By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
The Washington Nationals said for the first time yesterday that the team expects some fans to park at RFK Stadium next season and ride a shuttle bus to the new ballpark more than two miles away.
But the team's announcement that fans will be able to park for free at RFK, property controlled by the city, surprised D.C. officials, who said they have not signed off on the plan.
In a news release, team president Stan Kasten said that fans who buy season tickets -- including full-, half- or partial-season plans -- will be able to buy spaces in parking lots close to the new stadium, which is being built near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street in Southeast Washington. Kasten gave no details about where the lots are or how much it will cost to reserve a spot.
For fans who do not have season tickets or those who don't want to pay for parking, the release says, "there will be free parking at RFK Stadium with a speedy and free" round-trip shuttle service to the games. The statement did not give additional information about the shuttle service.
The team's announcement surprised city officials, who said no final decision has been made about whether to make available RFK's parking lots, which can hold up to 10,000 cars.
"Right now, we haven't finalized any arrangement for satellite parking," said Greg O'Dell, chief executive of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which operates RFK and is overseeing construction of the new ballpark. "We're certainly in discussions and want to come to an arrangement that makes sense to both parties."
Among the city's considerations, O'Dell said, are whether RFK's lots would be needed for other events and how residents who live near RFK would be affected if the lots are kept open during Nationals games. Nationals spokeswoman Chartese Berry said the team is still working out parking arrangements.
The ability of Nationals and D.C. officials to ensure adequate parking is critical to the success of the stadium, which is to open in April. The family of Bethesda developer Theodore N. Lerner paid $450 million for the franchise, and the city is spending $611 million in public money to build the stadium complex. Both are counting on fans to flock to the new ballpark, and transportation problems could thwart those hopes.
Team and city officials have projected that they will need 5,000 to 9,000 parking spaces for the 41,000-seat ballpark. This year, the Nationals sold about 16,000 season tickets at RFK, down from 22,000 in the 2005 inaugural season. The team is expected to sell more at the new stadium.
About half of those who attend games are expected to ride Metro. The transit agency is working to expand the Navy Yard Station's hourly capacity from 5,000 to 15,000.
There will be 1,325 parking spaces in garages adjacent to the stadium for owners of luxury suites and club seats. But the team and city are working to secure thousands of additional spots in privately owned lots nearby, a process that has been slow.
During negotiations with the District, Nationals officials have asked the city to make 3,000 to 5,000 spaces available at RFK Stadium, a source familiar with the discussions said. Abut 1,000 of those would be needed for employees, the team has said, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations are ongoing.
Andy Litsky, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 6, where RFK and the new ballpark are located, said he has questions about the plan to use RFK.
"Is it going to work?" he asked. "Is it going to work night games? How many vans will be used? Who will pay? How will they travel? It sounds real easy, but how do you put it into practice operationally?"
D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said the city must plan meticulously.
"You have to make sure the routes are open and the shuttles do not get caught in traffic," Evans said. "You might need a designated lane to get from RFK to the new stadium."