The Washington Times - February 24, 2013, 04:03PM

VIERA, Fla. — Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, in Florida for the weekend to attend the Washington Nationals’ Grapefruit League opener, discussed the area around Nationals Park on Sunday morning and said he’s pleased with what it has become.

The development around Nationals Park has been extremely slow, much slower than anticipated when the team opened the new ballpark in the spring of 2008, but there have been signs of movement lately. Residential buildings have opened and there is commercial and retail progress as well.


“That’s one of the things we’d hoped for in bringing the baseball team there,” Gray said. “I honestly feel that the development has moved more quickly than it otherwise would (if the park were not there)… I think the commercial development and retail development really has been facilitated by the baseball team.

“(And) there’s a lot more to come. We’ve got a movie theater, more eateries coming to the area, more people moving in and more residential development down there as well.”

Still, the inability of the area to truly come alive and thrive at any point in the last four years, due in large part to the downturn in the economy, has been viewed by many as one of the main reasons the Nationals have yet to attract a Major League All-Star Game. 

“I think it’s a possibility that it’s affecting it,” Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner said Thursday. “It’s not a pretty sight when you walk out the door and see holes in the ground… I don’t know how much of a factor it is in [MLB’s] decision-making, but I’ve got to believe that it is.”

Gray, who lauded the Nationals repeatedly for their 2012 season and what they’ve done to build their fanbase in D.C., said he thinks it’s “already a facility that should be able to attract the All-Star Game.”

“I don’t know what more we’d need to do, other than now have the track record of having a successful team,” he said. “I think we should be a prime candidate now.”

– Gray also offered his thoughts on how important it’s been for the District to have a winning baseball team and on his excitement about the baseball academy that will be constructed, with the Nationals help, in Ward 7 this year.

“It’s hugely important just from a civic spirit perspective,” he said. “I want to see increasingly large numbers of people who actually live in the city support the team, too. Because we always want the regional support, we’re a regional team, but you want people who live in the city to feel like this is a team that belongs to them.

“We’re excited about working with the team. One of the things that, when I first came onto the council that was when the discussion about the stadium was ongoing and what I wanted to do was create a baseball academy. That’s going to be constructed this year. I think it’s going to rejuvenate baseball… It’ll be in Ward 7. It’s in an area of the city where we have some challenging conditions, which is perfect for the young people.”