- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2004

The District’s proposed ballpark in Southeast contains plans for fewer on-site parking spaces than any other modern-era stadium in Major League Baseball, a situation likely to create political fireworks in the coming months.

The city’s stadium plan, used to persuade MLB to relocate the Montreal Expos to the District, calls for a 1,100-space parking garage adjacent to a stadium, located near the Anacostia River. The garage will be used almost exclusively by team officials, players, media and luxury-seat holders.

Only one MLB ballpark built in the past dozen years — Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park — technically has fewer on-site spaces. But that facility, located on the banks of the Ohio River close to the central business district, relies heavily on nearby commercial lots and seven parking lots for the adjacent Paul Brown Stadium, home of the National Football League’s Cincinnati Bengals.

The Southeast baseball stadium location does not enjoy such abundant, nearby parking amenities. And some city leaders think a lack of available, nearby parking is a critical problem in the overall baseball proposal.

“This 1,100 number is just stupid on its face,” said David A. Catania, at-large independent, an outspoken critic of Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ proposal to finance the stadium completely with public-revenue bonds. “The only apparent option is going to be to acquire more land to build more spaces, and that’s only going to drive up the cost.”

The current projected cost for the stadium, $435.2 million, has risen sharply since the spring. Legislation for the stadium financing, introduced Friday to the D.C. Council, is expected to be referred today to the council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue, chaired by Ward 2 Democrat Jack Evans.

The days of stadiums surrounded by acres of surface parking, as at RFK Stadium, are long gone. But even the current wave of urban ballparks, designed with a clear aim of weaving into neighborhoods and spurring spinoff development, contain more on-site parking than what the District has proposed.

Camden Yards in Baltimore contains more than 4,000 on-site spaces and held much more before the 1999 arrival next door of what is now M&T; Bank Stadium. San Francisco’s SBC Park, one of the most tightly located urban ballparks, has about 5,000 spaces. And Denver’s Coors Field — seen as perhaps the closest replica to what the District is seeking in a successful stadium located on the fringes of downtown — has 3,800 on-site spaces.

Virginia’s unsuccessful baseball plan, though far from the District’s urban core, in Loudoun County, called for 12,000 parking spaces. RFK Stadium, where the relocated Montreal Expos will play for three seasons, has 8,500 spaces. That facility, however, is larger than the 41,000-seat capacity planned for the new ballpark and was built before the arrival of Metrorail service.

City officials said the 1,100-space garage in Southeast will be supplemented by lots and garages operated by outside businesses and will be available to the public. The rough target number for those sources of parking is about 6,500 spaces. But this parking is not under direct control of the city as part of the ballpark development, which makes the precise location, size and opening date of those lots uncertain.

“Clearly, commercial parking is going to be part of the solution,” said Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission. “There also may be some temporary lots created and used while we wait for some permanent structures to come online. But we feel comfortable we’ll be able to accommodate the demand.”

The Southeast ballpark will rely heavily on Metro and likely at a higher rate than most other thriving urban stadiums. But the relatively small number of parking spaces also will place a high burden on the already struggling rail system. The Navy Yard station, with two entrances near M Street SE, will be the primary station serving the ballpark. The Green Line station serves about 6,000 riders per day, a number that is expected to at least double, and perhaps triple, on game days. Metro officials are studying potential renovations to the station.

Efforts to get additional cars to serve the station on game days are probable, city officials said. But nothing is guaranteed, and the Green, Red and Orange lines are all battling significant overcrowding problems.

“There are a finite number of rail cars,” said Lisa Farbstein, Metro spokeswoman.

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