Cherry Trees Among Enhancements to Nationals' New Ballpark in Southeast

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Washington Nationals new stadium will feature a grove of cherry trees beyond the left field seats, flowers lining the wall above parts of the outfield and a high-definition scoreboard spread over right field, all designed to give the stadium in Southeast Washington a signature look.

"It's going to be instantly recognizable," Nationals President Stan Kasten said yesterday. "Whenever you turn on a TV in this country and you see a highlight from our park, you're going to immediately say, 'That's Washington.' "

Kasten said the $611 million, 41,000-seat stadium that the city is building for the team is on schedule for its 2008 Opening Day inaugural. The stadium's steel-and-concrete structure is becoming readily apparent as it rises along the Anacostia River.

Team owner Theodore N. Lerner has said he will spend tens of millions to upgrade many of the stadium's amenities, including an outfield restaurant plaza, stone finishes behind home plate, bathrooms and glass partitions in the luxury suites, and the installation of a high-definition scoreboard. One goal is to have a giant baseball above the two-story outfield sports bar capable of projecting 360-degree replays of home runs and other highlights.

The annual blossoming of the cherry trees along the Tidal Basin draws thousands of tourists to the Washington area each spring. The blossoms, which stay in bloom for only a few days, are some of Washington's most visible icons, along with the monuments and the U.S. Capitol.

"We wanted something that would be uniquely Washington, and this is one of the most prominent features our city has," Kasten said.

The stadium, which will be known as Nationals Park until its naming rights have been auctioned, was designed by HOK Sport of Kansas City and Devrouax + Purnell Architects of Washington to maximize profitability, which means putting the luxury suites and the vast majority of high-priced, premium seats in an arc behind home plate, between first and third base, which has the most desirable views.

Yesterday's announcement of the stadium enhancements coincided with the team's official launch of its sale of 66 luxury suites, which start at $150,000 per year and run to $450,000. The Nationals have set up a marketing center to sell the suites, seats and advertising space in a Lerner-owned building on Connecticut Avenue NW in downtown D.C.

Kasten said he is considering selling the naming rights not only to the stadium, but to the premium spaces inside. Those spaces include the President's Club for the 500 seats immediately behind home plate, the Nationals Club for 1,300 premium ticket holders and the eight suites connected to it, and the Stars & Stripes Club for the top two levels of luxury suites and adjoining 2,300 club seats.

Kasten vowed that the stadium will open on time, but several issues, including traffic flow and parking, have yet to be resolved. The Lerners have hired transportation consultants to help work through traffic and public transportation problems with the city.

"We have an army of people, starting with Ted Lerner himself, working nonstop, and there is no doubt everything will be ready for a great and memorable April 2008 opening," Kasten said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company