Chat with Frazer Walton Jr. about the return of professional baseball to the nation's capital and he brims with nostalgia about the old Washington Senators -- and walking to games with his father from their home near Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium to cheer such team favorites as Chuck Hinton and Harmon Killebrew.
But talk to Walton about plans to have RFK host the new Washington Nationals' first three seasons, starting with an exhibition game in April, and the 55-year-old lawyer is much more pragmatic than sentimental.
Residents say the city is making some improvements, such as repaving a sidewalk at left, as baseball draws near.
(Lauren Victoria Burke For The Washington Post)
That's because Walton still lives in Kingman Park, the Northeast neighborhood that is next door to the stadium. As president of the Kingman Park Civic Association, he is pushing the city to repair crumbling sidewalks, sinking streets, poor drainage and other longstanding infrastructure problems. It's a kind of quid pro quo for a community of about 11,000 mostly elderly residents who will be subjected to at least 243 baseball games through 2007 -- and the noise, traffic and trash that come with them.
District officials say construction of a new stadium for the Nationals, in an industrial, riverside pocket of Southeast Washington, should be completed in time for the 2008 season. Until then, Kingman Park residents, most of whom live in modest rowhouses and have family ties to the community that date back decades, are trying to leverage their situation.
"All residents should have decent streets, but the infrastructure around here badly needs improvement so it can handle the demand of all the baseball fans who will be moving through the neighborhood," Walton said. "Otherwise, it will continue to deteriorate."
Last week, standing next to a huge pool of murky water that floods a corner of D and 20th streets NE each time it rains or snows, Walton said many of the repair needs in the neighborhood have existed for years, despite repeated complaints to the city.
The civic association, which over the years has helped derail a proposed football stadium and a noisy auto race near RFK Park, says it has been trying for months to get Mary Ann Floto, one of Mayor Anthony A. Williams's community outreach ward coordinators, and others to respond to the community's needs.
In addition to longstanding requests for repair work, the civic association has raised concerns about "unsupervised children" from several group homes who they say have caused disruptions in the neighborhood. Walton had asked that a child services representative attend the association's meeting last November to discuss the problem, but no city representative showed up.
About a month ago, Walton and ANC Commissioner Veronica Raglin took Floto and two D.C. transportation workers on a walking tour of the neighborhood, pointing out the repair problems. But Walton said he never heard back from Floto until last week, the day after she was contacted by The Washington Post about the community's repair requests.
"The request has been forwarded into the pipeline" at the D.C. Department of Transportation, Floto said in an interview. "I don't expect it to get lost in a big hole."
Floto said that the city was trying to identify the appropriate representative to look into the group homes matter and that someone would attend the civic association's meeting this month.
The Transportation Department referred questions about Kingman Park to Chris Bender, spokesman for the city's Office of Planning and Economic Development. He said the neighborhood's repair needs are being studied now but work is unlikely to start before spring.
"We have to do a scope of the work to determine whether one type of patchwork or another needs to be done," Bender said. "But nonetheless, residents should see some physical improvements in '05, and the remainder will be done in '06."
Asked why it had taken more than a month to identify a point person on the group homes complaint, Bender said: "It should not have taken that long. But we will get it done now."