new practice facility away from Verizon Center," which I apparently missed when it first ran.  There are many more details about the concept and intent in the Post piece.

DC doesn't earn tax revenue from professional athletes if they don't live in the city.  Unlike all other jurisdictions across the county, most of which tax players--home and visiting--for income earned when a game is played ("Figuring athletes' taxes is, well, taxing," Boston Globe), DC doesn't earn income tax revenue on player salaries, because of the Congressionally-imposed ban on a "commuter tax."

From the Globe article:
Almost every state with a major league franchise has a law that requires visiting pro athletes to pay taxes on the income they earn there. Most, including Massachusetts, calculate an athlete’s taxable income by measuring the number of “duty days” spent in the state. A duty day is any day on which an athlete is required to participate in team activities, from the first preseason training session to the final post-season game.
Because of the ban on "commuter taxes," for DC to earn tax revenue from a professional athlete, the athlete has to live in the city.  A few do, but most don't.  One who did is now retired DC United midfielder Clyde Simms ("D.C. United's Clyde Simms has embraced city living in Washington," Washington Post).

The Washington Wizards already practice in DC, and most if all of the players don't live in DC. The justification touted by sources quoted in the NBC4 piece is that maybe the city would earn some income tax revenue, because the facility would be close to "work" for team players, who instead of living in Maryland or Virginia, would then choose to live in DC,

But this is a pretty facile justification, worthy of a D grade at best for a high school paper.

If players practice in the Verizon Center now and don't live in the city, why would they start living in the city if the facility is moved to a different site at 1601 11th Street NW, 1.2 miles away from the arena?
1601 11th Street NW, Washington, DC
The site is shown as the middle left of this Google Street View image.

Using pre-existing park-open space for mostly nonpublic uses.  Personally I do not think that the city should ever use park space currently existing for a building unrelated to park and recreation or community functions, unless every other potential option has been explored and found to be impossible.

Even if the space were used for "high school basketball games" as suggested in the article, such space for that purpose would duplicate unnecessarily existing space at high schools currently used for that purpose.

A training facility for a professional sports team not accessible to the public isn't a public use and doesn't justify conversion of publicly-used park space.

If DC could tax the salaries of professional athletes regardless of domicile.  Then it could be worth putting in public resources towards such a facility, using the argument that it supports the return on investment through income tax revenue on players.  However, using scarce public park space for such a facility can only rarely be justified.

The Washington Capitals practice facility is different.  Note that the hockey training facility for the Washington Capitals is built on top of an existing parking structure in Arlington County.  So the creation of this facility didn't take away park or other higher use public space.

Note that this facility, Kettler Capitals Iceplex (pictured at left), is used by local university and community hockey teams.

However, ice rink facilities are scarce and access to this facility can be considered a public benefit, while high school gyms, also used for basketball games, are not rare at all.

Therefore the use of a professional basketball team practice facility for similar purposes would be of minimal public benefit, because it doesn't provide anything to the public that doesn't exist already.

Need for a public capital improvements planning and budgeting process.  Projects involving public land and resources should be planned in a public process.  Technically you could argue this happens in the city.  It does, but through the annual budget or other legislative acts.  (Separately, the Chief Financial Officer agency has a capital planning unit.)

Most jurisdictions, and virtually all major cities and counties, have a capital improvements planning and budgeting process that is separate from an annual budget.  Partly this is because other jurisdictions typically have to get bond funding for such projects and that requires an affirmative vote by the electorate.  For example, Fairfax County just approved a $100 million transportation bond measure, which directs $84 million to pedestrian ($78MM) and biking ($6MM) facility construction.

DC uses bonds to pay for capital projects, but a public vote of approval for bond financing isn't required.

I hate to use the professional term "half-assed" but DC is "half-assed" in not having an open and transparent process for capital projects planning and budgeting.  Most jurisdictions have a six-year running capital budget, which is updated on a two-year cycle.

-- Long-Range Capital Improvement Program Strategic Plan, Austin, Texas
-- Baltimore County Capital Improvements Program
-- Montgomery County Capital Improvements Program

I argue that capital projects, tax incentive financing requests, land and building disposition, and alley closings should all be handled under such system.

Deals for facilities for professional sports teams (e.g., "D.C. United stadium deal has plenty of risks and rewards, report says," Washington Business Journal) should have to be run through such a process as well, rather than through special legislation and deals.

If you're going to waste public resources on a professional basketball team's practice facility put it in a place that's already underutilized and with minimal impact on existing public uses. Putting such a facility on the grounds of the RFK Stadium or at the DC Armory would have minimal negative impact on the public.  Not so using public park space serving a dense neighborhood with limited park and open space resources.

The Bilbao Arena as a counter-example.  This professional basketball arena was built to include separate community recreational facilities, including a pool, and the public has access to the basketball floor when not being used by the team.  But... the Shaw neighborhood, where the proposed space is located, already possesses a variety of community recreational facilities (Downtown, where Verizon Center is located, does not--imagine if a community recreational facility had been constructed as part of the Verizon Center project!).

Past entries on public funding of sports facilities:

-- Revisiting the characteristics that shape the success of a stadium-arena for a locality
-- Stadiums and arenas as the enabling infrastructure for "money-making" platforms
-- Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and profits

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At 9:25 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Calling that space "park like" is an exaggeration.

"The exact location is at 11th and Rhode Island streets NW, currently the site of a closed middle school, a dog park and a skate park. The city had budgeted $54 million to build a new middle school at the site of the old Shaw Middle School. "

Between blowing 50 million on another middle school and a NBA practice facility is a rock and a hard place thing.

I would be symapthetic if the Wizards were offering to buy and build this on their own.

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

no argument that the current space is underutilized. But conversion of this civic space to a noncivic space has to be considered, and whether or not this type of conversion is beneficial.

If there isn't demand for a school, just build housing.

A practice facility makes sense in the RFK-Res. 13 area. And since the Wizards people aren't going to live in the city anyway, don't be so accommodating. Put it in a place that achieves the city's objectives more than the Wizards.

At 5:30 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Apparently Brownsville TX has a similar issue now.

The UT is to purchase a 48.5 acre parcel adjacent to its campus, which is a park. The city wants to sell so that the university will stay downtown. And the lost amenities are to be replaced at a different location.

One of the six grounds for suit in the lawsuit is the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, which--unlike DC--puts restrictions on the sale of park lands and requires planning and evaluation and mitigation to do so.

And I like the phrasing of the statute, which is more direct than my meandering.

"no feasible and prudent alternative to the use or taking of such land"

"no feasible and prudent alternative" will be the phrasing I adopt in future discussions of this type of issue.




Sec. 26.001. PROTECTED LAND; NOTICE OF TAKING. (a) A department, agency, political subdivision, county, or municipality of this state may not approve any program or project that requires the use or taking of any public land designated and used prior to the arrangement of the program or project as a park, recreation area, scientific area, wildlife refuge, or historic site, unless the department, agency, political subdivision, county, or municipality, acting through its duly authorized governing body or officer, determines that:
(1) there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use or taking of such land; and
(2) the program or project includes all reasonable planning to minimize harm to the land, as a park, recreation area, scientific area, wildlife refuge, or historic site, resulting from the use or taking.


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