The World Series is upon us. While many are reviewing scores and players, others are taking stock in the role of eminent domain in baseball. Specifically, Nationals Park in Washington DC. So often a new stadium is a cause for celebration and pride, especially if there is a new team coming to town. But how often do we think about how that new stadium got there and who was displaced in the process? A while back this was the case for Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. In 2008, it was the case for Nationals Stadium.
A recent story in The Washington Post reveals the stories behind some of the individuals and businesses that were affected by eminent domain and the building of Nationals Stadium. Similar to many of our posts on the subject, the stories are often emotional and expensive.
Plans for the stadium began in 2004 when then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and Major League Baseball announced a deal to bring baseball back to Washington. It had been more than 30-years since the Senators baseball team left.
It may have seemed like a dangerous and unused area ready to be developed, but South Capitol Street SW, just a five-minute drive from the Capitol dome on the west edge of the Navy Yard, featured an area of 21-acres with several family businesses including asphalt plant, a trash-transfer station, car repair shops, warehouses, towing operations, a stonework restoration studio, and several adult nightclubs. Due to zoning laws, many of these businesses had no place to go once they were forced to move.
For example, Joey Roubin and his family owned an asphalt plant with his family that was shut down to make way for the Stadium. Eminent Domain proceedings resulted in subpoenas, legal judgments, bureaucratic red tape and years of delays. He finally reopened the business a few miles away at Blue Plains in Southwest Washington.
In the name of economic renewal, hundreds of millions of dollars were spent in public financing for the ballpark. As might be expected, support for the project was divided along the lines of race and class. Affluent areas were more supportive of the project and poorer neighborhoods were fearful of being left behind by gentrification.
Businesses and families faced years of court arbitration to finally find some sort of settlement with the city government. Payouts may sound generous, but property owners felt that they did not get what they deserved. Sadly, in the case of the Stadium some businesses never reopened, and several had to move away. Others relocated elsewhere, all in the name of baseball.
After a five-month assessment in 2005, city planners offered the 23 property owners a total of $95 million for their land, which two years earlier had been assessed at $32 million. If that seems like a lot, it still does not take into consideration the cost to taxpayers once negotiations were finished. In all, 16 of the 23 property owners filed for court-monitored arbitration, and each would ultimately settle for more than the city had offered — though less than they had sought. (Hence the need for an “MVP” legal team.)
So this week, as we watch our favorite baseball teams play ball in the stadium, let’s remind ourselves that eminent domain may have been a playing factor.