Washington D.C. residents get to pay for yet another sports facility

I’ve lost track of how many of these stories we’ve wound up covering but the sad pattern seems to keep repeating itself. Professional sports franchises appear to hold some magical power which would put the White Walkers in Game of Thrones to shame when it comes to getting taxpayers to foot the bill for for their billionaire owners. The latest example comes from the very heart of the federal government, as the cash strapped District of Columbia prepares to lay out tens of millions of dollars for yet another sports facility. (Washington Post)

The Wizards and their WNBA counterpart, the Mystics, are poised to begin construction on a $55 million practice facility in Southeast D.C. As any fan of Washington basketball can attest, this facility is needed. But the catch is that D.C. taxpayers are expected to cover $50 million of the facility’s cost. That’s unfair, especially when the Wizards are valued at $960 million.

Those who want D.C. taxpayers to finance the facility say that it will improve economic development in Southeast, as well as provide 600 temporary construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs. With such grand promises in mind, many local politicians are jumping at what seems like a slam dunk.

Unfortunately, the chances of taxpayers’ money yielding economic success are slim.

First of all, the District is pretty much broke. They’ve had to massively expand their budget to confront problems with the school system while dealing with systemic issues of homelessness and violent crime. This is not some thriving area with excess municipal cash to throw around and they’re already asking for tax increases to deal with these persistent problems. Tens of millions of dollars to keep the Wizards happy doesn’t exactly sound like it would be on top of their priority list.

Further, the promised development and jobs which are being advertised (mostly short term construction gigs) are unlikely to materialize and contribute any significant amount in the long run. The Post cites the same Mercatus study we’ve referenced here before which shows that the actual economic impact of professional sports facilities rarely adds up to much and never, ever delivers as promised. How many times do we have to be hit over the head with the same baseball bat before we learn?

Finally, all of the general, sunny predictions about municipal benefits of such projects deal with new stadiums for the teams to play in or to attract a new franchise to the area. This is for a practice facility for a pair of teams that are already in town. The impact in terms of tourists coming to watch games and such will be absolutely zero. That is, of course, unless you’re talking about the implied threat of the teams leaving if the taxpayers had refused to give in to this blackmail. Perhaps that’s what they should have done.