A plan to provide $150 million of bonds to build a professional soccer stadium in the District of Columbia spurred a group of economists to come out against the project, saying it would not bring sufficient revenues to the city to justify its construction.
“Economic research on the impact of professional sports stadiums suggests that the proposal to provide between $150 million and $225 million in public funds to build a new professional soccer stadium in the District of Columbia likely will not generate notable economic or fiscal benefits for the city,” said a statement by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute signed by 26 economists. “Most studies find that new sports stadiums do not increase employment or incomes. Some even find that stadiums have a modest negative effect on local economies.”
The stadium plan has yet to be formally introduced by any District Council member, though sources have said it could still happen this summer. It calls for bonds that would be backed by excess tax revenue — expected to be about $20 million per year — collected from the Washington Nationals ballpark tax.
The district’s chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, told Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and the council in a letter in February that the predicted excess revenues — which are above what the city would need to pay debt service on about $535 million of tax-exempt and taxable bonds issued for the ballpark — could possibly back debt for a new project.
The stadium for Major League Soccer’s D.C. United team would be located on a site in Ward 8 of the district called Poplar Point, a $2.5 billion, 110-acre project aimed at transforming waterfront land into a mixed-use development, similar to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
The statement from the economists said the stadium would not help blighted Ward 8.
“Research also suggests that a soccer stadium alone will not revitalize a neighborhood in D.C.,” the statement read. “Because sports stadiums are not used most of the year, they do not stimulate much development outside the stadium. The economic benefits to the district are not likely to outweigh the large proposed stadium subsidy.”
The team currently plays in the 47-year-old RFK Stadium. Councilman Marion Barry, who represents Ward 8, has been a vocal proponent of building a stadium on the site.