Washington Redskins fans will get a taste of what it will be like to share the parking lots at US Airways Arena this Sunday when the center plays host to a major horse show.
Hundreds of motorists and horse trailers are expected to arrive at the arena for the finale of the week-long Washington International Horse Show, which coincides with the Redskins' 1 p.m. game against the Chicago Bears. Redskins officials say they are optimistic that the arena's lots and surrounding road network can accommodate the two crowds. But what might be a temporary problem this year is likely to become more common in the future.
Baltimore-based developer David Cordish and arena owner Abe Pollin announced plans a year ago to turn the 26-year-old sports complex into a retail and entertainment complex. Cordish since has proposed that the former home of the Washington Wizards and Capitals be razed to make room for a shopping mall.
A spokeswoman for the developer said parking for football fans may begin to disappear as soon as next season if a proposed movie theater is approved and constructed on schedule.
"It's common sense that when the Capital Centre is up and operational, we'll need the parking for our customers," said Allison Parker, vice president for Cordish Co., using the original name of US Airways Arena.
Neither the Redskins nor arena officials would comment on the specifics of a deal made last month that allows football fans to use the arena parking lot on game days.
Officials relocated cash parking to the arena after motorists heading to the stadium scrambled for spaces for the team's home opener against Dallas, creating a 20-mile backup on the Capital Beltway.
Matt Williams, a spokesman for Pollin's Washington Sports and Entertainment, referred questions about the agreement to the Redskins.
Redskins President Stephen Baldacci declined to discuss the length of the agreement. He described it only as a "long-term solution" to ease traffic congestion on game days.
"We hope our agreement can stay in place," Baldacci said. "To me, it is a better business decision. They'll make more money leasing the lot on game days."
Redskins fans occupied about 4,000 of the 6,800 arena spaces Oct. 3, the first home game in which fans without parking permits were directed to the arena.
Cordish Co.'s Parker said the developer has not finished the design of the proposed shopping center and does not know how many spaces--if any--would be available at a new complex.
She also did not rule out the possibility that some spaces could be sold to Redskins fans.
"That's going to be something we have to evaluate," she said. "If they can make money, I can't imagine that they wouldn't try. It's not a charity deal."
Chuck Brown, a spokesman for the state transportation department, said officials are aware of the pending redevelopment plans for the arena. He said the concurrence of the two events on Sunday may provide a "sneak preview" for potential problems if and when the arena is redeveloped.
"We will continue to work with the Redskins to improve traffic coming in and out of the stadium," he said.
Pollin is required under a lease with the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission to get approval from Prince George's County to make changes to the property. County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) reportedly is considering the latest proposal to raze the arena. Curry spokesman P. Michael Errico declined to comment on the negotiations.
In the meantime, Redskins and arena representatives said there should be ample parking for both events this weekend.
Redskins and government officials have urged fans to car-pool or use mass transit to reach the stadium. Fans arriving for the game without a parking permit may park at US Airways Arena for $15 and then walk or take a free shuttle bus to the stadium.
County Council Chairman M.H. Jim Estepp (D-Croom) said county officials are not anticipating any major problems at this weekend's game against the Bears.
"Given the situation that [Redskins owner Daniel M.] Snyder was confronted with, they have certainly done all they can to alleviate any problems," Estepp said.