Mayor Williams's Dead Deal
AS FAR BACK as May, it was clear that the mayor's plan to build an entertainment district around the new baseball stadium in Southeast Washington while meeting a requirement for parking facilities was headed for trouble with the Washington Nationals' ownership group. Yet instead of acknowledging the problem and entering into direct discussions with the owners to resolve the issue in a timely fashion, Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Herbert S. Miller, the developer picked to build the entertainment area, doggedly pursued their dream. Now it turns out that the mayor and Mr. Miller are unable reach an agreement on the project's financing terms, and the deal has collapsed. By any calculation, that was hardly time well spent.
Under the stadium agreement, the District of Columbia is legally obligated to build a 41,000-seat stadium and 1,225 parking spots by March 2008. The city, despite the dream of an entertainment complex, has only enough time and money to satisfy that agreement. Failure to complete the project on time would be more than an embarrassment to the District; it would also quite probably prove costly to taxpayers.
Mixed-use development around the new stadium is, of course, desirable. The city's overriding obligation, however, is to deliver, on time and within budget, a $611 million stadium that enhances the baseball experience of fans and the financial health of the franchise.
With only three months to go in his term, Mr. Williams should attend to those issues that he is legally obliged to address and refrain from making commitments that other city leaders, including his successor, will have to keep. It is apparent that a reinvigorated waterfront and entertainment district in Southeast will have to wait until the next mayor and D.C. Council assume the reins of government in January. A short delay might have certain advantages. For example, lead Nationals owner Theodore N. Lerner and his group will have a chance to improve their relationship with city leaders -- a critical condition now missing. More time also provides a chance for other groups interested in the waterfront area to make their interests known. In other words, delay offers a fresh start all around and one with, perhaps, a largely different cast.