Sports Complex's Costs Skyrocketing

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 26, 2008

Now that the Arlington County Board has finalized the last land-use deal needed to build a long-awaited sports complex near Crystal City, officials are scrambling to come up with the money to pay for the entire facility, which could exceed $100 million.

The board's action early yesterday allows the county to prepare for construction of the state-of-the-art complex, which would include a glass-walled aquatic center, three soccer fields, nature trails and surface parking for the hundreds of thousands of people expected to use the facility annually. Initial projections put the cost of the complex at $50 million.

But a rapid increase in construction costs has put the planned 119,000-square-foot aquatic center out of reach of the $50 million bond approved by voters in 2004, mostly for the center's construction.

"We have a sense of urgency to get this done," said Erik Beach, manager for the project, known as Long Bridge Park. "The County Board is in this for the long haul."

County officials said yesterday that they plan to sell developers the rights to increased density for projects across the county to help fund the aquatic center, which is projected to cost at least $50 million. In addition, the second phase of the project calls for tennis courts, two more fields and an expansion of the aquatic center into a 200,000-square-foot activity facility.

Officials also intend to take advantage of the park's proximity to Route 1 and offer naming rights, which could offset some of the project's cost. Under that scenario, several private companies could sponsor sections of the facility for a fee or a single company could buy the rights for the complex.

The county has also considered allowing private development on the site, but it is unlikely officials will follow through with that idea, Beach said.

To finalize the deal, the board, in a series of 4 to 1 votes, completed a complicated land swap with a private developer for a sliver of property needed to complete the project. Monument Realty owned seven acres on the northern end of the tract that the county wanted for the complex. So the board voted to trade 5.5 acres at the southern end for Monument's piece.

Monument will use its new parcel to build a mixed-use development that will include about 350 apartments, office space and room for street-level retail at the northern edge of Crystal City.

The seven acres that Monument gave to the county are south of Interstate 395, near Old Jefferson Davis Highway, and overlook the Potomac River. The property is known as the Twin Bridges site because the Twin Bridges Marriott was there. The 5.5 acres that Monument acquired abut the Twin Bridges property to the south.

"The big picture was served well here," Vice Chairman Barbara A. Favola (D) said after the vote. This is "an enormous deal for us."

Some board members, including Favola, raised concerns about the development, citing several design flaws, but said they decided to vote for it because they saw the public benefit of gaining the land needed to move forward with the project, which has been mired in negotiations since 2004.

Chairman J. Walter Tejada (D), the only member to vote against the project, said he was concerned that it did not meet the board's standards of development. "This is not a development that deserved unanimous support," he said.

Tejada said the project is not pedestrian friendly and will charge for public parking. "I want Long Bridge to happen, but not at all costs."

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