Opposition Steps to Plate

Opposition Steps to Plate

Cafritz, stadium opponents take offensive in stadium fight.

Opponents of a baseball stadium in Arlington don’t have much to worry about, said Chris Zimmerman. Instead, the county board member predicted Major League Baseball owners would again snub the DC-area, as they have for the last 30 years.

But stadium opponents aren’t taking any chances, taking took the offensive in the fight over a possible Arlington stadium that could become the new home of the Montreal Expos. In two meetings last week, stadium opponents discussed economic studies and poll results they say undermine arguments for an Arlington stadium.

Members of the No Arlington Stadium Coalition held a public meeting Wednesday, July 9 to discuss stadium financing, unveiling a study they say demonstrate a stadium would cost the county hundreds of millions in tax revenues.

The following morning, representatives of the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation and their partner company, the H Street Building Corporation, released preliminary results of a separate economic impact study and a public opinion survey that they said demonstrates “adamant opposition” to the stadium among voters.

The Cafritz Foundation owns land in Pentagon City that is the cheapest of four sites under consideration as a home to the proposed stadium.

AT WEDNESDAY’S MEETING, Brad Humphreys and Dennis Coates, professors of economics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, discussed their research on the economic impact of professional sports franchises.

“There is no evidence that having professional sports influences the [economic] growth rate in any way,” said Coates.

Humphreys and Coates criticized Stephen Fuller, the oft-quoted George Mason economics professor, for his earlier study that suggested a Virginia stadium would bring jobs and revenue to the Commonwealth.

Fuller’s study is misleading, they argued, because it counts shifts in spending in the area as new growth. “The spending is just robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Humphreys.

Furthermore, Fuller’s study ignored opportunity costs they said — in other words, construction costs take away from other public projects like schools and libraries, while private development would bring millions in tax dollars.

BUT BASEBALL SUPPORTERS say it’s Coates and Humphreys who lack credibility. Larry Roberts and Tom Brooke, co-chairs of the Arlington Baseball Coalition, both had strong words for the professors.

Coates and Humphreys’ research studied many stadiums built in the 1960s and 1970s, Roberts said, stadiums that were poorly designed and located in areas that were already economically depressed.

Besides, an Arlington stadium wouldn’t just transfer spending from one area of the county to another, said Brooke. It would also bring dollars from elsewhere in the state, and from Maryland and the District. “Wouldn’t we prefer to have it here?” he said.

The stadium backers concentrated their criticism of Humphreys and Coates for the “water-cooler theory.” Coates speculated that workers in cities with professional sports teams are less productive because they gather around the water cooler discussing last night’s game rather than working. “Who doesn’t talk about the Redskins on Monday?” said Coates.

“That just shows the attitude of these people,” said Brooke. Employers want workers to communicate and build relationships, he said. “One of the things that draws people together is sports.”

CAFRITZ TURNED TO Fore Consulting Inc., a real estate-consulting firm in McLean, to conduct their economic impact study. Final results won’t be available for several weeks, but the preliminary data Cafritz released last week suggest private mixed-use development could generate $10-12 million in tax money annually. Over 30 years, that development could produce a gross total of $400-490 million, said Bob Campbell, Fore’s senior vice president.

A stadium would not be subject to the same taxes, so stadium opponents argue the county would be losing hundreds of millions of dollars by approving a stadium.

“We’ve always seen the Cafritz site as the crown jewel of Arlington, and of Pentagon City,” said Jack Ritchie, H Street president. “We have no intention of selling our land to the Stadium Authority or to anyone else.”

RITCHIE ALSO SAID the Arlington Research Group survey shows voters won’t support political action to seize the land through imminent domain.

Baseball supporters say the survey’s questions were misleading to the respondents. In addition, they argue, the poll relied too heavily on respondents from South Arlington neighborhoods where opposition is strongest. Of the 600 people called for the Cafritz poll, 20 percent live in the 22204 area code and 9 percent live in 22202, both near the possible Pentagon City stadium site.

County board chair Paul Ferguson said he would take both surveys with a grain of salt. “Given that both of them did their own polling, you can deduce that there is at minimum a split,” Ferguson said.

That divisiveness is already figuring into political discussions. At Wednesday’s meeting, U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) announced that he could not support baseball in Virginia because of opposition from Pentagon City residents. “The community has got to be the primary consideration,” he said.

But Roberts told Moran it’s a dangerous precedent to let one neighborhood hold veto power over a project that affects the entire state.

Moran, who sits on the Armed Services Appropriations Committee, also said the Pentagon will not provide parking facilities for a ballpark, as Stadium Authority officials had hoped.