- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 30, 2004

A national hospitality company that owns the most expensive of dozens of properties that the District must buy to build a $440 million ballpark in Southeast expressed an interest yesterday in providing stadium concessions.

“We would definitely be interested in doing the concessions there. That’s what we do,” said Robin Thurman, vice president of business development for Guest Services Inc., which provides food services for many agencies and businesses, including The Washington Times.

The Fairfax-based company owns a warehouse at 1400 South Capitol St. SE.

In the next three weeks, city officials will start contacting Guest Services and other owners of at least 60 parcels that the District needs to build a stadium along the Anacostia River. The land — which comprises auto shops, vacant lots, a paving plant and nightclubs — is worth more than $33.4 million, according to an analysis of 2005 property-tax assessments.

The properties are located between N and P streets, and between First and South Capitol streets, according to city records. City officials say they hope to purchase the properties through negotiations, but they could take the land through eminent domain.

Ms. Thurman said Guest Services doesn’t oppose baseball coming to the District, even if it means the company will have to relocate its warehouse.

“Our position is that what is good for D.C. is good for Guest Services Inc.,” she said. “All we ask for is that we get a fair price for the property.”

The warehouse is worth $6.1 million, but Ms. Thurman said that figure may be low in light of the city’s booming real estate market.

One nearby property, at 1315 First St. SE, was purchased by a company called WSI Acquisition Co. for $2.2 million in 1999. Tax records show that the property is now assessed at $3 million.

City officials say they plan to begin determining a fair price for each of the properties in meetings with property owners in the area this month.

“We hope to have a congenial process, and we’ll be dealing with people on a case-by-case basis,” said Chris Bender, spokesman for the D.C. Office of Planning and Economic Development. “A key component of that is making sure that we don’t only give just compensation, but also that we try to keep these residents and business in the District.”

Mr. Bender stopped short of saying Guest Services Inc. would receive a concessions contract in exchange for agreeing to sell its property. He said that’s a decision for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.

“It’s a great sign how aggressive and enthusiastic businesses across the city are being about getting involved,” Mr. Bender said. “They’re looking at this as a great business opportunity. They should. That’s what good businesses do.”

Homeowner Kenneth Wyban, who retired from the military three years ago, said he doubts he will be able to buy another property in the District if the city takes his home.

“I kind of feel like I’m being cheated,” said Mr. Wyban, who owns a home on N Street SE. “I bought this place because I knew the neighborhood was going to get better. I’m living to start to see that happen now, but I won’t be able to stay around. I won’t be able to watch D.C. grow.”

Some businesses in the area do not own the land where their companies sit.

“Obviously, we’d have to move,” said John Cruz, an engineer at Senate Asphalt, which leases property along First Street from Schroff Realty, owner of three properties on the site worth about $1.8 million. “But it’s kind of a double-edged sword. I still would want to go see baseball.”

Mr. Cruz said he isn’t convinced that the stadium financing package won’t take money away from other needs in the city, such as education and social programs.

Still, he said that even just talk of baseball coming into the District is breathing new life into the neighborhood.

“Since they announced this, I’ve never seen so many people down here in the neighborhood,” he said. “We had a Realtor today come in and offer his services. Those people don’t waste much time.”