Politics Mires Parking, But Work Is on Pace

A major steel order had been delivered, which Allen Y. Lew, head of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, called an important milestone.
A major steel order had been delivered, which Allen Y. Lew, head of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, called an important milestone. (By Michael Robinson Chavez -- The Washington Post)
By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 12, 2006

District officials declared yesterday that construction of a baseball stadium near the Anacostia River in Southeast is moving expeditiously, even as city leaders and the Washington Nationals are running out of time to build parking garages.

"We're one day ahead of schedule," said Allen Y. Lew, chief executive of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, as he gave reporters a tour of the construction site near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street.

A major steel order had been delivered, an important milestone, Lew said.

"The building is taking shape," he added, ". . . rising out of the ground."

But even as Lew pronounced the publicly funded $611 million stadium project on time and on budget for delivery by April 2008, the irony was clear: Reporters were standing on a five-acre plot intended for parking garages. It has not been excavated because District officials have not settled on a plan.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and his aides said last week that they will seek an additional $75 million above the D.C. Council's $611 million cost cap to build three underground garages to provide 1,225 parking spaces required for the Nationals in the stadium agreement.

Williams and several council members are working on emergency legislation that would alter the cap, and they expect the council to vote on the bill Wednesday. Emergency legislation would require approval of nine of the council's 13 members, and it was not clear yesterday whether the mayor would be able to line up the votes.

According to mayoral aides, the $25 million allocated in the council-approved stadium budget for parking is not enough to build the garages in a way that would allow for additional development at the site, such as shops, restaurants, offices and condominiums. Williams has said mixed-use development is critical to building a lively neighborhood near the ballpark that can bring new tax dollars to the city.

Officials are discussing a change to the cost cap in which the garages would be financed in part by money paid by developers for the right to build on stadium land. The cost cap calls for revenue from development rights to go to a community benefits fund.

Council member Adrian M. Fenty (Ward 4), the Democratic mayoral nominee who voted consistently against public funding for the stadium, has said that as mayor he would support stadium construction and try to ensure that it is completed within budget. Fenty said this week that he would not support changing the cap.

"We should live within the cap," he said.

Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who also voted against public funding, said yesterday that he will not make a final decision until he sees the new legislation.

"Our choice is to dynamite the whole project or figure out the most cost-effective way to do this. It's an easy 'no' vote, but where would that take us?" Graham said. Still, he added: "It would be very hard for me to support $75 million additional at this point. I don't know how I could possibly reconcile that."

At the construction site yesterday, the lower seating level of the 41,000-seat stadium was visibly taking shape. Workers from the construction team of Clark, Hunt and Smoot companies had set most of the 2,400 concrete piles 50 feet into the ground to provide the structural foundation.

Project manager Matt Haas said that it will take months to install the structural steel. Next summer, workers will install the two drainage systems, followed by the turf and the interior amenities such as suites, concourses and concession stands, he said.

The team's ownership group, headed by Bethesda developer Theodore N. Lerner, has hired Jack Rouse Associates of Cincinnati, experts in designing attractions and exhibitions, to help plan the stadium concourse and make it more fan-accessible.

Staff writer Thomas Heath contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company