For displaced businesses, the remake of the area around Nationals Park, once home to sex clubs, auto body shops and scattered rowhouses, meant the loss of a rare, cheap industrial back lot a dozen blocks from the Capitol. But to the city government, the transformation has meant a significant expansion of the tax base.
In the long political battle over whether the city should use its financing prowess to fund the baseball stadium, proponents touted the promise that a stadium would spark a much broader array of office, residential and entertainment development. Six years into the baseball era in Southeast, two empty lots sit just outside the center-field gate of Nationals Park, but cranes dot the area; thousands of new apartments and offices have sprung up, more than tripling the population of the neighborhood, and a flurry of restaurant and bar openings is expected this year.
Opponents of city financing argue that development would have come to the stadium-Navy Yard area even without the crowds for 81 baseball games each year; those who supported the city’s role in building the ballpark say the flow of 2.3 million fans each summer is critical to the speedy development of a 35-block area around the stadium.
In a 20,000-seat stadium, D.C. United, in contrast, could draw up to 480,000 fans to its 24 home games. And the potential for development around Buzzard Point is limited to, at most, seven blocks because Fort McNair cuts off the western edge of the site, the southern and eastern sides are within a block of the river, and a densely populated residential area is one block to the north.
Developers say Buzzard Point has failed to attract the interest that has created booms in other Washington neighborhoods because the area is so hemmed in, because of traffic concerns — only a couple of streets enter and exit the narrow patch of land — and because the current uses of the land are unattractive.
In the midday sun, the only pedestrians seen in the area are homeless men wheeling supermarket carts full of aluminum cans that they can sell to a metal-salvage plant on Half Street. One man, who gave his name only as Victor, said the metal poles in his cart used to support stop signs near Capitol Hill; now, he hoped, the salvage yard would take them and give him enough to buy a fish dinner at the Southwest waterfront fish market.
The limited opportunity for development leaves many who work and live in Buzzard Point hoping that a stadium will prove a modest addition to their corner of the city rather than a transforming economic engine.