The D.C. city government is having a tussle with the Lerners, the new owners of the Washington Nationals, about two parking garages that are to be built beyond the outfield fence of the new stadium for VIP fans. The parking is part of the Nationals' ballpark lease and the Lerners are pushing to get the stadium and associated amenities built and in shape for opening day 2008. The Lerners believe that plain parking garages will be cheap, will be open on time, and will not create an "under construction" atmosphere near the ballpark after opening day. Here is an artist's depiction of the plan. The uniform response in the city to the depiction was: "Hey that's a beautiful ballpark that will look stunning sitting right on the water, but what's with the big boxes in the outfield?"
The city government is supporting an opposing plan by Herb Miller, a local developer, which consists of a mixed-use parking/condos/retail area that hides the fact that the buildings are mostly parking garages. From what I have read, Herb Miller is a little flaky, and his latest development, a parking/condo/retail area around the Verizon Center (the relatively new basketball arena), was late because of financing problems. However, even though late, his Verizon Center development is considered to be a great success in terms of looking very nice and appropriate for D.C. and being of great economic benefit to the community. He also developed Washington Harbor in Georgetown, which is a beautiful mixed-use development on the Potomac.
The Lerners cite the experience of the President of the Nationals, Stan Kasten, who built a ballpark in Atlanta. Kasten is pushing to get the baseball park built on-time and on-budget, and has criticized the city government for its slowness in dealing with issues and being unrealistic about the ballpark. As Kasten likes to say, he built a ballpark before and the city government hasn't. A couple of days ago, Kasten's harping on that theme resulted in Mayor Williams giving some blowback, a not often seen occurrence. From the WaPo...
Williams (D) said in his weekly news conference that although he respects the Lerners "enormously," the owners had tried to minimize the city's role in building the stadium near South Capitol Street and the Navy Yard in Southeast Washington.
"We're both in this," Williams said. "You put up $450 million for the team. Well, we put up $611 million for the stadium, and we're trying to get some benefits for our people. Excuse me, we do not need the condescending attitude. Maybe I have not built a stadium, but we brought $40 billion of investment to this city. Someone must think we know what we're doing."
Williams's remarks came as the District attempts to finalize plans for a $300 million mixed-use development deal adjacent to the stadium.
I think this was the proper tone by Williams and was good timing. As much as I appreciate the assertiveness of the Lerners against the undeniable incompetence of especially the city council, they are missing the boat on this one.
Washington is not the suburbs, where the Lerners earned their stripes, and where big box parking is the norm. Washington isn't Atlanta, where Kasten earned his stripes, and where big box parking rings downtown. Big box parking for new construction hasn't been acceptable here for decades. It is ugly and intimidating in such close quarters in a city with height restrictions. It kills the neighborhood vibe. How can we accept that, when the ballpark is being built to revitalize a section of the city? Private investors are investing several billion dollars in the area based on the ballpark. Washington has the classy Metrorail system, which will be the primary means for fans to get to the games. With all of the money being spent on a baseball palace, and everything else lined up besides that could make the ballpark an instant icon, why on Earth would we settle for the merely functional with regard to parking?
Kasten has a good desire in not wanting the area to be a construction zone on opening day, but he's being unrealistic in thinking that it can be avoided. If you walk that area of the city, there's absolutely nothing there. Here's the construction cam for the ballpark, which makes the situation clear. Billions are being invested in construction of condos, office buildings, and the like, but nothing is done so far. Even after the current construction is done, the city will be replacing the nearby Frederick Douglass Bridge, an artist's depiction of which is included below. It will be a construction zone for a decade, no matter what Kasten desires.
In conclusion, there are many other battles for the Lerners to fight. I wouldn't wish them to wear out their welcome on something that's not going to work.