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Diamond in Rough Shape, As Is the Rest of RFK

One of the most significant challenges for accommodating baseball and soccer simultaneously is figuring out what to do with the 5,000 seats that sit in the middle of what will be left field, Scott said.

The seats are movable -- but laboriously so. They were moved when the Senators and Redskins shared the field, but because their seasons did not overlap, it was seldom required.


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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Q & A: What's next?
Savings and uncertainty remain in new stadium deal.
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News Graphic: Differences in the bills passed Tuesday and Dec. 14.
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Foes of New Stadium Want Team to Stay at RFK (The Washington Post, Oct 2, 2004)
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Five years ago, stadium officials saw how difficult reconfiguring the seats can be after the stands essentially sat in place for a couple of decades. During an exhibition baseball game between the Montreal Expos and the St. Louis Cardinals in 1999, it took workers 2 1/2 weeks to remove the seats along the third-base line, a few days to slide the left-field seats into the vacancy created on the third-base side and 3 1/2 weeks after the game to convert all the seats back to their original configuration.

From April to November, D.C. United is expected to host at least 17 games there. Major League Baseball teams have 81 regular-season home games a year, so quicker conversions are crucial.

"It's got to be something that can be done in a day or two," Scott said.

One possibility is to remove the third-base seats and slide the left-field seats into the vacancy for baseball games; for soccer games, a new set of retractable seats could be extended from the outfield to provide sideline seats, Scott said.

Attendance for D.C. United games is limited to 24,600; the baseball configuration probably would accommodate about 45,000 fans, Scott said.

When the stadium was built, it was a pioneer of the multiuse facility: out-of-fashion ballparks of the 1960s and 1970s that sacrificed charm for versatility, often surrounded by a sea of parking lots. Recent stadiums have conformed to the retro-style of the early 20th century, and many have been placed among retail, residential and office developments in dense urban populations. Like most stadiums of its era, RFK Stadium looks essentially the same no matter what angle it's viewed from, and the ballpark's dimensions are similarly homogenous: 335 feet down both lines, 385 to both power alleys and 405 in the center.

"It has its place in baseball history, but it is not thought of as one of the classic baseball stadiums," said Gordon M. Thomas, an amateur ballpark historian from Arlington.

The stadium complex includes the D.C. Armory, which the sports commission and the D.C. National Guard are renovating and plan to use for a wide variety of youth, interscholastic, collegiate and professional sports, including gymnastics, boxing and indoor track, Tuohey said. Those plans would not change even if the stadium is demolished after three years.

The parking lots around the stadium are used in myriad ways, from hosting Saturday flea markets to acting as a staging area for tour buses during large protests or rallies on the Mall to providing tent space for such events as the performance of Cirque du Soleil, which is in the midst of a 5 1/2-week stint there.

A few years ago, residents of nearby Kingman Park launched vocal opposition when the sports commission allowed a Grand Prix auto racing event on the site. The sports commission eventually canceled its 10-year contract with the race promoters.

Although the stadium is controlled by the sports commission, the land is owned by the National Park Service. If the stadium is to be torn down in three years, as planned, Tuohey said, D.C. waterfront planners, the sports commission and the Park Service would have to seek public comment and gauge interest from developers before settling on a plan. Officials said a high priority probably would be placed on using a large portion of the land for sports and recreational.

"Obviously, if there is no use for [RFK], it opens up all sorts of possibilities," D.C. Planning Director Andrew Altman said. "You'd rethink the whole area."

Residents of the surrounding, mostly working-class neighborhoods said they are preparing for the return of professional baseball and bracing themselves for whatever might come next. Frazer Walton Jr., president of the Kingman Park Civic Association, said he hopes the influx of crowds to his neighborhood will herald a return of city dollars into the streets around the stadium. But he thinks the idea of tearing it down after putting millions into its refurbishment doesn't make sense. To him, the stadium is more than just the home of the new team.

"This is the only memorial stadium in the city," he said. "It says a lot to history. It says a lot to education. Losing that, we would lose a lot."

Gladys Mack, an advisory neighborhood commissioner from nearby Rosedale, agreed. The old stadium, she said, has become something of a landmark for residents and for anyone driving on East Capitol Street or along Interstate 295.

"I have gotten used to seeing RFK stadium there," said Mack, 44. "I'm sure it would be missed."


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