Stadium shutout

The Potomac Nationals’ stadium in Prince William County, Va. /Flickr/Luigi de Guzman

Local governments are no longer as willing to take on the risky business of building a ballpark

By Frank Shafroth | Governing

Years ago, a colleague of mine became an economic development director for a large city. One of the first assignments the mayor gave him was to complete a study to assess whether building a large public stadium would provide fiscal benefits to the city. When the study found it wouldn’t, he was ordered to re-study it. When that produced similar results, he was directed to bury the studies. The mayor made it clear that the stadium was important to the city’s reputation — if not its bottom line.

I was reminded of this as I watched Prince William County in Virginia struggle this summer to reach a deal to keep a minor league baseball team, the Potomac Nationals. It is the kind of struggle that dozens of large cities, counties and smaller municipalities face: The owner of a professional sports team needs a new facility and wants the city or county to pay for it. Sound familiar? What’s new is that localities are resisting what used to be irresistible. The razzle-dazzle of hosting a professional sports team is dimming. The financial risk of fronting money for a stadium and dedicating available land to it has its limits.

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