By David Nakamura and Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writers
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."
Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said Catoe stands by his recommendation, which was made after Akridge outbid Monument and JBG Co. in a competitive process. Neal maintains his company offered the most money.
Metro officials added that they are concerned that Monument is seven weeks behind schedule on its portion of the Navy Yard Station expansion, a $20 million project aimed at increasing the number of passengers who can use the station from 5,000 to 15,000 an hour.
Neal acknowledged the delay but said his company is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to accelerate the construction.
D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who is also a voting member of the Metro board, said he is alarmed by the confrontation.
"The possibility of a lawsuit is very high," Graham said. "How do we avoid that? We're trying to figure that out right now."
The future of the Metro bus garage property has broader implications, as well. Nationals officials are trying to cobble together thousands of parking spots beyond the stadium site by striking agreements to use dozens of smaller lots.
D.C. leaders expect whichever developer wins the Metro bus property to allow 350 cars to park on the site for the first season or two until more significant construction begins.
About 1,350 spaces will be available on the ballpark property, 1,225 of them in a garage for premium ticket-holders. The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which is overseeing construction of the stadium, is negotiating with the Nationals for a deal that would provide additional parking at commission-controlled Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, with shuttle bus service to the new ballpark.
Myriad issues remain to be worked out, however, including traffic-related objections that are almost certain to be raised by residents around RFK.
"We have to be sensitive to the community about how much parking we're going to have at RFK without baseball actually being played there," said Gregory O'Dell, the sports commission's chief executive. "We can't have a whole lot of parking there. But we're certainly going to make spaces available in a way that's reasonable to all parties."
McCarthy said he was "extremely disappointed" by the federal government's decision not to allow the team to use spaces in a garage under the U.S. Department of Transportation's new headquarters.
The spaces are used by DOT employees during workdays, and the Nationals had hoped to make hundreds of them available to season-ticket holders at night.
"We have consulted with a number of security experts at the federal and local levels," McCarthy said. "We've tried to accommodate [the DOT's] concerns about security by replicating some of the highest-level systems that the federal government's own standards require, involving thumbprint identification, iris identification, instant background checks on drivers. And we'd only do it with season-ticket holders who could be approved."
But DOT spokesman Brian Turmail said that in the post-9/11 world, opening the garage to the public would not be wise. "There has been a very strong recommendation from our security folks that doing it would just unnecessarily put the 10,000-plus DOT headquarters employees at risk."
Staff writers Lena H. Sun and Jacqueline Dupree contributed to this report.