Mar 13, 2024 - News
Town Talker

How D.C. wants to guarantee the future of Nats Park

Illustration of baseball on top of a pile of money

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nationals Park transformed Navy Yard, and D.C. wants to make sure the baseball team never leaves.

Why it matters: No one wants a repeat of the Capital One Arena fiasco.

State of play: Nats Park opened in 2008, and bits and pieces are getting old. The city recently spent about $20 million for a new scoreboard and stadium lighting in time for Opening Day on April 1.

  • But the facility may need $350 million in upgrades through the end of the team's lease in 2038, according to a third-party estimate cited by Nats executive Gregory McCarthy at a D.C. Council hearing on Tuesday. (I asked the team for a copy of the estimate but did not hear back.)

So, the D.C. Council has proposed a dedicated ballpark maintenance fund to guarantee its future.

  • The new fund would be made up of taxes generated in the stadium — so it would be self-sustaining. And a stable source of money to replace, say, deteriorating elevators or seats.
  • As landlord of the stadium, the District government is responsible for repairs.

The big picture: D.C. can't afford to lose any more sports teams. The Wizards and Capitals threatening to leave is an existential crisis for downtown.

The intrigue: There's also another example, down South: The Atlanta Braves. Sixteen years into playing at Turner Field, the team announced in 2014 that it would move into a new stadium outside of the city, now known as Truist Park.

  • Nats Park is turning 16. "We do not want to find ourselves in the position of Atlanta," Council member Charles Allen said Tuesday at the hearing, adding, "We have not been able to maintain what is a great ballpark and a great experience."

Between the lines: Mayor Bowser has been mum on the need for a ballpark maintenance fund. It's a bit of a friction point with her top rival in city hall, Council chair Phil Mendelson. He twice called out her office's unwillingness to attend Tuesday's hearing.

  • Bowser's spokesperson didn't comment.

💭 Town Talker is a weekly column on local money and power. Tell me about the talk of the town: [email protected]


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