Struggles Cloud Stadium Progress
Thursday, September 27, 2007
District and baseball officials are struggling to keep a critical expansion of the Navy Yard Metro station on pace and to identify thousands of parking spots in time to ensure a smooth opening of the Washington Nationals stadium in April.
The Metro renovation is seven weeks behind schedule, authorities said, and a fight between developers to gain control of land near the ballpark is threatening to add to delays. Meanwhile, the Nationals' proposal to use an 800-space parking garage under the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters two blocks away was rejected recently by the federal government because of security concerns.
Construction of the 41,000-seat stadium, near South Capitol Street and the Navy Yard in Southeast, is proceeding on time and on budget. But city and team officials have been less successful in their efforts to address transportation challenges. Planners have said they expect half of the Nationals' crowd to ride Metro and that as many as 8,000 parking spaces will be needed for those who do not.
City leaders invested $611 million to build the stadium complex, and the family of Theodore N. Lerner paid $450 million for the team with the expectation that the ballpark would draw healthy crowds. But such expectations might not be realized if fans have trouble getting to the stadium and parking there.
"These are top priorities of the administration," Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said yesterday. "We're looking to finish the Metro on time and steer as many people to public transportation as possible. Having parking around the stadium is a critical, critical issue, and we're working beyond diligently to find as many areas as we can for cars to park."
Nationals officials acknowledged the setbacks in their parking plans and said they have a number of options in the works, although they declined to be specific.
"We're rescrubbing everything right now, looking at it all again very closely, and in these next couple of weeks, I think there will be a lot of activity," said Gregory McCarthy, a former high-ranking D.C. government official who works as the Nationals' director for the ballpark district. "We are diligently working to secure spaces for our fans in existing parking garages and surface lots in and around the area. . . . What the breakdown is going to be is now a work in progress, but I think we're going to be able to satisfy everyone by the time we're finished."
The situation could be made worse today when the Metro board is scheduled to vote on a proposal to sell 3.2 acres across the street from the ballpark that the transit agency owns. Metro operates a bus garage on the site, but General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. has recommended selling the property to Akridge Co. for $69 million.
But Monument Realty, a competing development firm, has cried foul, arguing that it was promised first dibs on the property by District and Metro officials several years ago to build an integrated mixed-use "ballpark district."
Monument has paid more than $100 million to acquire several other acres on the same block and was named "master developer" of the area by the city in 2005. The company also is working with Metro to renovate and expand the Navy Yard station.
In a letter to Catoe, Monument principal partner Jeffrey T. Neal threatened to take legal action and slow down work on the Metro expansion if his company is not awarded the Metro bus garage property.
"We are at a crossroads for this project," Neal wrote. "One road leads to continued joint efforts, more groundbreakings, and a successful outcome for all parties. The other road leads to dispute, expense, frustration and, most likely, litigation."