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Diamond in Rough Shape, As Is the Rest of RFK

By Monte Reel and Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 2, 2004; Page A01

The third-base dugout is a dark hole boarded up with old railroad ties. The press box overlooking what will become home plate hasn't seen much action since the manual typewriter era, and only about a half-dozen telephone lines work. The peeling paint on many of the upper-deck seats exposes graying, splintery boards.

Visualizing what the inside of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium might look like next spring requires an active imagination, but officials say they hope to whip the stadium into midseason shape by Opening Day in April.

The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission plans to spend at least $13 million getting RFK Stadium ready for opening day in April. (Robert A. Reeder - The Washington Post)

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The to-do list is lengthy.

Over the next six months, the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission plans to spend at least $13 million getting RFK Stadium ready for baseball. Workers will re-cut a diamond into the sod, raise the dugouts and clubhouses to modern major league standards, and repair the heating and cooling systems. Commission members plan to restore the stadium to at least a semblance of its former glory, when it hosted the Senators, Major League All-Star games, the Redskins, NFC championship games and many other memorable events that remain vivid in the minds of the city's longtime sports fans.

Then everything probably will be destroyed.

A 41,000-seat baseball stadium will be built along the Southeast waterfront on South Capitol Street within three years, according to plans, and RFK Stadium would be torn down. The commission hopes to move D.C. United, the soccer team that uses RFK Stadium, into a new, 24,000-seat stadium, perhaps on the east side of the Anacostia River near Poplar Point. "I think we'll give RFK a proper and suitable burial," said Mark H. Tuohey, chairman of the sports commission.

The temporary nature of the improvements presents an unusual predicament: Officials want to bring the 42-year-old stadium back to big-league standards, but they don't want to throw too many resources into what is essentially a disposable project.

"Are we going to spend money on luxury boxes? No," Tuohey said. "We're going to make it suitable to have two major sports play there. But all the luxuries and amenities? No."

A few things might help the sports commission meet the April deadline. First, the stadium was designed to accommodate more than one sport; the Senators and the Redskins shared it for 10 seasons, and it now hosts concerts and other events in addition to D.C. United games. So it offers the configuration needed for a baseball field. And because the stadium has never fallen into complete disuse, it has maintained at least minimal standards of upkeep, even since the Redskins left in 1996.

"It's not like an abandoned stadium that will need to be upgraded from 30 or 40 years ago," said Troy D. Scott, stadium manager for the sports commission. "It's going to have some problems, but the structure is solid."

The improvements range from cosmetic touches to additions required by Major League Baseball teams. The tabletops in the press box -- a faux wood-grain motif -- will be replaced. The first-base dugout, which unlike its counterpart on the third-base line is plainly visible, will be enlarged and cleared of the black coils of audio-visual cables that crowd it. Bullpens will be added, as will batting cages under the stands. The locker rooms are in fairly good shape -- it was built with four of them, for the offenses and defenses of opposing football teams. They will likely get new carpeting and new coats of paint, Scott said.

The details of the upgrades have yet to be determined, but officials are trying to get a quick start. By the middle of next week, the sports commission hopes to choose a project manager, Scott said, which would clear the way for the commission to issue contracts to architects, designers and builders.

The $13 million price tag -- like the exact nature of the upgrades -- is not firm.

"Depending on what bells and whistles are called for, the number could change," Scott said yesterday during a tour of the stadium for architects and designers who are expected to submit bids for the project. "I'm sure that would mean more money would have to be put up by the owners, or possibly the District."

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