City Plan To Build By Nats Field Fails

By David Nakamura and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 21, 2006

The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission yesterday abandoned a plan to build condominiums, shops and parking garages next to the new Nationals baseball stadium in Southeast Washington, dealing a major setback to Mayor Anthony A. Williams's hope that the project would spark renewal of the Anacostia River waterfront.

The deal collapsed when the commission and Western Development, headed by Herbert S. Miller, failed to reach an agreement on the financing terms of his mixed-use development proposal by yesterday's deadline.

With Miller's plan off the table, commission officials are uncertain about how they will provide the required 1,225 parking spots for the Washington Nationals in time for the stadium's scheduled opening in April 2008.

"We are disappointed that Western hasn't accepted our fair and reasonable agreement for parking and development," said board member William N. Hall, head of the commission's baseball committee. "We are now considering all options to provide the parking and development for the baseball stadium, which is in the best interests of the city."

The dissolution of the Miller project could have far-reaching consequences on the entire baseball experience and the city's planned revival of the waterfront.

Miller's plan, which included shops and restaurants in two 13-story condo towers, was envisioned as the anchor for redevelopment of a barren industrial neighborhood near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street along the Anacostia River.

Williams had promised that the development would reinvigorate the waterfront and bring new tax revenue to offset the city's $611 million investment of public money in the stadium project.

"The mayor still hopes to make this plan work," Morris said. "But if we can't get all the parties together, we obviously will move to Plan B."

There is $21 million for parking in the stadium budget. City government officials have said that it will cost more than that to build garages, whether below ground or above. A leading backup plan is to pave over the five acres north of the stadium, which would serve as a temporary parking lot, leaving future development options open, officials said.

The city government's position on Miller's plan has been divided. The D.C. Council and Anacostia Waterfront Corp., chartered by Williams to redevelop the area, have backed it, but Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi said the plan violated the council's stadium $611 million cap.

Miller's plan also has been vigorously opposed by the Nationals ownership group, led by Bethesda developer Theodore N. Lerner. The Lerner group, which believes Miller's proposal would delay the opening of the parking garages beyond 2008, has lobbied the sports commission to build free-standing garages. A Lerner spokesman declined to comment yesterday.

In a meeting with Democratic mayoral nominee Adrian M. Fenty on Tuesday, Lerner and his partners reiterated their objections, according to sources familiar with the discussion.

The Lerner group also stressed that it has significant concerns about the city's ability to provide 5,000 parking spots near the stadium, which would be needed for the 41,000-seat ballpark, even though the ballpark agreement only calls for 1,200.

Last week, the sports commission asked Miller to sign a contract to build the mixed-use project that included a termination clause, which stipulated that he would be paid $975,000 if the project were terminated. But in a letter to the commission yesterday, Miller rejected the deal.

Miller, who was out of town on business, said he remained hopeful that other city officials, including Williams, would revive his project. He said he has spent $5.5 million on planning and legal fees at the city's request and expects to be repaid.

"The city has to figure out what it wants to do," Miller said. "We'll be cooperative and responsive and do anything to help."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company