You've gotta love the location.
After years of effort, piles of studies and more than a few false starts, the city and, apparently, Major League Baseball have finally settled on a place to plunk down a big league team in Washington. It's a near-perfect place.
Picture this: A sparkling ballpark planted on the eastern edge of an admirably redesigned South Capitol Street, just south of N Street SE. Lively nearby neighborhoods with apartment towers, rowhouses, hotels, offices, stores, cafes and restaurants.
A charming walk from the ballpark to a lovely green on the northern edge of the Anacostia River. A beautiful new bridge crossing the river. A dock for the ferries that will bring folks from Alexandria and Georgetown to the game. A view of the Capitol dome from the upper deck in right field.
All this, and also a sweet little stadium for professional soccer on the south side of the Anacostia, near the vastly underused park at Poplar Point.
Quite a picture. Some might say, rightly, it's a dream -- and whether the dream comes true depends on many variables. Not the least of which, of course, is whether the deal to land a team actually gets done this fall.
If this deal does somehow happen, however, and Washington finally does get a major league ball club after 33 years without, this much is certain: The site is splendidly right.
Bordered by P and N streets and First and South Capitol streets SE, with the area between N and M streets designated as a sort of preparatory zone, the site currently is a classic, haphazard urban service district.
Vacant lots abound, scattered among the warehouses, auto repair workshops, trash compacting establishments and asphalt plants that dominate the area. As often happens in such districts, lively exceptions to the rule pop up here and there -- the Washington Sculpture Center on Half Street, for instance, and Secrets nightclub on N Street. The New Good and Plenty Carry Out occupies a 19th-century brick building at Half and N streets.
But there is nothing genuinely compelling about the mix. To thrive, cities need to change, and these particular pieces of urban land, close to a river and just a stroll away from the Capitol, definitely have a better destiny. They make up an urban edge that seems strangely misplaced, an edge that feels like it should, and could, become a vital part of the city.
As it happens, planning for that future is well advanced. Our little sketch of an imaginary tomorrow turns out to be not so imaginary. Lively mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhoods? Green riverside parks? They're on the way or, at least, in advanced stages of planning.
Work has begun, for example, on an overhaul of the Arthur Capper public housing complex north of M Street SE. An area now holding slightly more than 700 low-income units will be turned into a denser, more urban complex. No low-income residences will be lost, but the property will support more than double the number of homes -- a total of about 1,700 units, planners say.
Directly east of the ballpark site, right across First Street, stands a modest sign identifying the Southeast Federal Center. Behind the sign is more of the same -- an assortment of quasi-industrial buildings and plenty of vacant land.
It doesn't look promising but, in fact, plans are far advanced to convert this 42-acre area into a mixed-use neighborhood, offices for 6,000 federal employees and homes for 6,000 residents. Construction is already underway on the massive, Michael Graves-designed headquarters of the Department of Transportation.
Canal Blocks Park, an urban open space stretching three blocks north of M and Second streets SE, likely will be done within five years, says Andrew Altman, director of the city's Office of Planning.
Two nearby riverside parks -- one at the foot of South Capitol Street and another at the terminus of New Jersey Avenue, about 10 minutes from the ballpark -- are on the books. When they will be built, however, is anybody's guess.
The same might be said about the new bridge and a redesigned South Capitol Street. Both are desperately needed, yet both are costly, long-term projects. Good things can be contagious, however, and the arrival of a beautiful ballpark likely would hasten the coming of a bridge and street worthy of their prominent locations.
Probably the best thing about the site is that in many ways it complements the serious planning work already done by both the city and federal governments. In particular, a ballpark in this location would significantly support the city's Anacostia Waterfront Initiative.
"We see it as a bold, iconic move that symbolizes the dramatic change that's going to happen in this area," Altman says. "It'll be a catalyst for the whole South Capitol Street corridor and the redevelopment of the Near Southeast."
One negative of the ballpark proposal, however, is vagueness on the matter of parking. A site plan released by the city shows a couple of huge surface parking lots two blocks north of the stadium, between L and K streets. This is an improbable distance and, in addition, it contravenes the city's own plan for the Near Southeast.
What's more likely to happen is that cars will be parked in the blocks immediately to the north of the ballpark, between N and M streets. That, too, violates the city's well-laid plans. Simply put, surface parking lots and vibrant urban neighborhoods do not go together.
Short term, this is not a major issue. There will be plenty of vacant lots in the area for at least a few years. But in the long term, a parking structure will be necessary, and planners should provide for that.
Also, the city's site plan shows home plate facing southeast. This will provide fans with an excellent view of the Anacostia hills but closes off sight lines toward the Capitol dome. This is a mistake. A ballpark in Washington ought to take advantage of the city's most identifiable landmark.
To get a full view of the dome on this site, however, one would have to turn the ballpark 180 degrees, a no-no because a northwest orientation would allow the sun to get in a batter's eyes. A compromise turn of 90 degrees, however, would put the Capitol dome in play for fans along the right-field line, especially in the upper deck.
Most nights, that's where I'd sit.