By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 21, 2006
District government officials are modifying the architectural design of a new baseball stadium, relying less heavily on glass as a key exterior feature, to reduce costs and win approval for a lease agreement from the D.C. Council.
The changes are intended to save tens of millions of dollars and limit the potential for cost overruns, said sources with knowledge of the discussions.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and his top aides have promised a stadium that is a sharp departure from the throwback red-brick ballparks that have been popular over the past 15 years. Architects hired by the city completed designs last fall that relied on glass, steel and limestone.
Vince Morris, a spokesman for Williams, said no official decisions have been made to change the stadium designs and added that the final project will still be modern and unique.
"None of the proposed changes to the ballpark design would impact the fans' experience," Morris said. "Everything from seats and soda to sightlines and restrooms would be top-notch. The stadium will be iconic and something we can be proud of for generations to come."
Other city officials, however, stressed that the council's desire to cap stadium spending would result in limitations on the design.
"The question is, what are people willing to give up to get seven votes?" said council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), a stadium supporter who has favored a retro-style ballpark. "Many of my colleagues are focused on the price, a cap, and not what the stadium looks like. That's what my druthers are, too. I want a very basic stadium. We can't build a stadium that costs a fortune out of glass and steel and looks like the Taj Mahal."
The design changes are part of a broader package to persuade the council to support a stadium lease agreement with Major League Baseball that is critical to moving the project forward. Council members have objected to the rising price estimates of the stadium project along the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington. City financial officials have said the project -- the stadium, infrastructure and land -- will cost $667 million, far more than the $535 million budget approved by the council in 2004.
Council members met yesterday with former Detroit mayor Dennis W. Archer, who was named this week by the American Arbitration Association to mediate the standoff between the city and baseball. And D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) sent another letter to Williams yesterday reiterating her previous requests related to capping stadium costs and winning new concessions from baseball.
Archer told council members he was meeting with city and baseball officials today and tomorrow and would use Cropp's requests as the basis of his discussions, said a council source who attended the meeting.
One of the ways Williams hopes to convince the council that the stadium costs will be capped is through the use of a proposed "guaranteed maximum price" contract with Clark Construction Group of Bethesda, Hunt Construction Group of Indianapolis and Smoot Construction of D.C., which were hired last fall to build the stadium.
Under the proposed terms, the city would relinquish control of the design and construction of the stadium to construction companies, which in turn would guarantee that the price of the labor and materials for the ballpark would not exceed $300 million, said sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations are ongoing.
Once the contract is signed, the city would not be able to make changes to the design. A new ownership group for the Washington Nationals, currently owned by Major League Baseball, could make a change only if the group were willing to pay for it, the sources said.
Industry experts say such contracts are commonly used when an owner, in this case the District, has a tight budget and building plans are not completely finished. The contract being negotiated with the construction team of Clark-Hunt-Smoot would transfer the risk, but also the decision-making authority, from the city to the construction companies.
"We would have a lot more say in being able to adjust the design within the program and budget," said Gregory S. Colevas, a senior vice president at Clark.
The District and baseball already have negotiated an agreement that spells out the basic look of the ballpark, including how many seats, luxury boxes, restaurants, stores and offices it would contain. Under the new contract, the construction companies would agree to abide by that agreement.
However, the companies would oversee the city's consultants, including the architectural team from Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum Sport of Kansas City, Mo., and Devrouax & Purnell of D.C., Colevas said.
Although the designs completed by the architects last fall have not been made public, D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission officials showed them to some council members in December. Commission Chief Executive Allen Y. Lew called the ballpark design "iconic" and said it would match the majesty of the city's federal-monument dominated skyline.
But the stadium envisioned by the architects was costly. Construction officials estimated the costs at $337 million last fall, far more than the $244 million that had been set aside in the stadium budget, Lew said.
To help cover the increased costs, the sports commission removed planned improvements to roads and the Navy Yard Metro station from the budget. The commission also ordered some minor cutbacks to the stadium design that reduced the price to about $315 million.
Officials are now negotiating additional changes to reach the $300 million maximum figure. In addition to using less glass, another recent proposal is to use a cheaper heating and air-conditioning system, sources said.
Lew declined to comment. Baseball officials, who have approved the cuts so far, are concerned mostly with maintaining the negotiated number of seats, luxury boxes and other amenities, sources said.
City government officials described the design changes as typical in a major construction project, during which there is usually a give-and-take between the designs and costs.
"If there is a cap on the cost, you could have a nice stadium, but you might not have a castle," Cropp said.
Staff writer Thomas Heath contributed to this report.