Nats Stadium Dig Begins; Design Still Up in the Air

Washington Nationals apparel was the dress code of the day, especially for Eden Tanenbaum and grandfather Theodore N. Lerner, head of the owners' group.
Washington Nationals apparel was the dress code of the day, especially for Eden Tanenbaum and grandfather Theodore N. Lerner, head of the owners' group. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 5, 2006

Washington Nationals president-to-be Stan Kasten said yesterday that his advisers will review plans for the new D.C. ballpark early next week and that he is confident the project can be completed on time, even though major design elements could change.

Kasten, who oversaw the construction of two stadiums in Atlanta, is expected to play a significant role in shaping the final look and feel of the $611 million stadium project, scheduled to open in 2008 near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street in Southeast Washington.

"It's not like 10 years or 20 years ago, where the thinking was you had to create all the designs before you put a shovel in the ground," said Kasten, who along with Theodore N. Lerner and other members of the new ownership team joined District leaders and Nationals players for a groundbreaking celebration yesterday at the site.

"Today's thinking is that you can get [the ballpark] partially dug and still refine the designs, which will save you time and money," Kasten said.

In March, managers of the project unveiled designs for a modern-looking complex featuring massive glass panels, steel and concrete. But they are still debating virtually all the finishing details, including the layout of the concourses and clubhouses and what carpeting and upholstery to use in luxury suites, according to baseball and city officials.

Even the exterior might be refined. In drawings, a distinctive knife-edge building, made mostly of concrete, juts out from the rear of the stadium bowl. But architects have developed new renderings that would recast the tip of the building in glass, allowing it to light up in various colors, said Allen Y. Lew, chief executive of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), Lerner and more than a dozen others took shovels attached to Louisville Sluggers and turned dirt for photographers and several hundred other onlookers.

"This might be a new attendance record for a groundbreaking," Williams said. D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said the city had accomplished its baseball goals. "Welcome to our field of dreams!" Evans said. "When we started this process, we had three goals: get a team, get a stadium and get an owner. Today we've accomplished all three."

Construction crews have cleared a substantial portion of the southern half of the site, and workers driving tractors and bulldozers paused only briefly for the festivities before continuing on.

They are facing a tight timetable. Tony Tavares, the current Nationals president, said he would prefer 26 months to complete a stadium project. But the D.C. ballpark is scheduled to be completed by April 2008 -- 23 months away. "Everything has got to go perfectly in order to make that date," Tavares said.

Gregory S. Colevas, a senior vice president for Clark Construction, said workers will dig a giant pit by summer, fill it with structural steel by fall and, in summer 2007, put up the glass, stone and concrete "skin" around the steel. In winter 2007 and early 2008, Colevas said, the playing field and interior of the ballpark will be completed.

Significant questions remain unanswered, however.

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