A 41,000-seat baseball stadium at the junction of New York Avenue and North Capitol Street would provide better access for fans and would better fit the city's growth patterns than other sites under consideration, say officials from D.C. government and a potential team ownership group.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) intends to present at least two other sites as options to Major League Baseball officials when the city makes its bid on March 20 to win the right to move the Montreal Expos to Washington for the 2004 season. But privately, officials have come to regard each of the backup sites as flawed when compared to the one on New York Avenue, said a senior city government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
An official for the city's designated ownership group, also speaking anonymously, agreed, saying that a site in Southeast Washington that some city officials like is too far from downtown to be viable. The other sites have more serious problems, including strong community opposition or a shortage of related economic development opportunities.
The New York Avenue site is one block from a Metro station that is under construction and an eight-minute walk north of Union Station, which has its own Metro stop, a parking garage and commuter rail access to Maryland and Virginia. Union Station also has shops and restaurants, though city officials hope that a stadium on New York Avenue would attract many more and bring new street life to an area dominated by parking lots, government offices and a jumble of mismatched buildings.
Poor traffic flow, particularly at rush hour, is a drawback for the site, which would be most easily accessible by public transit. Building a baseball stadium also would require demolishing several buildings.
A November report put the cost of a stadium at the New York Avenue site at about $430 million. Williams is developing a financing package with as much as $275 million coming from public sources.
Other officials said that as many as four sites remain in the running to be the home to a stadium, but they acknowledged that city planners have long sought to spruce up the New York Avenue entryway to the city, an area they regard as the natural growth corridor as downtown expands.
"Downtown is moving east," D.C. Planning Director Andrew Altman said.
D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) said she could be satisfied with several possible stadium sites. But, of the one on New York Avenue, she said: "We've been trying to get New York Avenue jumping. . . . It would be something else that would mean improvement and something else in that area instead of the old warehouse syndrome."
Major League Baseball officials hope to move the Expos for next season and will hear bids this month from D.C. officials and also from representatives of Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore. The Virginia group is hoping that the league will award the region a team on the condition that it can arrange the financing to build a stadium.
Virginia officials are considering a ballpark site on the banks of the Potomac River in Rosslyn and another near Dulles International Airport. Other possible locations are in the Pentagon City area, on land occupied by a Costco warehouse store or on nearby property close to the popular Pentagon City mall.
A report commissioned by D.C. officials and their designated ownership group identified five city sites in November. One, just east of Mount Vernon Square, was publicly dismissed by Williams in January as too costly and vulnerable to community opposition. Officials have soured on a second site, just northwest of Union Station, because it would require closing New Jersey Avenue, an original street in Pierre L'Enfant's plan for Washington.
The three sites remaining in contention, including the one on New York Avenue, could be presented to baseball officials. The site adjacent to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Northeast Washington, though the least expensive of the five at $342 million, offers little potential for related economic development, and officials see it as no more than a backup.
A stadium in Southeast Washington along the Anacostia River waterfront has long captivated city officials because of its views of the river and potential to anchor the renaissance of an area where extensive office and housing development is already planned.
But the ownership group that has teamed up with the city to attract a team, led by financier Frederic V. Malek, adamantly opposes that site as untenable and unappealing to Major League Baseball, city officials say. A league source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said yesterday that baseball officials prefer a site near downtown and would oppose building a stadium in Southeast Washington because it's too far from the city's core of restaurants and businesses.
Malek has not publicly criticized that site, though yesterday he praised the New York Avenue site.
"I think New York Avenue is a great site because it's got excellent Metro access, it's close to Union Station and downtown access and it's within sight of the Capitol -- and [it] can be done," Malek said. "RFK is an excellent backup site because of the outstanding traffic arteries, Metro access, availability of land for parking and ancillary uses and the ability to meaningfully add to the city's shoreline redevelopment."
The city already owns parcels at the New York Avenue site, though some land is privately owned.
The location is next to the site where a massive new headquarters for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is being built and across the street from the two-year-old headquarters of XM Satellite Radio. A few blocks to the south are several recently built office complexes and others that are under construction or on drawing boards.
Staff writer Debbi Wilgoren contributed to this report.