By David Nakamura and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 24, 2006
District government leaders appear resigned to slowing their efforts to create mixed-use development near the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium in Southeast, concentrating instead on ensuring adequate parking when the ballpark opens.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) had hoped that a proposal from Herbert S. Miller to build two 13-story condominium towers adjacent to the ballpark would anchor a sweeping redevelopment of the neglected Anacostia waterfront.
But after the deal collapsed a few days ago, city officials said they have only enough time and money to satisfy their legal agreement with the Washington Nationals, which requires that the stadium and 1,225 parking spots be completed by March 2008.
The shift in the District's strategy could delay the waterfront revival until well after the stadium opens. The team's principal owner, Theodore N. Lerner, and his partners have been adamant that the city cease redevelopment efforts and focus on identifying enough parking spots for the 41,000-seat stadium. Lerner representatives fear that fans will face a traffic nightmare if the city does not find at least 5,000 spaces around the ballpark. That, in turn, would ruin the fan experience and hobble the Nationals' ability to become a healthy franchise, they said.
In a statement Friday, Lerner spokesman Len Sanderson said the owners want to work closely with the city "to find the best parking and traffic solution that will allow the Nationals ballpark to open successfully for the 2008 season. We share the same vision with the city and our fans for the development of this entire area including the ballpark."
The city, which is paying $611 million for the stadium, and the Lerner group, which paid $450 million for the team, have huge stakes in the success of the ballpark and the surrounding area, one of the biggest projects in the District in years.
For the mayor, a successful project would allow the city to capture more of the region's burgeoning wealth, which has been increasingly concentrated around suburban shopping malls and town centers. But the Lerner group says the mayor's development plans depend on the team's success, because if no one goes to the ballpark, the area will not thrive.
Williams has said his administration will abide by the stadium agreement while seeking to preserve development possibilities.
Lerner representatives have lobbied for two free-standing garages, but Williams seeks temporary surface-level parking on a five-acre site just beyond center field that would be paved over. After the stadium opens, in that scenario, the city and team would talk again about development options, he said.
"We must provide the best baseball experience possible, while also preserving the opportunity for the maximum development," said Williams, who has scheduled a meeting tomorrow with his top aides to discuss parking.
Democratic mayoral nominee Adrian M. Fenty met separately last week with the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission and the Lerner group. Fenty, the Ward 4 D.C. Council member, voted against public financing of the stadium. He has pledged to support the project if elected and said last week that he is studying the parking situation.
Even if District officials and the Lerner group agree to the plan for surface-level parking, finding an additional 4,000 or more spots remains a challenge.
Williams selected the ballpark site, near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street, because he believed the area -- mostly industrial properties interspersed with bars, auto repair shops and vacant lots -- was perfect for a major upscale redevelopment. But the area has few major roads or parking lots.
By comparison, RFK Stadium, where the Nationals will play through next year, is surrounded by several major thoroughfares and nearly 10,000 parking spots.
City planners said in July that they have identified nearly 9,000 potential parking spaces near the new ballpark. But not all of the land for parking is under the city's control, and some spaces would be as far as 10 blocks away. The farthest parking lots would be a 15-minute walk from the ballpark, an unpleasant trek for fans in the summer heat.
Nationals President Stan Kasten has repeatedly emphasized that the fan experience begins the minute the fans leave their homes or offices for the ballpark and that the team wants to make the trip as convenient as possible.
William N. Hall, head of the sports commission's baseball committee, pledged that the ballpark will not face a "FedEx situation," referring to parking and traffic problems that plagued the opening of the Washington Redskins' stadium, FedEx Field, in 1997.
The city's effort to cobble together enough parking spots is illustrated by the situation just north of the ballpark site on N Street SE. Monument Realty, a firm that owns several acres there, is building a mix of office and residential space, with underground garages for up to 900 vehicles.
Monument Vice President Russell Hines said his company would be willing to lease the garages to the city for ballpark parking in 2008 because the office buildings will not be completed until the next year. If the city's fee is high enough, Hines said, Monument might even be willing to delay construction of the offices.
"There may be a solution where we agree to delay completion of our buildings in order to provide parking until another parking solution is provided," Hines said. "There's no deal yet, but we're willing to talk."