Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Fisking A Thug

Robert DuPuy, ever the artful negotiator states his case in a Washington Post Op-Ed today. Needless to say, he puts a favorable spin on events.

Thirty-three years after the Washington Senators left town, the District government won a multi-city competition to relocate the Montreal Expos to the nation's capital.

Except that it was a competition in name only. The only serious contender was Northern Virginia, and the politics of stadium financing were probably even messier there, forcing their proposal to be located somewhere closer to Winchester than DC.

Now that the District has a team, the D.C. Council is trying to walk away from the agreement that brought the team here in the first place.

Except for the fact that the DC Council was never a party to the original negotiations, hence they can't actually walk away from it. The BSA bears the signatures of Tony Williams and Marc Tuohey. And DC Law requires Council approval of all expenditures over something like a million bucks. It's a bit disingenuous to say that the Council is killing an agreement that they've never considered previously.

When Major League Baseball agreed to move the Montreal Expos to Washington in 2004, we had a number of options available. Base ball in Washington had many good arguments -- a potentially strong fan base, a large metropolitan area and a mayor who demonstrated leadership and commitment in bringing the sport back to town. But Washington wasn't alone -- other cities wanted a baseball team and they, too, were bidding to get it.

Damn right about DC having a good argument. I can think of about 2.6 million reasons. But, other than the Virginia plan (which was more of a Western VA than an NoVA plan), what were the other serious bids? They didn't actually exist, other than in theory. DC had the only realistic plan, and had the advantages of having RFK for an easy transition for a few years.

Washington also had problems. The Senators left the District of Columbia 30 years ago for a reason -- they found more fan and governmental support in Texas.

They also, just like now, had incompetent ownership who didn't have the temerity to make it work in DC, and who had no idea how to put a winning team on the field. What was it? One winning season in eleven years? Would you support crap like that? I also think it's funny how he conveniently leaves out the previous incarnation of the Washington Senators and how they left, in part, because the city was too black.

When baseball made plans to expand in 1990 and 1995, Washington's desire to secure a team was easily outmatched by the enthusiasm and commitment of Florida, Colorado, Arizona and Tampa Bay.

I don't know much about DC's expansion efforts, but is holding Florida and Tampa Bay up as models of success really a smart thing to do?

With the Baltimore Orioles close by and a city government that isn't known for efficiency, Washington had a few negatives on its side of the moving ledger.

I can't argue with the Gov't point, but the Baltimore Orioles thing is solely an issue of MLB's internal politics. That they allowed Peter Angelos to bully them around for so long (before eventually giving the bastard a king's ransom anyway) speaks more to the inefficiency of MLB's own governing body.

A ballpark on the Anacostia waterfront was not baseball's first choice. We preferred the Banneker site, south of L'Enfant Plaza. In the end we agreed to Anacostia, and the District agreed it would be in charge of the new stadium's design and construction. In fact, the city wanted to be in control of the project because of development issues that went far beyond the stadium's construction.

A fair point, but I like the passivity of the paragraph. "Oh well, I guess we'll let DC do it themselves."

The D.C. government views a stadium in Anacostia as a magnet to attract businesses, homes and economic activity to its waterfront. That means the costs associated with the plan the mayor announced in December 2004 -- to construct more than 3 million square feet of new office space, more than 4,500 units of new housing and 32 acres of new public parkland, along with road improvements and an expanded Metro -- are tangled with stadium issues, even though Major League Baseball has nothing to do with these development matters and, under the original agreement, would make no money from them.

Note the absence of MLB from this paragraph, other than a washing of the hands. It's a ruse. MLB wants the development to succeed, but just not pay for it (which is fair). They want to be able to go to Portland and point to DC as a beacon of success, and show the massive rebuilding effort there as a reason that the Portland Marlins would need to shell out a billion dollars in subsidies. And am I just reading into things, but do you picture DuPuy with puppy dog eyes writing the last clause of the last sentence?

In baseball and in business, if you run the project, you're responsible for its costs. When teams are in charge of design and construction, any savings go to them and any cost overruns are borne by them. That's what was done with new ballparks for the Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants.

Psssst! Comerica Park 'only' received $118 million in public financing. 62% of the financing came from the team's owner. The Giants received just $15 million in subsidies from a ballpark tax district. The rest of the cost was borne by the Giants themselves.

It's wonderful that you're using those as an example. Since Bob's so fond of them, why doesn't he let DC go that route? I'm sure that Lerner wouldn't mind developing the park on his own, right? You can stop laughing now.

On the other hand, when a government agency is in charge of design and construction, the benefits and risks are covered by the city. That's what happened in Baltimore at Camden Yards and in Cleveland and Pittsburgh as well. That's common sense, and it's fair.

I didn't see Milwaukee or Seattle listed anywhere? I wonder why that is.

Because the Nationals will generate $250 million for the District in sales taxes and rent payments generated at the stadium (large businesses pay the rest of construction costs), baseball has input into the new stadium's design and construction, but government officials make the decisions. D.C. planners chose the stadium's architect. The city government, not baseball or the Nationals, decided what the Nationals' new stadium will look like and what material will go into it, from the type of concrete used to the types of seats in the suites. Government workers selected the stadium's construction companies, and these same governmental employees will oversee the construction work.

More passivity out of Dupuy. He fails to note that many of those decisions (at least in terms of stadium specs) were included in the BSA, of which MLB was a party. He also fails to note how MLB strong-armed the city into taking Jerry Reinsdorf's son as a ballpark consultant for untold millions.

But now, some members of the D.C. Council have asked baseball to pay for any stadium cost overruns, even though city personnel will control the variables that cause the stadium to be built on budget or run over cost. Asking baseball to pay for overruns when D.C. government officials are in charge of the stadium's design and construction is like MasterCard telling you to pay your credit card bill even though MasterCard gets to do all your shopping. No consumer would agree to such a provision, and neither will Major League Baseball.

A proper analogy would be MasterCard coming to your house, holding you up and gunpoint, and ordering you on a shopping spree for things you might not want in the first place. MLB is trying to have it both ways. They want it to look like the stadium is all DC's doing, while completely ignoring that they've pushed DC in this direction in the first place. Granted DC made some mistakes along the way, but DC hasn't been pulling most of the strings, at least in the way DuPuy is portraying it.

The District, for all its many pluses, is not an easy city with which to do business. City leaders frequently quibble with baseball about its commitments, and they often quarrel with each other. There are so many interested parties in the D.C. government that it seems on some days that no one is in control and on other days that everyone wants to be in control.

Another fair point, but it's also a cheap, easy way to score points. Everyone assumes that the DC Council sucks, so you'll get Amens when you bring it up. But it also shows the arrogance of MLB in that they basically want DC's elected representative to shut the fark up and just approve the damn thing, even if they have reservations about it. Ignore the squackers who are going to make noise no matter what and work with the reasonable people on the council to get it done, instead of whining about it, Bob. Maybe there's a legitimate reason (say 678 million of them) as to why they're hesitating.

For example, city officials decided to move the original site plan of the stadium 50 feet south, at substantial incremental cost because of different excavation requirements, to accommodate commercial development on the site. Architectural plans have been written and rewritten to address the aesthetic concerns of city officials, even though their specific proposals -- such as what the exterior of the stadium should look like -- have no impact on the game inside.

I'd be interested to see what the definition of "substantial incremental cost" is. Given a $600 million pricetag, I'm not sure what 'substantial' means anyway.

The city has missed three important deadlines it committed to as part of the agreement that brought the Expos to Washington. It failed to sign a lease, take control of a buildable site or secure funding, all of which the city was obligated to do by Dec. 31, 2005. The city had a year to get its work done -- and it's not done yet.

So what? If you really cared about those deadlines, you would've included some sort of penalty for them in the BSA. There aren't any for two years. Apparently you didn't really care about the deadlines when you were negotiating. And again with the passivity -- MLB was a party to the lease negotiations, and how long did it take you guys to do that? Your lead negotiatior Jerry Reinsdorf proudly trumpeted how busy he would be during the playoffs. You guys didn't make it a priority either, and an 11th hour lease (when there was no reason it couldn't have been done six months earlier -- especially if you guys had named an owner like you promised) only complicated matters. It's easy to point at DC gov't and scream incompetence. But it's harder to acknowledge your own role in the mess, Bob.

Such examples show an active interest in the management of the stadium by government officials. They also show that D.C. officials have little interest in giving up control -- the more negotiations go on, the more control city officials have sought and bargained for.

Imagine the audacity of the city's elected representative not wanting to fork over absolute power and 2/3 of a BILLION dollars. Arrogance, personified, Bob.

Experience in other cities demonstrates that well-managed construction plans don't lead to cost overruns. The places where overruns were most pronounced were in cities where the stadiums had complex and costly roofs, such as Seattle and Arizona. On the other hand, costs for open-air stadiums like the one proposed in Washington are fairly predictable when they're well managed. The stadiums built in Baltimore, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and San Francisco all came in on budget.

Fair point about the open-air versus roofed stadiums -- something that was lost in the cost overruns story the Post did (which reportedly had some impact on the lease with the council).

Washington is a great sports town, and the Nationals had a successful first year. But Washington officials have farther to travel to bring this relocation to the successful conclusion we all thought it was one year ago.

Amen on the first sentence!

A year ago, weren't we assured that we'd have an owner, too? We can't always get what we want, Bobby.

MLB isn't interested in being an equal party. They want it entirely their way, and because of their mentality as the Lords of Baseball, they can't stand when someone calls them on their greed. Neither side should come out of this smelling like roses, especially with all the mud they're wallowing in. But Bob DuPuy would be better served writing fewer op-eds and hostile letters to the DC Council, and spending more time working with the council to address their multi-million dollar concerns. He might find that some of their misgivings are, gasp!, legitimate.


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