Stadium Cost Tops Cap, Council Members Say
Thursday, January 25, 2007
District officials acknowledged yesterday that the city will have to pay more than $18 million to upgrade streets near the Washington Nationals' new stadium, and some council members said the expenditure would push spending on the ballpark beyond the council's $611 million cap.
News of the additional cost came during testimony from the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission at a council oversight hearing. The commission's chief executive, Allen Y. Lew, said that though the stadium is proceeding on schedule for an April 2008 opening, the budget does not include money to handle transportation planning at the 41,000-seat ballpark.
Team officials have said smooth access for up to 9,000 motorists driving to each game is critical to the success of the ballpark, along the Anacostia River near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street.
Several council members criticized Lew's testimony and charged that the additional public cost would constitute a violation of the stadium spending limit. The members said they feared that allowing the change would open the way for spiraling costs on a project whose spending cap has grown from $535 million in December 2004 to $611 million.
"At some point, the spigot has got to be firmly turned off," said Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who voted against the stadium.
Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), chairman of the council's Committee on Economic Development, which held the hearing, said: "The council has been pretty steadfast on no additional funds being spent on the baseball stadium. I look forward to hearing where they anticipate these dollars coming from."
The answer was provided by the city's Department of Transportation. Kathleen Penney, a deputy chief engineer, said in an interview yesterday that the department had budgeted $18.4 million to widen and repave roads, repair curbs, add traffic lights and signs and plant trees near the ballpark. That work is scheduled to be completed by February 2008, two months before the opening game.
But Penney said the money was allocated before the plan to build the stadium was announced in September 2004 by Anthony A. Williams, the mayor at the time, part of a larger plan to do work on streets around the long-neglected South Capitol Street corridor. The once-industrial area is home to a new U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters, with an estimated 7,000 employees, and the Southeast Federal Center, with 5,000 workers.
Aides to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) defended the city's decision to fund the transportation work independently of the stadium budget.
"This is not part of the $611 million cap as DDOT planned to perform this work to support the many development projects in this area," Neil O. Albert, Fenty's deputy mayor for economic development, said in a written statement. "It does not count against the stadium budget."
Although infrastructure costs were not included in the initial $395 million budget developed by the Williams administration, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi inserted $76 million for such expenditures after reviewing the budget a few months later, and the council approved a $535 million cap.
The cost of the ballpark, however, continued to rise in 2005. To cover the growing expense, Lew shifted money that was supposed to be spent on infrastructure to other items. Included in the funding Lew used for other stadium work was $20 million for an upgrade to Metro's Navy Yard Station and $8 million for street repaving, lighting and landscaping.
In April 2006, the council adopted the $611 million cap without money for Metro and with only several million dollars for repairs to sidewalks and curbs on the streets bordering the ballpark.
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said he thought the transportation work should not be included in the stadium budget, noting that the government repairs roads throughout the city on a regular basis.
But David A. Catania (I-At Large), the council's strongest stadium critic, said officials should admit that the spending cap has been exceeded and prepare to pay for more overruns.