Fenty Tours Ballpark Site, Rallies Workers
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Under a clear blue sky perfect for a baseball game, 500 construction workers responsible for one of the most expensive and most important projects in the District took a break yesterday for a quick pep talk.
They wore hard hats and neon reflector vests, sitting in rows on concrete slabs that will one day soon become the first-base stands of the Washington Nationals' $611 million ballpark.
"The closer we get to next year, the more people are looking at us to bring this project in on time and on budget," Mayor Adrian M. Fenty told them on his first trip to the stadium site near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street in Southeast.
"It's all you who do the hard work," Fenty added, eliciting a cheer. "We have the best team in the country working on this, and I know we're going to get it done."
And they had better. With a little more than nine months to go until the scheduled opening of the publicly financed project, city leaders are under pressure to meet the deadlines for the 41,000-seat stadium. Any delays could mean the city is liable for financial penalties to Nationals owner Theodore N. Lerner.
Fenty (D) said he felt compelled to visit the workers to ensure them that the project won't be disrupted even though he persuaded Allen Y. Lew to leave his role as chief executive of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission to head the city's $2.3 billion school modernization program. Lew and Gregory O'Dell, whom Fenty has chosen to replace him, joined the mayor on his ballpark tour yesterday.
As he gives up day-to-day control of the ballpark project, Lew won't entirely relinquish a decision-making role; he is to remain closely involved with the project.
O'Dell, a financial and economic development aide in Fenty's administration, has been working on the project from the beginning, first as a consultant to Lew and more recently as a member of the sports commission's board of directors.
When O'Dell, 37, leaves his part-time, unpaid post with the commission to become its full-time, $175,000-a-year chief executive, Lew will trade places with him, taking O'Dell's seat on the board.
"The biggest concern I had was with the timing," said Lew, 56, who was hired as the commission's top official after he managed another big construction job in the city: the $834 million D.C. Convention Center, which opened in 2003.
Lew said this week that the ballpark is on schedule, and remains within budget, with no indication that will change.
"I really believe the stadium project is on track, and I wanted to keep it on track," Lew said, recalling his reaction when Fenty approached him in May about leading the massive school renovation effort. "I didn't want the ballpark to slip. So the mayor proposed a plan of putting me on the board and naming Greg as my successor. And that, I thought, worked."