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September 26, 2005 [LINK]

D.C. ballpark land grab?

Sunday's Washington Post detailed the brewing fight over terms of land sales in the four city blocks where the Nationals' future home is to be built. The print edition included a large aerial photograph with all the property lines drawn in and owners' names and property values identified. Some owners are holding out for a much higher price, so a major eminent domain legal case appears inevitable. That may add another year to the constrution timetable.

After a five-month assessment, city planners have offered the property owners about $97 million for land that was assessed two years ago at $32 million. The city has given the property owners 30 days to respond or face eviction.
When Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) announced the arrival of a baseball team and plans for the stadium, his aides estimated land costs at $65 million. The city's chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, put the estimate at $77 million this spring in a report for the council.

The only homeowner living on the land designated for stadium use is Kenneth B. Wyban, who has renovated a Civil War-era house for possible use as a bed and breakfast establishment. As anyone who is familiar with the history of Griffith Stadium knows, however, the refusal of land owners to sell out can end up having unexpectedly net positive consquences. Hint! Since respect for property rights is one of the bedrock principles upon which our republican form of government is founded, there is a presumption in favor of the land owners. Unlike the New Haven vs. Kelo case in which a city government abused the right of eminent domain to benefit one set of private property owners at the expense of others (see my blog post of June 28), a baseball stadium does represent a clear, compelling public interest. It's not just for baseball.

Jeffrey Smulyan recently added some token minority partners to his prospective Washington Nationals franchise ownership group. In Saturday's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell expressed fears that Smulyan might get the franchise. He performed miserably as owner of the Seattle Mariners (1989-1992), blaming others for the lack of team success and threatening to relocate, but is a chum of the MLB honchos surrounding Bud Selig.

If the Nats aren't sold to owners with deep Washington-area roots, especially since groups including Zients-Malek and the Lerner family are willing to hit baseball's $450 million price tag, then the Council has every right to think about doing a major refurbishment of RFK Stadium rather than take the risk of spending $535 million on a new park on the Anacostia River.

I heartily agree. RFK Stadium would obviously not be adequate as a permanent home for the Nats, but given the way Washington has been hosed so badly by the MLB-Orioles cabal, there's no reason not to stretch out their tenancy there for another two or three years for leverage purposes, pending a better deal and/or a fitting ownership group.

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 27 Sep 2005, 12: 43 AM

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