Foul Ball: Ten Cities that Used Eminent Domain for Sports Stadiums

A team of investors led by soccer player David Beckham may be granted permission to construct a newmajor league soccer stadium in Miami, regardless of the human toll. Before the construction of the soccer stadium begins, the city of Miami will have to acquire acres of land in the middle of Miami. To get the land, Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso stated that the city could either purchase the land from the owners, or if the owners don’t want to sell, the city may just take the land through eminent domain.

To make way for Beckham’s stadium, a daycare center, several houses, and an entire apartment building would have to be razed. One resident, 70-year-old Adelfa Lopez, will likely be forced to move after living in her home for almost four decades. The city of Miami did not even bother to tell its residents that they may lose their homes—the residents first learned about the completed plans for the stadium and the city’s intentions to use eminent domain through the local Miami media.

There’s something wrong with this picture. And it’s not just the boondoggle public financing of stadiums—take a look at this video by Reason TV for that angle. We’re talking about the radical seizure of private property through the use of eminent domain for these mega projects. If baseball is America’s pastime, stealing land for sports teams is a favorite pastime of America’s city governments. Here’s a list of some of the worst examples of seizing for sport.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta, GA

This project included the demolition of two churches, one of which—the Friendship Baptist church—wasAtlanta’s oldest African-American Baptist church. Six property owners resisted the Georgia World Congress Center Authority’s takeover. But the GWCCC made it very clear that eminent domain lay at the end of the road if “negotiations” were not successful. Ultimately, that threat was enough to force five of the six property owners to accept the city’s “deal” and walk away. The last property, which had been passed down in the owner’s family since 1902, was eventually taken through eminent domain.

Petco Park, San Diego Padres, San Diego, CA

This dog of a project in San Diego required a substantial amount of land. When property owners refused to sell, San Diego’s Centre City Development Corporation filed 56 eminent domain actions in just the first phase of land acquisition. The project closed warehouses and left dozens of produce distributors and merchants jobless.

Golden 1 Center, Sacramento Kings, Sacramento, CA

The new stadium for the Sacramento Kings wouldn’t be without eminent domain. When the owners of a Macy’s department store refused to settle on the value of their property, the city razed the building, and then negotiated over the “fair-market” value.

Nationals Stadium, Washington Nationals, Washington D.C.

Eminent domain is alive and well in the nation’s capital. To bring the Nationals to town, the District seized property from 16 owners in Southeast D.C. After condemnation papers were filed, property owners were given only 90 days to vacate their property. Patricia Ghiglino, who owned an art studio in the area, lamented, “I’ve cried so many days since this first came up [….] It was very, very personal to me. We created the center. I worked 60 to 90 hours a week here, on Saturdays and Sundays. This became not just a business but also my home.”

Global Life Park in Arlington, Texas Rangers, Arlington TX

The city of Arlington used eminent domain to obtain 13 acres for the Rangers Ballpark in 1991. One investor, George W. Bush, transformed his initial $606,302 investment into $14.9 million when the team changed hands in 1998. That’s quite a profit for someone who campaigned for private property rights in 1994.

AT&T Stadium, Dallas Cowboys, Arlington, TX

Also in Arlington, former Mayor Robert Cluck acquired 162 properties on approximately 134 acres for the Cowboys. When some property owners refused to make way, America’s Team simply asked the city to useeminent domain to condemn and then take over the land. Tenants, homeowners, and small business owners found their lives turned upside down to benefit yet another privately-owned sports team.

Kansas City Speedway, Kansas City, KS

To build the NASCAR Kansas International Speedway, Wyandotte County in Kansas condemned the properties of 165 separate owners. The condemned neighborhood contained beautiful Victorian-era houses and family-owned small businesses. This 1,200-acre project irrevocably changed the Kansas City community while NASCAR reaped the economic benefits.

Barclays Center, Brooklyn Nets, Brooklyn, NY

New York is one of only six states that have utterly failed to pass eminent domain reform in the ten years since the Supreme Court opened the floodgates of abuse through its infamous Kelo v. City of New London ruling. So when the Nets moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn, big developers and the Big Apple built them a big arena and surrounding private development—at a big cost. Protest groups like Develop—Don’t Destroy Brooklyn unsuccessfully tried to halt the 8 million-square-foot megaproject that demolished local homes and businesses.

Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles, CA

Eminent domain abuse for sports stadium is no recent fad. The “Battle of Chavez Ravine” was fought in the 1950s. The entire Mexican-American community in Chavez Ravine, which had thrived in the L.A. neighborhood for generations, was removed over a ten-year period to make way for the proposed construction of public housing. The entire community was torn apart as part of this “urban renewal” effort. However, after taking over ownership of the properties, the Los Angeles city government instead decided to construct the 56,000-seat Dodger Stadium on the recently cleared land.

Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA

The recently closed Civic Arena tops the list of sport-related eminent domain abuses. Before the construction of Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena in the late 1950’s, the Hill District was one of Pittsburgh’s most historic neighborhoods. The local area was a central point along the Underground Railroad and contained numerous jazz clubs. The District was a culturally diverse community complete with churches, businesses, and schools. However, in the name of economic development, the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh declared the entire Hill Districted as blighted and began the demolition of the community in 1957. In all, 400 businesses were shuttered, 1,300 buildings were destroyed and 8,000 people were forcibly removed. The Institute for Justice has repeatedly argued that eminent domain abuse disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations including minorities, the elderly, and low-income residents. And this is exactly what happened in Pittsburgh when thousands of African-Americans were forced to relocate to segregated housing projects on the outskirts of the city. Construction of the Civic Arena began in 1958, with Mayor David Lawrence proclaiming, “It will be heralded the length and breadth of the world. This auditorium will stand as a symbol of an era here.” Indeed. A symbol of public power for private gain.

— David Sandefer

David Sandefer is an intern at the Institute for Justice

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