Today Camden Yards, the ballyhooed baseball stadium in downtown Baltimore, will feature something never before seen in the century-plus history of Major League Baseball: an official game played with not a single paying spectator in sight.

After postponing yesterday’s Orioles-White Sox game amid civil unrest, and locking in fans for a half-hour or so after Saturday night’s contest with the Red Sox because of the conflict just outside the stadium gates, the team, in conjunction with MLB and state and local government officials, has decided that the best way to ensure fan safety is to not have fans.

It’s no surprise that Camden Yards would play such an important symbolic role in the ongoing civic breakdown of Baltimore. The stadium has long been the prototype for showering tax dollars on millionaire sports owners in the name of spurring downtown urban renewal. As the Maryland Public Policy Institute’s Louis Miserendino wrote in the Baltimore Sun on the occasion of the ballpark’s 20th anniversary,

The imitators are many: St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Detroit have built downtown baseball and football stadiums as centerpieces of their redevelopment programs.

Clearly, this approach has made their downtowns more fun, but it comes at a steep cost: the hundreds of millions spent on stadiums were not available for new schools, better roads, improved parks or other infrastructure in neighborhoods.

None of the cities that banked on downtown “stadium stimuli” have reversed their population losses. Between 2000 and 2010, Baltimore lost 30,193 residents (4.6 percent of its population), St. Louis, 28,895 (8.3 percent), Pittsburgh, 28,859 (8.6 percent), Cincinnati, 34,340 (10.4 percent), Cleveland, 81,588 (17.1 percent), and Detroit, 237,493 (24.9 percent). Meanwhile, some cities that have refused to subsidize stadiums have fared much better.

When city governments give subsidies and/or targeted tax breaks, as is wonderfully illustrated by Todd Krainin in his Reason TV video about Baltimore development promises (embedded at the bottom of this post), chances are they will make up for the revenue shortfall by jacking up taxes and fees on the rest of their subjects. All of which makes these comments on the riots from John Angelos, son of longtime Orioles owner and trial-lawyer tycoon Peter Angelos (a uniquely despised person among Orioles fans, in my experience), ring just a wee bit hollow:

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