Thursday, December 18, 2014

Are we close enough to Nashville's new ballpark to spot the manure?

Aaron Gordon at Vice Sports engages in a scathing open dialogue with a New York Times article regarding Washington, DC's plan to subsidize a new soccer stadium for its pro-team. While Gordon's entire piece is worthy of your time and attention, I wanted to comment on his observations about the lack of promised economic development that was to come with the opening six years ago of a new professional baseball park.

It seems relevant to North Nashville's close proximity to the new Nashville Sounds' home, First Tennessee Park, which is promised to bring dramatic economic development to the Jefferson Street corridor and the nearby neighborhoods. NYT comments are in bold; Gordon's replies are unbolded:

City leaders say the 20,000-seat stadium will serve as a catalyst for economic development for this area of southwest Washington, the way that Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals baseball team, did for its formerly stagnant neighborhood just a few blocks north and east.

Amazingly, the second half of this sentence directly contradicts the first. It takes 12 minutes to walk from Nationals Park to the very tip of Buzzard Point. If Nationals Park—which cost $700 million of taxpayer money—was such a catalyst for economic development, why do they need to build another nine-figure stadium a few blocks away?

Maybe because it didn't revitalize anything.

This has been the case in other Washington neighborhoods after the city voted to approve major new public venues...

Oh, cool! I mean, if it's worked before...

...including the Verizon Center, home to the N.B.A.'s Wizards and the N.H.L.'s Capitals since 1997;...

That was privately funded by then-owner Abe Polin, so not really a public investment! OK, what else?

...and the 2.3 million-square-foot Walter E. Washington Convention Center, completed in 2003, in revitalized Mount Vernon Square.

Wait, seriously?

I lived in the DC area for eight years, including a year and a half in Shaw, which lies just north of Mount Vernon. The above sentiment about Mount Vernon being "revitalized" is the kind of buried horseshit you can only spot if you're close enough to smell it.

Granted, the cost of the DC baseball stadium in taxpayer money was about 10 times what First Tennessee Park is going to cost Nashvillians in taxes. The flip side of that: the logic unfolds that the economic development in DC communities should proportionately be 10 times what was promised for North Nashville neighborhoods.

However, nearby DC neighborhoods got zilch.

Let's focus on the DC developer's comment that local lawmakers may have rigged expectations too high in order to give the ballpark project momentum. Some of us have been shouting that from jump with Nashville's ballpark. But to the point: they rationalized after the damage was done by minimizing the impact of the new ballpark, saying it is "just a very small piece" of development in the neighborhoods. Will First Tennessee ballpark developers and team owners thusly walk back their spin in the coming years? Will they be minimizing the claims Hizzoner kept making in late 2013 about how a new ballpark will create Jeff St. "revival"?

(If they're honest, they'll acknowledge that our neighborhoods were developing and gentrifying well before a new ballpark rose to the level of anything above a nostalgic pipe dream).

Like DC, Nashville has a convention center that is not performing to the results promised. Nashville is getting half the projected hotel nights, and no doubt tourists will compete for parking spaces downtown with minor league baseball fans for parking spaces during the summer (Metro officials said they hope Sounds fans use shrinking downtown parking opportunities). When they aren't competing downtown they will be choking on-street parking in Germantown, Hope Gardens and Salemtown.

The logic of overrated convention centers also applies to subsidized ballparks:

The whole process is basically maneuvered by the business community — banks, hotels, retailers, construction industries, others who will profit while the city loses .... Cities’ corporate movers and shakers long ago figured out how to get their new centers or expansions without the voters having a say.

The rising $70,000,000 Nashville is giving minor league team owner Frank Ward does one thing above all: it minimizes his family's risk and it maximizes inflated income from ticket and merchandising sales. It does so at our expense, even though our own elected officials allowed practically no influence over the deal. In particular it allows Mr. Ward to sell luxury boxes to rich people from Brentwood and Williamson County who would be more likely to snap up real estate investments in our urban core neighborhoods than to patronize and to put their cash in the pockets of the locally owned businesses up and down Jefferson Street.

Again, regular make-ends-meet taxpayers are the losers in this scenario, because economic benefits pad the pocketbooks of the people privately invested in the ballpark and other nearby properties. The latter need no financial assistance. Little will come back to us regardless of whether this particular ballpark bucks the trend and the science that indicate that any economic impact of sports venues is negligible and fabricated.

I am still waiting for someone to stop cheerleading and to begin explaining to me logically how the ballpark makes our lives cumulatively better in Salemtown when the costs are frankly and fearlessly considered.

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