As the Nationals prepare for the opening homestand this week that will mark the return of baseball to Washington, some of the city's largest developers are competing for land around the site of the proposed stadium on the Anacostia waterfront.
In the two months since a $535 million stadium deal was approved by the D.C. Council, three major acquisitions have closed near the proposed site and at least six more are proceeding, according to real estate brokers and sellers. Led by top local real estate firms such as the John Akridge Cos., Douglas Development Corp., Donohoe Real Estate Services and Monument Realty LLC, the competition is bidding up prices in about 12 blocks north and south of the stadium site in anticipation of a building boom of residential units, shops, restaurants and offices that the stadium is expected to spur.
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The land to the west is mostly residential; a major federal office project is under construction to the east.
The interest is making longtime landowners, unaccustomed to such attention in the neighborhood, puzzle over whether to sell or try to develop their land, as D.C. officials continue planning how they want the stadium and the area around it to look.
"It's like a gold rush to get in and get the best sites," said F. Russell Hines, executive vice president of Monument Realty, which recently completed a $10 million deal that included land on a lot just across from the stadium site at N and Half streets SE. Monument said it is negotiating at least six other deals on the same block. "There's only a limited number of sites," Hines said. "You get locked out easily."
Prices for land suitable for development in the area just north of the stadium site, at South Capitol and M streets SE, have shot up to $30 to $50 per square foot, according to land brokers, sellers and developers, more than double what land in the area was worth a few years ago.
The spurt of interest in the run-down area is what D.C. officials hoped for when they decided to build the 41,000-seat stadium for the baseball team. This month, the District hired HOK Sport, a Kansas City, Mo.-based division of Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum Inc. known for its cutting-edge ballpark designs, as the stadium's lead architect. The District has said it will try to finance part of the stadium with private investment.
As D.C. officials ponder the stadium's design and how to pay for it, developers, real estate brokers, planners and landowners are thinking about what will happen around it. The area is a hodgepodge of vacant lots, abandoned buildings, nightclubs, auto-repair shops and parking lots for buses and taxicabs. Some offices have been built along M Street SE -- the area's main thoroughfare -- for government contractors that want to be near the Navy Yard, just east of the stadium site.
The track record of ballparks as development catalysts has been spotty in other cities, according to economists, developers and others who have studied the matter. A stadium, drawing large crowds 90 or so days a year but dark for long stretches of time, will not alone revitalize a run-down area unless it is supported by solid planning.
"Just having a stadium is not going to have people clamoring to be there on its own," said Neil deMause, co-author of "Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money Into Private Profit."