The Stadium Parking Debate
LAST MONTH, the District's chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, warned the D.C. Council that the city's failure to provide parking garages for the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium could cost D.C. taxpayers plenty. While Mr. Gandhi didn't specify an amount in his letter to the council because it could become a legal matter, some city officials place the potential costs as high as $100 million. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), a frequent critic of Mr. Gandhi's work, disputed the warning in an Oct. 25 letter to us in which he wrote, "The notion that there are $100 million of penalties if the District fails to provide parking spaces for the new . . . stadium by 2008 is completely false and has no basis in fact in the Baseball Lease Agreement."
Why is this clash between Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Catania so relevant? The council recently rejected a proposal to build aboveground garages at the ballpark, and the mayor and Mr. Gandhi are pressing council members to reverse their position at the council's Nov. 14 meeting. Before that can happen, the first order of business is to determine who is right.
Mr. Catania acknowledges that the city faces damages if the stadium package, presumably including parking, isn't completed on time. But he quantifies those damages in the neighborhood of $2.5 million. Mr.
Gandhi, while agreeing that the minimum liability associated with failure to meet this obligation is about $2.5 million, argues that Mr. Catania's analysis does not recognize the full extent of losses to the city if the stadium package, including the required 1,225 parking spaces at the ballpark site, is not finished by March 1, 2008.
The District's exposure, contends Mr. Gandhi, could include a loss in higher tax revenue expected to be generated by the new stadium in 2008. That would, he said, reduce the amount of projected revenue pledged to debt service on bonds issued to pay for stadium construction. Further delay could also increase the city's construction costs, he added, not to mention the cost of having to operate RFK Stadium for the 2008 baseball season and reduced payments that would be due from the Nationals' owners. Meanwhile, the financial obligations of the District could substantially increase in other facets of the deal, Mr. Gandhi said.
This, by the way, does not even touch the question of the legal claims the Nationals may make against the city if the stadium is not completed on time. That is a legal matter the council cannot decide. What is clear, according to Mr. Gandhi, is that any delay in opening could cause the price of the District's bonds to fall in the secondary markets or lead to higher interest costs for future bond issues.
Stadium parking is not a political issue. The council must treat it as the serious financial and legal matter that it is and act responsibly.