- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2005

The D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission is putting increased pressure on Aramark Corp. to correct troubled food and beverage service at RFK Stadium and might seek to terminate its contract with the concessionaire if changes are not made soon.

Despite an otherwise successful start to the Washington Nationals’ debut season in the District, the team’s games at 44-year-old RFK have been plagued by slow lines for hot dogs, beer and other items; supply outages; and limited food choices compared to those at other stadiums in Major League Baseball.

And Aramark, according to the sports commission, also is not meeting its requirement to have at least 35 percent of its subcontracting for its RFK Stadium work supplied by local, small or disadvantaged business enterprises.

In recent weeks, Allen Y. Lew, sports commission chief executive officer, has conducted several meetings with Aramark officials to address the problem. Last week Lew attended a game at Yankee Stadium to observe food service operations at another older baseball facility and returned even more convinced improvements at RFK were urgently needed.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams also has weighed in on the issue, telling editors and reporters of The Washington Times last month that getting hot dogs to Nationals fans ?needs to be tightened up.? Williams said the lapses soured an otherwise successful renovation of the stadium for baseball.

?If I have to, I’ll make a change [in concessionaire],? Lew said. ?My attitude on this is sort of like the Starbucks model. People will tolerate longer lines and higher prices if there’s real quality being delivered. Right now that’s not happening. We want to see improvement.?

The sports commission’s contract with Aramark extends through 2006. The company provides food service to 10 other MLB ballparks.

The mounting frustration over food service represents an odd glimpse into the ongoing development of baseball in Washington. District officials continue to race against the clock to build the Nationals’ new stadium in Southeast by 2008, with a price tag now estimated at more than $600million. MLB, which owns the Nationals, is accepting bids to buy the club. But it is hot dogs, or the lack thereof, that have captured the attention of many local leaders and fans.

Officials for Philadelphia-based Aramark said yesterday they were working quickly to address the sports commission’s concerns and said several changes were planned for the Nationals’ next homestand in late June. Among them are an increase in concession stands, particularly on RFK’s upper level; the addition of new storage and refrigeration units to help get around a balky RFK service elevator; and the rollout of new food items. Under particular consideration are barbecue and Mexican food.

?This is an older stadium, and it definitely presented a challenge. We had to do a lot to get it baseball-ready,? said Joe DeFelice, Aramark district manager. ?But I see improvements every day. I feel good that we’re moving in the right direction.?

In other commission business, Lew said HOK Sport and Devrouax & Purnell, the two architecture firms teaming to design the Nationals’ ballpark, are leaning toward pointing the ballpark north to give a direct view of the U.S. Capitol dome.

Early depictions of the stadium on the Southeast site varied, at different points showing the orientation pointing north or south toward the Anacostia River. But Williams and others favor the northward view to take full advantage of the distinctive landmark.

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