Council Approves Sale to Developer

New baseball stadium
Construction crews begin clearing and digging for the new baseball stadium in Washington D.C. (Lucian Perkins - Twp)
By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The D.C. Council approved a plan yesterday to sell a portion of city land for a new baseball stadium to a private developer who has promised to build a mix of parking garages, shops, condos and a hotel.

At its final meeting before summer recess, the council approved the resolution without debate, giving a rare easy stadium victory to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). The mayor has said that the mixed-use development will help create a vibrant entertainment district near the ballpark, reaping significant tax revenue that the city can put toward other needs.

"We're really pleased that we got such a strong endorsement," said Vince Morris, spokesman for Williams. "We're moving ahead with it. It's good for the city and the team."

But the plan has been criticized by representatives of Theodore N. Lerner, incoming owner of the Washington Nationals. They have said that the project could delay the stadium's planned opening in Southeast Washington in April 2008.

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi echoed those concerns in testimony before the council last week. Lerner representatives and Gandhi's office declined to comment yesterday.

In a statement last week, incoming team president Stan Kasten said: "There are neither firm developer or financing commitments, nor feasibility studies. The plan does not even guarantee the city cash payment of the full value of the development rights. . . . We do not think the city should support such a speculative development."

Under the city's plan, the land abutting the stadium to the north along South Capitol Street and N Street SE will be transferred to developer Herb Miller, president of Western Development, for $61 million.

Miller has proposed building 925 parking spots in two parking structures that go one level underground and four stories aboveground. The garages would be surrounded by retail shops on the first floor and condominiums that would make the total height of the structure 13 stories. A hotel, possibly in the Aloft chain, franchised by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., would be added near N and First streets.

An additional 300 parking spaces, built separately by contractors working for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, would be located at the southern end of the stadium site.

Williams said the development done by Miller -- who developed Potomac Mills Mall and Gallery Place near Verizon Center -- will help the city capitalize on the $611 million in public money that is financing the stadium project. Morris dismissed the criticism from the Lerner group yesterday.

"Herb Miller has a great track record in Washington," Morris said. "One of the reasons the mayor feels confident is that the mayor has been to developments Herb has done, and he's always come through. The pressure is on his shoulders to get it done, but it's not a stretch to see, because he's a very accomplished developer."

District government officials said Miller must break ground by September to complete the garages and portions of the development in time for the Nationals' opening day in 2008.

The rest of the development could take an additional year, but construction would not take place on game days, and the unfinished portion of the structures would be shrouded by curtain walls, Miller said.

Miller, who has said that the California Public Employees' Retirement System will finance the $300 million tab for the complex, said yesterday that he is "finalizing paperwork" on his financing plan.

He added that he intends to produce the first $5 million or $6 million in September to start excavation of the land, and the bulk of the financing would come by Dec. 1.

"They have legitimate concerns that we have to answer," Miller said of the Lerner group. "Do we have the money? Can we get it done on time? Will they have enough parking? The answer is yes to all of those. They are business people and want to see reality out of a plan. We can satisfy that."

The Lerners had lobbied the city to adopt a backup plan that would call for two above-ground parking structures, without additional development. But the city's Zoning Commission rejected that idea.

Now, government officials said, a new backup plan would be to pave over some of the land to create temporary surface-level parking that would give Miller more time to finish, if necessary.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company