Arriving at MCI Center by Foot, Car or Metro
By David Montgomery and Thomas Heath
Whether you drive, walk or take Metro to the MCI Center, which opens Tuesday, D.C. engineers and arena planners have plotted every stage of your journey in an elaborate effort to make the trip smooth.
The prayer on everybody's lips is that things go better than they did during the region's last big opening Jack Kent Cooke Stadium on Sept. 14 in Landover when thousands spent hours mired in traffic jams getting to the first Washington Redskins game played there.
"This is not going to be a Redskins fiasco," said Philip Carr, president of CarrPark, which operates parking garages around the MCI Center.
The arena's transportation and parking plan is designed to channel the flow of up to 20,600 people who will patronize the center on evenings and weekends as many as 250 days a year.
But everyone who works and plays downtown will notice the difference.
For one thing, evening parking rates are going to jump from free to $12 in some lots. Before the arena was built, many surface lots went unattended and thus provided free parking. Downtown garages were generally closed after dark but will be open for arena events.
Now many office workers with monthly parking arrangements are finding they must pay more than $100 extra a month to stay at the office past 5 or 6 p.m. on days when the Wizards basketball team or Capitals hockey team plays home games. Garages want to clear out daytime parkers in order to cater to arena patrons.
Most weeknight games will begin at 7 p.m., promising the spectacle of 20,600 people scrambling to get downtown at roughly the same time that thousands more are desperate to get out.
Tuesday's debut, the Wizards vs. the Seattle SuperSonics, is an exception. The game will begin at 8:05 p.m. to fit the schedule of TNT, which will air the game nationwide. Although the later start probably will make traffic less hectic, fans may face pregame delays because President Clinton plans to attend, and security will be increased, a White House spokesman said.
The MCI Center is on F Street NW between Sixth and Seventh streets. Here are some ideas on getting there.
The top of the escalator of the Gallery Place-Chinatown station (Red, Green and Yellow lines) is 75 paces from the arena's main entrance on F Street, but Metro Center (Red, Orange and Blue), Archives-Navy Memorial (Yellow and Green) and Judiciary Square (Red) are only a few blocks away.
Relatively low-cost parking is available in lots at the end Metro lines and in some station lots closer to downtown.
At the Vienna, Van Dorn and Huntington lots, parking is $2.25; Anacostia, $2; Addison Road, New Carrollton and Greenbelt, $1; and Shady Grove and Wheaton, $1.75. But the parking fees are collected as motorists exit until 10 p.m., so parking is free if people leave the lots after 10 p.m., said Cheryl Johnson, a spokeswoman for Metro.
For suggested routes, see the accompanying map.
Pollin's parking consultants identified about 11,500 spaces in more than 60 lots and garages within a 10-minute walk, or a half-mile. But the consultants counted several lots that will not be open to arena patrons, so the maximum number of spaces is closer to 10,000.
Pollin estimates that fewer than 5,000 vehicles will be driven to events, assuming an average of two people will ride in each car and 10,000 people will ride Metro, walk from offices or take cabs.
"There's going to be plenty of parking," said Harmon Burns, regional vice president of Kinney System parking.
Parking at private lots and garages during events will cost $8 to $12, though parking operators said rates may shift up or down as the market demands.
In comparison, parking at US Airways Arena has been $7, and parking at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium is $12 for general parking or $10 to $15 for prepaid parking. "You're in a prime area and a hot spot; if you're going to stay late, there's going to be an additional charge," said Paul G. Edenbaum, president of Diplomat Parking.
Season-ticket holders who reserve parking in one of three lots close to the arena will pay $15 per game, "which we feel will be the going rate when all is said and done," said Matt Williams, spokesman for Pollin's organization. Parking in the 500-space garage inside the arena comes with the price of luxury suites.
Hot tip: Parking in the city's 260-space lot just north of Mount Vernon Place is free, according to Linda Grant, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works.
To make room for reserved parking for season-ticket holders, CarrPark is asking office workers to have their cars out of the garage at 601 E St. NW by 5 p.m. on game nights. Or they can pay $330 a month, up from $165 a month, to continue to enjoy 24-hour access.
That's posing a problem for many employees of the nearby Securities and Exchange Commission who use the garage. "People here don't leave at 5," said Chris Ullman, an SEC spokesman.
Carr, of CarrPark, said the garage may allow a grace period for customers who occasionally stay a little past 5 p.m.
Given the price of parking, restaurants have hit on a marketing gimmick. The 701 Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue offers free parking with dinner, and the Senators Sports Grille on New Jersey Avenue boasts free parking and a shuttle to the arena ($2.50 round trip).
"We'll have officers at all the key intersections to pull traffic into the center before an event and after the event to pull everybody out," said Capt. Michael Radzilowski, commander of the branch. "We're going to be adjusting nightly until we have it perfect."
Those driving downtown would do well to avoid the area on game days because police reserve the right to block car traffic on Seventh and F streets to make way for buses and pedestrians. Officers also will direct traffic at up to 27 intersections along the Sixth and Seventh Street corridor and, if necessary, direct cars in and out of busy parking lots.
Extra police and transit officers will be deployed, especially near parking garages and along pedestrian corridors to and from Metro stations. "We want the bad guys to know this is not the area to come," Radzilowski said.
Staff writer Allan Lengel contributed to this report.