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Will Fenty Drop The Ball in Ward 8?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

When Adrian M. Fenty was on the D.C. Council, he was a vocal opponent of the publicly funded ballpark rising below the Navy Yard in Ward 6. Now, his parking-brake leadership on the other side of the Anacostia River is undermining a far less costly anchor for the development of Poplar Point, the prized site adjacent to the commercial corridor that runs between Anacostia's historic district and its Metro station. His position on the development of the Poplar Point site ["Talks Fall Apart on Stadium for D.C. Soccer Team," front page, July 21] may force a founding Major League Soccer club to look elsewhere for a new home.

Apparently Fenty is unaware of D.C. United's outreach to Ward 8 residents, which has been going on since before his election as mayor. An apparent and abrupt change of course by his administration toward an anchor-free development of condominiums, accompanied by the proverbial "office space to be rented" and "retail to be named later," is not a recipe for success when measured alongside the Verizon Center-fueled Chinatown boom and our budding baseball district. Recent debate over the value of a soccer stadium has been unimaginative at best, dismissing the potential for the sport's growth in the diverse D.C. market and around the country. Also ignored is the fact that an innovative outdoor pavilion could be used for collegiate and high school events, concerts and other bookings throughout the spring, summer and fall -- the first venue of its kind in the District.

Next April the Nationals will move to their new home, and Fenty will be there to congratulate them. Some might remember when during his D.C. Council days he declared that the city already had a baseball stadium, saying, "It's called RFK." But in 2008, D.C. United will be that stadium's only tenant and the clock will be ticking loudly on its lease.

Whatever rises along the Anacostia's east bank, public money will be needed to spur private development. That the mayor has disingenuously used this point to ambush a stadium development deal while the expenses for baseball approach three quarters of a billion dollars is a regrettable message clearly heard by the project's Ward 8 supporters, the team and its fans.

Support by the mayor's office for a soccer-specific stadium at Poplar Point would not jeopardize the expansive site's developmental emphasis on residential, retail and parkland. Instead, it would secure a major partner as an early catalyst for success. It also would preserve the relationship between the District and D.C. United, as thousands of Washingtonians who follow the team would prefer that games were not played in Virginia or suburban Baltimore.

Ward 8 residents who have supported D.C. United's interests in the area are rightfully concerned that the opportunity for a jointly funded, large-scale project, arguably the tipping point for neighborhood revitalization efforts, has been mismanaged by a freshman mayor.

-- Paul Birkmeier

Washington

The writer is a resident of Ward 8.

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