February 10, 2024

Why We Oppose The Potomac Yard Project

If the 49ers win the Super Bowl Sunday, it’s not entirely clear where the victory parade will be—in their namesake city of San Francisco, or where they actually play in Santa Clara, roughly forty miles away.  And if it’s Santa Clara, Mayor Lisa Gillmor has publicly stated that the 49ers will have to foot the bill, as the town can’t afford it.  It’s the latest in an ongoing feud between the town and the football team which focuses on Levi’s Stadium, where the team plays.  Mayor Gillmor asserts that the 49ers have broken several promises, leaving a massive hole in the town’s budget.  Arguments center on paying for police coverage, lower than expected concert revenues, team requests for rent reduction, and a since-resolved fight over nearby youth soccer fields.  In 2022, the 49ers reportedly spent $2.5 million dollars to unseat Mayor Gillmor—who was initially supportive of Levi’s Stadium locating in Santa Clara, but who has since become a very vocal critic—but they were unsuccessful in the effort.

The regrettable episode is but one of many examples that should be a wakeup call for Virginians thinking about Capital One Arena relocating to Potomac Yard.  The recent announcement for the endeavor has come with all the usual promises: More local jobs, infrastructure, bars and restaurants.  The overall economic development picture is very, very strong, we are told.  Of course, these are the promises that were made to Santa Clara and to innumerable cities before, and they simply don’t pan out.  Common sense would dictate that these promises won’t hold, if for no other reason that the venue sits unused for all but a handful of dates on the calendar.  That’s one reason why economists don’t agree on much, but they do widely agree on this: Arenas and stadia cost taxpayers far more than they return in benefits.  As but one example, a 2022 independent study showed that the Atlanta Braves’ Truist Park and its surrounding development were actually costing taxpayers in Cobb County, Georgia around $15 million per year—and that’s five years after the baseball stadium opened.  Conversely, SoFi Stadium, home to both L.A. Rams and L.A. Chargers, was privately funded and continues to be a strong part of a strong market.

But even if the economic development arguments panned out—and, again, they won’t—Virginia taxpayers shouldn’t underwrite the bond issue to make the move happen.  Public dollars should not fund a private enterprise of this nature.  Why should Virginians in Southwest help underwrite a sports venue in Northern Virginia?  Why should Virginians in Southside?  Tidewater?

That’s why we are entirely opposed to this project.  The economic development promised won’t occur, Virginia taxpayers shouldn’t underwrite the project, and most Virginians won’t even be able to appreciate whatever benefits do accrue—sporting or otherwise.  We are massive sports fans, but private funds should underwrite this private project.

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