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D.C. Seeks 'Signature' Ballpark

Green says the city is seeking a ballpark that is relatively small -- with three concourses similar to Pittsburgh's PNC Park, rather than four. Such a design is said to add intimacy.

"We want to be democratic," Green said. "We are trending toward less exclusivity."

D.C. officials say that this rendering of a new stadium was drawn only to inspire unusual design possibilities and that the design has not been finalized."We do not want to see just another baseball stadium," says Allen Y. Lew, chief executive of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. (360 Architecture)

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The smaller size also cuts costs. As planned, D.C's ballpark will be 1.05 million square feet, while some parks are as big as 1.4 million square feet. Architects call the ballpark's budget adequate but hardly exorbitant.

As the architects are vetted by the D.C. sports commission, a group of city planners is working on a master plan for a ballpark district that would feature mixed-use development, strongly influencing how the stadium is set on 21 acres.

Andrew Altman, head of the city's Anacostia Waterfront Development Corp., envisions a river-walk leading to the park, which could feature retail shops and restaurants on the ground level. Roads would be widened and extended to the river, and a new bridge leading over the river on South Capitol Street has been proposed.

Lane Welter of HNTB Architecture -- which is retrofitting RFK Stadium, the Nationals' temporary home, and intends to bid for the new ballpark -- said inspiration could be drawn from D.C.'s international flavor.

"That would be interesting to pin down," Welter said. "But the ballpark has to be used as a centerpiece to revitalization of the Anacostia. That will set a tone, and from there who knows what will be spawned?"

City planners are studying such factors as which way the stadium should open -- with a view to the Capitol on the north or the water to the south. They also are studying where fans should enter the ballpark -- behind home plate or through a gate near the outfield.

"We want the ballpark to help in the creation of a neighborhood, and not just be an isolated icon," Altman said.

Whether the new ballpark can do that and fulfill its other functions remains to be seen.

With the financial stakes high, the Nationals and Major League Baseball will keep close watch over the process through a team representative, whose $3.7 million fee will be paid by the District. Generating revenue inside the park is key for a team trying to remain competitive and turn a profit.

Across the country, cities with major league teams are creating large concourses with televisions, so fans can linger in the concessions areas without missing any action. Picnic and gathering areas, such as the waterfront promenade in San Francisco or the Park at the Park in San Diego, are considered a must-have as teams seek to get fans to "come early and stay late," as the marketing mantra goes.

"The big thing now in our business is that design has to be a lot more flexible, and you do not put all your marbles in one revenue stream," said Earl Santee, a lead designer for HOK Sport of Kansas City. Santee has traveled to the District several times to help prepare his company's bid for the project.

"We've taken the emphasis off the suite, and that's changed the design paradigm," Santee said. "I like a big lower deck and big main concourse. It's like main street, where everyone comes together."

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