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RFK Postgame Highlights Scratched

Nationals' Plan for Fireworks Ignites Concerns About Noise, Smoke

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 3, 2005; Page B01

The Washington Nationals wanted to open their inaugural home season with a bang on April 14. So their marketing staff settled on what seemed a natural idea: a grand fireworks display over newly renovated Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

Then they hatched plans to shoot explosives off after every Friday night game.

That is, until neighbors of RFK got wind of the weekly light show.

Veronica E. Raglin, advisory neighborhood commissioner in nearby Kingman Park, fired back with a letter to city leaders: Fireworks, she wrote, were totally unacceptable.

"Fireworks are something that lower the standard of living," she said in an interview yesterday. "It's not just the noise, but the smoke and fumes and the trash. . . . I want people to enjoy baseball. But I do not think we should be put at a disadvantage and have our quality of life reduced."

Now, the fireworks plan has all but gone up in smoke.

At a meeting with activists this week, representatives of the Nationals and the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which operates RFK, said they would respect the neighbors' wishes. Instead of fireworks, they will attempt to find substitute pyrotechnics that will not rise above the stadium walls.

Warren Graves, the sports commission's liaison to the D.C. Council, said at a hearing yesterday that he is still hoping neighborhood leaders would consider allowing firework displays after the first home game and on the Fourth of July.

"I'm going to talk to them some more," Graves said.

But Raglin said she and her neighbors do not intend to budge. They recall being woken from bed during events related to Grand Prix auto races held at RFK in 2002.

Allowing the team to use fireworks once or twice would set a bad precedent, Raglin said. "It would be 'give an inch, take a mile,' " she said. "Before you know it, they'd be doing it 81 times a year."

Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), head of the council's Committee on Economic Development, told sports commission Chairman Mark H. Tuohey that whatever the Nationals decide to do, the community "has to know it's going to happen."

Meantime, Tuohey said that the renovation of RFK is proceeding faster than expected and that the stadium could be ready for inspection by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs by March 20. That's well before RFK is scheduled to open for the Nationals' exhibition game against the New York Mets on April 3.

The grass was supposed to be laid this week, but bad weather played a part in delaying the process until next week, Tuohey said. The commission will purchase a different sod whose roots take hold more quickly, at an additional cost of as much as $150,000, he added.

The commission has also been interviewing architects for the construction of the Nationals' permanent home, a ballpark along the Anacostia waterfront. Eight firms entered bids, and those have been narrowed to three finalists to be interviewed today and tomorrow, officials said. A finalist will be selected in about a week.

Although yesterday's committee hearing was mostly about business, there was one moment when the purpose of all the talk became more tangible: Ambrose announced just before testimony began that the Nationals had won their first spring training game, 5-3, against the Mets.

"It's a reflection of things to come," Tuohey said hopefully.

"The team has gotten off to a good start," Ambrose agreed.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company