- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

The D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission today will select HOK Sport to design a waterfront stadium in Southeast to serve as the home of the Washington Nationals.

The Kansas City, Mo.-based architectural firm was selected unanimously by a six-person evaluation team that chose a winner from among eight bidders, The Washington Times learned yesterday.

The commission today will vote formally on the recommendation from that team and Allen Y. Lew, the commission’s chief executive officer.

HOK submitted the lowest bid of the three finalists for the job, city sources said.

The firm has designed 10 of the last 14 Major League Baseball stadiums built. The D.C. project, however, will present a design test: City officials have made plain their desire to find an alternative to the brick-and-steel, retro-inspired ballparks common among those built during the past decade.

HOK Senior Vice President Earl Santee said earlier this month he envisioned the new stadium as “part monument, part ballpark,” a modern structure with an exterior of glass and stone.

Plans for the stadium cleared a major obstacle yesterday when the District’s chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, estimated land acquisition and environmental and infrastructure costs at $161.4 million.

That figure was slightly less than the $165 million threshold that would have required the city to find a cheaper site.

Mr. Gandhi’s cost analysis, obtained yesterday by The Washington Times, was a priority in the city’s effort to speed up the process of establishing the Nationals in their new home. It also was critical because several members of the D.C. Council thought the costs considered in the report would push the final price tag of the stadium too high.

Mr. Gandhi four months ago estimated the land acquisition and infrastructure costs for the 14-acre site at $115 million. However, he did not include the costs of environmental remediation or relocation of the owners of the property on which the ballpark would sit.

The D.C. Council directed him to submit a second report and amended the ballpark financing legislation to establish the $165 million ceiling for those costs.

“Based on this finding, the site would be deemed ‘financially available’ pursuant to the Ballpark Act,” Mr. Gandhi wrote in a letter to D.C. Council members.

Mr. Gandhi’s report included an estimated $29.4 million to move a 12-foot sewer tunnel that runs under the stadium site. If HOK and the city decide the tunnel does not need to be moved, the overall land acquisition and environmental and infrastructure costs would fall to $134.2 million.

Mr. Gandhi, in his letter to the D.C. Council, described his report as “conservative,” one using the highest costs possible.

The District expects a major fight with the 27 owners of the parcels necessary to build the stadium. Several landowners already have made clear their intention to fight city efforts to buy their property.

The District retains power of eminent domain, a tool that could keep the stadium on track for a 2008 opening. But legal fights over compensation for landowners could drag on for years.

Land-acquisition costs increased from $65 million in the first Gandhi report to $77.1 million, a sum critics say still might not be enough. The new numbers also mean the overall cost of the stadium would rise to about $580 million, up from an estimate of $535 million in the fall.

“We can now move forward, which is very significant, but we still need to use every opportunity to keep the costs on this project down,” said D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat.

The new report also included $19 million to upgrade the Navy Yard Metro station, the closest stop to the ballpark.

City officials yesterday also began a public-awareness effort designed to prevent fans attending Nationals games from parking in the neighborhoods surrounding RFK Stadium.

The District plans to ticket and tow as many cars as possible that do not have proper resident parking permits starting Sunday with the Nationals’ exhibition game against the New York Mets.

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