By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 6, 2006
The debate over parking for the new $611 million Washington Nationals baseball stadium has dragged on for months, and council Chairman Linda W. Cropp called on the mayor and council yesterday to make a decision.
"All you're doing is wasting time and shooting yourself in the foot," she said at a breakfast meeting of council members and Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).
Cropp was defeated in last month's Democratic mayoral primary by Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who is widely expected to win the Nov. 7 general election. Fenty sat without speaking at one end of a conference table, eating fruit as council members shouted around him during some of the most heated debate.
Alec Evans, Fenty's spokesman, said Fenty is studying the issue and is dedicated to making the stadium project work.
The city is required to build 1,225 parking spaces as part of an agreement with the team. Officials are considering two choices: surface parking for $25 million as budgeted or a $100 million underground parking facility, which could be expanded later with shops, restaurants and condominiums above it.
Approving the underground parking project -- and the additional $75 million -- would force the council to lift the $611 million spending cap on the stadium. But the project also would help the city meet its goal of using the ballpark as a catalyst for economic development. The plan, proposed by Williams, may be on the agenda at the council's Oct. 18 meeting.
The District has a deadline of September 2007 to begin a mixed-use development project. After that, it would have to consult with the team owners, headed by Bethesda developer Theodore N. Lerner, on what to put on the site.
"You lose your development rights, folks," said Cropp (D), speaking forcefully. "You just throw it away."
She said she was upset because the city could forfeit its original vision for the stadium. The mayor and council debated the issue yesterday in one of the final breakfast meetings of the Williams administration. Williams and Cropp leave office at the end of the year.
The lively meeting included jokes and lighter moments. The mayor and council members sang "Happy Birthday" to both Cropp, whose birthday was yesterday, and Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, whose birthday was Wednesday. Williams brought a white sheet cake and an elaborate, tropical floral arrangement for Cropp.
During the debate, council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) asked his colleagues to give developer Herbert S. Miller another chance to work on a development plan for the parking and multiuse project. Williams had backed a plan by Miller this year, but Miller was unable to agree on financing terms with the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.
Cropp said she opposed working with Miller. "Have you seen anything to show that he has the funds to do it? He can't do it. That's a fact," she said.
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said the ballpark should be viewed as a long-term investment whose full development would appreciate in value. He compared it to the 1997 completion of MCI Center, now Verizon Center, where shops and restaurants were developed along with Gallery Place over a decade. "I think we're about to make a decision that we will regret later on" if the underground parking is rejected, he said.
Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), who has opposed the stadium project, told Williams that the city should ask for a 10 percent stake in the Washington Nationals if it invests more in parking.
Williams laughed when Catania and council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) suggested a new meeting with the Lerner group to discuss the project.
"Dealing with the Lerners is a problem for the new administration," Williams said.
To prepare for the new administration, Williams said he will also ask the council for $200,000 to fund a mayoral transition team. Williams said he also wants to raise the incoming mayor's salary to $200,000 annually. Williams earns $152,000.
He said the salary increase is justified. "We've got about six people [in the administration] who make more than the mayor," he said.
He said he also would like the council chairman to earn $150,000, which would require an amendment to the city's charter.