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No Joy in Stadiumville

"The city is making the place look dumpy, on purpose, because of their plan to take the block over," Siegel said.

He proudly pointed to a new asphalt mixing plant that is awaiting approval to begin operations. "This is all brand-new equipment -- millions of dollars of equipment," he said.


Robert Siegel will be one of the entrepreneurs affected by the creation of a new baseball stadium in D.C. (Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

Walking through an underpass of South Capitol Street, he said Internet cables were buried under the road. A technology center never materialized as planned, he said. He pointed to what seemed to be an empty warehouse.

"This building looks boarded up but it's fully occupied! It's a fully occupied business!" One of the tenants is the bomb squad, he said.

"Where's the District of Columbia bomb disposal team going to go? I'm happy with them blowing up their bombs here; it doesn't bother me at all."

He stopped in at one of the nightclubs, which is undergoing renovation. When finished, it's going to be called Heat. Lyle Goodman, consultant to the business, said that clubs like to have simple names because it's easy to answer the phone -- as he put it, "Good afternoon, Heat . . . Good afternoon, Secrets . . . Good afternoon, Wet."

Goodman opined that there's no way the neighborhood can suddenly turn into another Baltimore Inner Harbor.

"Baltimore had 15 to 20 years to plan that. They're going to throw this together because of a stadium," Goodman said.

As he looped back to his office, Siegel felt affirmed. The neighborhood was thriving.

"Everybody's happy! The mayor's crazy. He really is. He's crazy!"

Look at it now, because soon it will all be gone -- even the Garden of Love.

The garden sprouts in an empty lot next to South Capitol Street. It has enormous collard greens, lush tomato vines, field peas and lima beans and yellow squash. Alton Majette is the gardener.

"This was quite an experiment for me, this garden," he says. He reaches into a bush and pulls out a couple of bell peppers that had been in hiding. A concrete slab, the ruins of a house, is propped between two rows of collards and has been spray-painted with the words "Garden of Love" and "Alton Majette."

He knows the ballpark is coming, and it saddens him a bit, after all the work he's done cleaning up the neighborhood, picking up trash, fertilizing the soil of the vacant lot, transforming this neglected corner of the city into something so sublime that he can say, with pride, "Something good happened."

Maybe, he says, the garden could somehow survive the construction of the new stadium.

"I could take this garden and make it look like a park around this stadium," he says.

It's an audacious thought: Take this little miracle of a garden and find a way to merge it into the baseball scheme, to let it be part of the fabric of a reconstructed and revitalized part of town, maybe something out beyond the center field fence, the way some ballparks have monuments or waterfalls. The sluggers could try to hit Garden Shots. The announcer would say: "Going . . . going . . . into the collards!"

But so far that hasn't turned up in anyone's plan.


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