Council to weigh park legislation

The D.C. Council today will consider several pieces of legislation designed to speed up the development of parking and commercial development at the site of the Washington Nationals’ new ballpark.

One emergency bill, introduced by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, would permit the city to sell revenue bonds to help pay for the construction of parking structures on the ballpark site, and would also allow the city to use money from the sale of development rights for the same purpose. The mayor’s bill also allows D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi to collect money from adjacent parking facilities, with the money raised going to pay for parking garages and commercial development at the actual ballpark site.

A separate emergency bill introduced by Councilmember Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, would free the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission from the responsibility of providing parking at the site. Under the bill, those duties would be handed over to the quasi-public Anacostia Waterfront Corporation, which would likely partner with a developer on a parking and commercial project.

The sports commission, which is overseeing the ballpark project, is required by contract with the Nationals to provide parking for 1,225 cars on the ballpark site in time for the stadium’s opening day. The transfer of parking responsibilities to the AWC, according to Barry’s bill, “is the most efficient method of providing the necessary parking spaces on time and initiating the development process on the ballpark site.” But sources yesterday said such a transfer could be in violation of the contract with the Nationals.

Meanwhile, councilmember Adrian Fenty, the Ward 4 Democrat who is expected to win the city’s race for mayor next month, could introduce a plan to place all of the required parking spots in aboveground garages at the south end of the stadium site, thus saving the city as much as $30 million in construction costs. The plan reportedly has received the blessing of the Nationals ownership group, the Lerner family, which must approve any plans for the stadium site.

The parking proposals and legislation come as the city faces a tough budget crunch for the ballpark’s construction. Last spring, the city imposed a cap of $611 million on stadium expenditures. Construction of the ballpark itself is progressing on time, but the city and team officials have been embroiled in debate about the best way to satisfy the parking requirement.

Original plans at the site called for aboveground parking garages, but Williams has preferred the garages to be constructed underground at the north end of the ballpark site because it would allow for commercial development at the street level. To build underground garages, at least $75 million in additional funds would need to be raised.

City officials said the additional money is necessary in order to spur the type of economic development that was promised when the stadium construction was authorized. Officials said they want to move quickly to ensure the stadium will open by April of 2008, and also noted that the city will lose the right to develop commercial space at the north end of the ballpark site if work does not begin by September of 2007.

“It allows us to protect our rights to develop,” said Vince Morris, a spokesman for Williams. “The idea is if we don’t protect our development rights we’ll lose them. The whole idea behind the stadium is to get development in the neighborhood. If we just have parking then we’re not getting what we wanted from this.”

Gandhi was still reviewing the legislation yesterday to study the potential fiscal impact on the city. He has previously expressed concern that the transfer of any aspect of the stadium project from one agency to another could cause a delay in construction, and has not supported any calls to sell additional bonds to finance the project.

The city’s 13 council members were still reviewing the bills, and it is unclear whether there is enough support to pass either or both. Nine votes are required for approval.

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