By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 19, 2006
The D.C. Council narrowly rejected a proposal yesterday to build aboveground garages near a new baseball stadium under construction on the Anacostia waterfront, leaving city officials without a plan to provide parking for the Washington Nationals when the ballpark opens in 2008.
The council's action also represented a blow to Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), the mayoral nominee who had offered the proposal as a way to break a months-long deadlock between the city and the Nationals over the 1,225 parking spaces the city is required to deliver.
Under Fenty's emergency proposal, the city would build two aboveground parking garages just north of the ballpark site in Southeast. A smaller underground garage would be built to the south. Fenty said the plan, which would cost $56 million, would not violate the council's $611 million stadium cost cap.
Other council members challenged Fenty's position, however, saying the plan would raise the city's investment by millions of dollars. Eight of the council's 13 members supported the measure, but such emergency legislation requires nine votes for passage.
"We're back to square one," said Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who supported the proposal. "The question for us is, 'Where do we go from here?' People keep coming back to the council because they don't know what to do and want us to solve the problem. . . . I hope everyone goes away from the council and tries to solve the problem in another fashion."
As a result, the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission is running out of time and options to provide the parking spaces. Under the stadium agreement, the city must provide 1,225 spaces on the stadium site near South Capitol Street and the Navy Yard along the Anacostia River in Southeast by March 1, 2008.
If the city fails to provide the required spaces, it could be liable to pay millions of dollars in legal damages to the team.
The agency may have no choice but to pave over the five-acre northern parcel to provide some spaces and park additional vehicles across the street, said sports commission Chief Executive Allen Y. Lew.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has pushed for the garages to be built below ground, leaving space to construct a mix of condominiums, shops and restaurants as an entertainment hub. The Nationals ownership group, headed by Bethesda developer Theodore N. Lerner, has lobbied for free-standing garages that are cheaper and easier to be completed in time for the 2008 season.
The city had agreed on a plan for developer Herbert S. Miller to build the garages along with mixed-use development. But that agreement collapsed last month when the two sides could not agree on financing.
Williams developed a new plan for underground garages, but the city's chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, ruled that the mayor's plan violated the stadium cost cap.
Fenty, who is expected to win easily in the Nov. 7 general election for mayor, sought to resolve the deadlock after several city officials appealed to him to get involved last week. On Tuesday, Fenty met with city officials and the Lerner group and settled on his proposal for the $56 million garages.
There is $25 million for parking in the council's $611 million budget, meaning the city would need an additional $31 million. Fenty, with support from Gandhi, proposed that the city use $17 million in additional stadium-related taxes generated from local businesses during the stadium's first two baseball seasons; $8 million in stadium contingency funds; and $6 million in bonds that could be paid off by revenue made by the city by parking cars in the garages during non-game days.
Several council members argued yesterday that, technically, Fenty's plan would raise the cap by $23 million because of the planned use of the business tax revenue and the parking revenue, funds that could be spent on other city needs.
"We're adding tens of millions to the cost of this project with no end in sight," said David A. Catania (I-At Large).
Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) told colleagues: "You said under no circumstances would you support any raising of that cap. Now you are doing so. It betrays the trust of the community and my personal trust."
Fenty, who had voted consistently against public funding for the stadium, lobbied colleagues on the dais yesterday, focusing heavily on Phil Mendelson (D-At Large). But Mendelson said he did not want to allocate more money.
"I agree with all that was said about the additional cost," Fenty told colleagues. "There are a lot of different options, but not many that preserve the economic development on the site and ensure the project is completed on time."
In addition to Fenty and Evans, Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) and Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) voted in favor of the plan.
Catania, Barry, Mendelson, Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) and Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) voted against it.
Shortly before the vote, Williams expressed frustration: "Take any major project from the pyramids to Stonehenge. The stupid parking lot has taken more hours and meetings per parking space. It's incredible."