Severe Penalties Await City if Parking Garages Aren't Provided, Gandhi Warns

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The District government's chief financial officer warned yesterday of serious penalties if the city fails to provide parking garages for the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium, encouraging the D.C. Council to reconsider a proposal it voted down last week.

In an eight-page letter to council members, Natwar M. Gandhi says the city faces significant financial liabilities if members of the council continue to oppose a plan to build aboveground garages at the ballpark near the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington. The city might have to pay tens of millions of dollars to the Nationals for failing to meet contractual obligations, and the District could suffer shortfalls in potential stadium revenue.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who is expected to win the Nov. 7 election to replace Williams, touted Gandhi's letter as evidence that the council must reconsider its position.

Last week, the council voted down a parking proposal developed by Gandhi, Fenty and Williams that would have cost $56 million. Members said the plan would have raised the $611 million stadium cost cap.

Williams, Fenty and Gandhi say the council must reverse its position at its Nov. 14 meeting.

"I agree with Dr. Gandhi that the District has an obligation to deliver the baseball stadium and parking by the March 2008 deadline," Fenty said in a statement. "I will continue to work with my colleagues on the Council to put together a proposal that fulfills the District's obligation."

Under the stadium agreement with the Nationals, the city is required to provide 1,225 parking spaces on the 20-acre stadium site by March 1, 2008.

In his letter, Gandhi says the city has run out of time to build underground garages and still meet that deadline. Paving over the five-acre northern parcel at the site would allow room for just 150 vehicles, meaning 1,075 would have to be parked across the street, Gandhi says, a violation of the agreement.

The only option remaining, he said, is to build aboveground garages. The cost would be $36 million if the garages were not fortified to support additional development such as condominiums, shops and restaurants. Fortified garages would cost $56 million. Either way, the council would have to override zoning laws that ban aboveground garages, Gandhi says, and a change to the ballpark cost cap could be necessary.

Government officials who have talked to Gandhi said he thinks the city could be liable for up to $100 million in penalties to the Nationals under a worst-case scenario, although the letter does not give a specific amount.

Also, the city expects to generate significant revenue from the stadium that will pay debt service on the construction bonds. That revenue stream could be jeopardized if parking is unfinished, Gandhi says.

"Construction of the stadium is on schedule," Gandhi writes. However, "if the council does not move forward to provide for parking immediately, the District will increase its exposure to substantial losses."

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who voted against the parking plan last week because he feared it would raise the spending cap, said that he recognizes the city's dilemma and that he will help find a solution.

"We're definitely aware of that," Graham said of the conclusions in Gandhi's letter. "We're all working now as to what the next step might be. We have been in a whole host of discussions. We're going to do it, without a doubt."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company