D.C. Residents Wait In Stadium's Shadow
Neighbors Worry About Ballpark's Effects

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 31, 2008

As streams of fans headed to Nationals Park in Southeast Washington last night, music washed over the nearby neighborhoods. Listening to the amplified notes and squinting at the bright lights of the ballpark, residents who live in the brick rowhouses on the other side of South Capitol Street wondered whether good fortune would drift their way as well.

"People are double-parking and triple-parking. I haven't been able to get a parking space near my home all week now," said Doris Crawley, 66, who can see the stadium from the front door of her O Street SE home.

"I have a parking permit, but it doesn't do me any good when my street's always full," she said.

Her putty-colored toy poodle, Spice, barked and yapped at the police cars, the crowds of people walking past and the musical crescendos.

"My dog goes crazy with all the noise," Crawley said.

Balloon arches welcomed ticket-holders who had never set foot in this neighborhood, and music heralded their march from parking lots, but the blocks west of the stadium weren't celebrating.

"This has changed my life already. I can't go in and out of my house without really thinking about it," said Emma Ward, a retired teacher who lives two blocks from the stadium.

She walked to the grocery store yesterday rather than drive and risk losing a spot in her neighborhood.

The city was making good on its promise to ticket and tow cars without residential permits that had overstayed the two-hour parking limit. Police officers on bicycles were issuing the tickets. As early as 3 p.m., at least five cars along O Street SW had $15 parking tickets on their windshields. Many were later towed.

Aside from the parking issue, Ward's biggest fear is that the team and its owners won't interact with the children who will grow up near a baseball stadium. She was able to get tickets for 22 neighborhood children for Saturday night's exhibition game through a nonprofit group she founded to help them.

"But I want more than just a game. I want them to have learning opportunities and life opportunities," she said. "The team can do this."

Some of the kids were out playing last night, near empty bottles of Wild Irish Rose and Hennessy just one block from the stadium. They asked passersby for tickets. They said they hadn't had any luck.

One group of kids sneered at a minivan with Virginia license plates and Nationals flags flapping like antennae, making it look like a giant potato bug seeking parking.

"You just keep going," one girl said.

Fulton Vinson, 41, who has lived on O Street SW since he was a baby, said he worries that the benefits of the stadium are being overblown. Down the street is a community recreational center, with a baseball field and kids who might never get inside the grand stadium.

"Kids are down there playing baseball every day, and I haven't seen a representative from the Nationals. I haven't seen them drive down there and line the fields. They have done nothing for us," said Vinson, who teaches social studies at a Virginia high school.

He said he is offended that the city calls the stadium "such a boon for Southeast."

"Anybody in the District knows that the stadium is only one block into Southeast," he said. "The part of Southeast that needs redevelopment is across the river, not on this side."

Julius Clay, 53, who fought traffic last night to come to Half Street SW and visit his sister, is unnerved by the multimillion-dollar project and the shadow it casts on a hardscrabble neighborhood.

"If the city's going to spend this kind of money, why spend it on a stadium? There are so many people with needs here," Clay said. "You clutter this neighborhood with traffic, but nothing good."

The Nationals held several job fairs in hopes of hiring District residents, including from neighborhoods near the ballpark.

Eglon Daley, 50, said he's a bit conflicted about the stadium. He owns several properties and a picture framing business in the area and describes himself as "the only black business owner who actually lives in the neighborhood."

Daley, more widely known for his giant paintings that grace One Judiciary Square and Reagan National Airport, has been a fixture in his neighborhood since he moved there in 1989.

He knows that once restaurants and fancy condos and shops move in, his properties will be worth a lot more than he paid. And even though his property taxes have doubled, he knows he can profit handsomely some day.

"Money can buy happiness," he said as he mounted a glass door on one of his properties.

What he would really like is a Nationals-sponsored youth training center in the neighborhood, he said. But he worries that the rowhouses like his, which have been there since the 1930s, will soon be gone, draining the neighborhood of its character.

"Already, all we have left are the stories of what it was like. The pool hall down the street. The family that lived here 100 years," he said. "Once they go poof, the history goes, too."

By 9 .m., trucks were still towing away Audis, Volvos and sport-utility vehicles, among other cars. And the neighborhood had largely fallen quiet, except for the roar of the crowd that could be heard from blocks away.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company