Washington Kastles plan to relocate to Southwest waterfront development

By Liz Clarke and Jonathan O'Connell
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 5, 2011; 8:31 PM

After three seasons competing in the District's urban center, the Washington Kastles are heading this summer to the Southwest waterfront, where a 3,000-seat tennis stadium will be constructed in hopes of jump-starting a nearly $2 billion, 10-year redevelopment project.

The stadium, to be built on the site of the former Hogates restaurant, is a joint venture of Kastles owner Mark Ein and developers PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette. It represents the first significant step forward in the renewal of a nearly mile-long parcel with views of houseboats docked in the Washington Channel, the Washington Monument and the dome of the Jefferson Memorial.

Ein and Monty Hoffman, chief executive of District-based PH Hoffman, hope to leverage the growing popularity of Washington's World TeamTennis franchise -- and its marquee players Venus and Serena Williams -- to lure area residents to a waterfront development of hotels, restaurants, shops, a marina with 600 new boat slips and dockside apartments.

"It will bring life and a vibe to the waterfront," Hoffman said. "We want to call attention to the waterfront and have festival-grade involvement."

The Kastles, winners of the 2009 WTT championship, played their first three seasons in a 2,700-seat stadium that was erected each June on the site of the city's former convention center and disassembled each August. There was an understanding that the team would vacate the downtown site once development began, and construction is now scheduled to start in April.

The still-tight financial markets worked in Ein's favor as he searched for a new home for the Kastles. The team became of interest to real estate developers who wanted to create some excitement as a way to make their properties stand out. Ein began looking for a new location more than a year ago, touring potential sites and considering options near the Washington Nationals baseball stadium in Southeast Washington, as well as in Virginia and Maryland.

But Ein, a native of Chevy Chase who visited the Southwest waterfront as a youth, was predisposed to keep the Kastles in the city. He started focusing his efforts on the site just west of Maine Avenue and Seventh Street SW, which includes underground parking and surface lots nearby. It is also accessible to the L'Enfant Plaza and Waterfront Metrorail stations.

The former convention center site "was interesting and unique because it was dead in the middle of the city, near office buildings," said Ein, a Harvard-educated venture capitalist. "This, we felt, had the chance to be even more magical, with fans sitting near the water, seeing the Washington Monument.

"I'm just such a fan of the city. It's the place I live and have my business, and I want to try to make it the center of where I concentrate my efforts."

Raising the profile

For Hoffman, drawing Ein's tennis team to the waterfront should raise the profile of an area that is one of the city government's top development priorities and make it more familiar to residents, as well as prospective apartment renters, retailers and office tenants.

In 2008, the city agreed to provide $200 million in public financing to help pay for infrastructure, including parks, piers and a bulkhead for the PH Hoffman project.

Southwest has had a slow rebirth. Besides the rebuilt Arena Stage and the fish market, the neighborhood has a new office plaza and a Safeway grocery store above the entrance to the Waterfront Metro station. However, it still has few attractions that can draw visitors from around the region.

Despite being only a few blocks south of the Mall, the waterfront is foreign to many visitors, in part because it is difficult to get there. The path is obstructed by federal buildings and ramps from the Southeast-Southwest Freeway.

Public and private planners are considering ways to improve the corridor. In the meantime, Hoffman said, the stadium ¿ which could also host food cook-offs, arts festivals, beach volleyball games and concerts ¿ will create a destination.

"Putting the Kastles there with the programming really helps the waterfront get its swag, if you will," he said.

Temporary venue

Construction is expected to start in coming weeks on a temporary facility, which is expected to cost about $10 million to build and operate for two years, Ein said.

Like the Kastles' former stadium, the new venue will have grandstands on all four sides, with openings at each corner. The openings will offer views of the waterfront and skyline. The seating capacity will remain roughly the same, 2,700 to 3,000, with a range of ticket prices.

The stadium will be available to host other events after the Kastles' season, which runs July 4-24 this year.

As existing structures are demolished along the waterfront in coming years, the Kastles could move to a stadium erected a bit farther east, or they might play indoors at a 4,000-seat music hall that Hoffman plans to build.

"One of the things that makes tennis so appealing to people is the intimacy," Ein said. "We don't want to lose that."

Fans in premium seats will be able to have food and drinks delivered at courtside, and the venue will be ringed with concession stands.

In keeping with the WTT's fan-friendly ethos, the area around the stadium will have family-oriented activities, such as "QuickStart" tennis, in which children play on smaller courts and hit oversized balls; face-painting; a moon bounce; and an autograph zone where fans can collect players' signatures after matches.

Both the Williams sisters are signed to the Kastles' roster, and Ein said he expected that Serena Williams, who was treated recently for a blood clot in her lungs, would be healthy in time for the season.

New to the roster is American Sam Querrey, acquired in an offseason trade. Among the visiting players due in town are former No. 1 John McEnroe of the New York Sportimes and Anna Kournikova of the St. Louis Aces.

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