Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this story said Diamond Teague Park was scheduled to open in September. It opened in April. This version has been corrected.

Development around Nats Park isn't living up to its pitch

The Washington Post's Robert McCartney talks with News Channel 8 about the stalled progress of Southeast Washington, D.C. and the area immediately near Nationals Park.
Thursday, July 1, 2010

No fan is happier over Washington Nationals pitching sensation Stephen Strasburg than Justin Ross, owner of the only sit-down bar and restaurant in the neighborhood around the ballpark.

When Strasburg pitches, the bump in customers is worth an extra $1,500 in sales of beer, pizza and other items. That's on top of a typical good night of $5,000 to $6,000.

"It gets pretty wild in here on Strasburg nights," Ross said. "There's 40,000 people going to the game, and [afterward] you can't put them all on the Metro at one time."

Ross, who opened Justin's Cafe on First Street SE 11 weeks ago, thinks this is just the start. He and other investors in the changing community hope that eventual success for the Nationals will help realize the much-publicized vision of building a vibrant downtown district on the Anacostia waterfront.

They'd better be patient. I'd bet the Nats will have their first winning season before the once-seedy neighborhood gets anywhere near completing its renaissance.

The main obstacle is the same financial crisis that stalled the area's revival in the first place. Banks are still scared to lend money so that numerous large-scale construction plans can go forward.

Meanwhile, the gap between promise and reality is most dramatic on what might be called the developers' block of shame -- the stretch of Half Street SE between the Navy Yard Metro station and the stadium's principal entrance at center field. About half of the fans at each game pass between the lines of wooden barriers concealing large, empty lots whose ground floors were supposed to already be housing fun places to eat, drink and shop.

It's a big disappointment for the District, especially considering that public money financed the stadium. The controversial project was pitched in part as a way to spur development in a neglected part of town.

Now the most optimistic forecasts say it'll be at least two more years before even a couple of key new buildings are completed out of the dozens that are foreseen.

"Things never seem to happen as quickly as any of us would prefer," said Ramsey Meiser, a senior official at Forest City Washington. The development company hopes -- but can't guarantee -- that it'll resume construction this year on a half-finished apartment building that's supposed to be the first of 25 to 30 buildings in the Yards project, an anchor of the planned riverfront.

"The ballpark opened right about the time that the economy slowed down. It was unfortunate timing," Meiser said.

The news isn't all bad. This year, for the first time, the various baseball and business taxes levied to pay for the stadium generated enough extra cash to return $23 million to the city to help trim its deficit.

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