Stadiums and eminent domain

Raymond Keating has a nice column in Newsday, "New stadiums hit property rights." Those of you familiar with the literature on stadium subsidies will recognize Keating as the author of "Sports Pork", a fine Policy Analysis paper from the Cato Institute.

Here's some bits from Keating's column today:

Part of the allure of the recent retro parks has been asymmetrical playing fields. In place of the bland,
uniform dimensions that came with multipurpose stadiums from the 1960s to the 1980s, the new fields have varying outfield distances, walls of differing heights and assorted peculiar angles. It certainly provides these new ballparks with added character.

But a little history shows that this is a manufactured character, as opposed to the organic kind that sprang from the original ballparks of yesteryear.

...[W]here did the special dimensions come from? Well, teams had to make their
stadiums fit on a particular piece of urban land, often within a set of city streets and having to accommodate many neighbors.

For example, Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., which was home to the
Senators, had a center-field wall that jutted in towards the playing field. Why? Because, PhilipLowry reported in "Green Cathedrals," there were five houses and a large tree on the other side.

...What a difference a century makes. Developers, sports team owners and players now reap rewards not only from taxpayer-subsidized stadiums, but also from the government's muscling homeowners and small businesses off their properties to enrich the politically connected.

That's what looms with Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Willets Point proposal to move some 100 small businesses and one resident to alter the area near the new Mets home to fit his political vision. Eminent domain also is a weapon to grab property provided by government to Bruce Ratner for his multibillion-dollar Brooklyn residential, office and retail project, including an arena for the Nets.

As I recall from the excellent book Dodgers Move West, the willingness to use eminent domain was instrumental in the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn for L.A. The powerful Robert Moses blocked every move that WalterO'Malley and the Dodgers could make in Brooklyn (apparently preferring a location in Queens). Meanwhile, the L.A. city fathers gave O'Malley Chavez Ravine, easy freeway access, etc. in order to lure the team to the west coast. It seems clear that restrictions on the number of franchises (in contrast to the open systems of Europe) raise the stakes in the stadium game, and make the use of eminent domain more likely.