- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

The District’s proposed ballpark on the Anacostia River waterfront comes with 20 acres’ worth of land-acquisition headaches.

City officials identified a site near M and South Capitol streets in Southeast as their preferred location for a baseball stadium Tuesday if the city lands the relocated Montreal Expos. However, the District owns none of the land necessary to build the ballpark. The area is a haphazard mixture of vacant land, gas stations, storage facilities and industrial businesses.

The financing plan for the ballpark provides $65 million to purchase the necessary land. However, the $440 million total cost for the stadium will be much higher than what was projected in the spring, and it likely would rise further before the ballpark would be completed.

“There are still a lot of questions to be asked, and there is much to be learned yet about the financing. But this has a lot of promise, much more so than any of the other sites,” said D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat. “And I do think there is an opportunity to create more of the sort of things that MCI Center did. This also gets us much closer to the waterfront. Who thinks of D.C. as a waterfront town? There’s the sliver [of the Potomac River] in Georgetown everyone focuses on, but there’s all this frontage of the Anacostia we want to develop.”

The area south of the Mall is attractive to city planners because of its location near the Anacostia River and the massive development of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative.

City leaders hope a stadium will aid that development, much as the construction of MCI Center helped fuel a bustling renaissance downtown.

But first, the District must win the relocation derby for the Expos, a process that after three agonizing years likely is entering its final days.

Major League Baseball’s executive council will meet today in Milwaukee to discuss the fate of the Expos. Baseball’s relocation committee is expected to recommend a new home for the club, and the District is regarded as the favorite, according to baseball sources familiar with the process.

A final decision is expected next week.

The rise of the M Street site as the preferred location for a stadium was unlikely, given the reluctance of tourists and local residents to venture south of the Mall.

Proposed ballpark sites at New York Avenue in Northeast and Benjamin Banneker Park in Southwest received far more scrutiny, and the M Street site was widely regarded as little more than a throw-in candidate.

However, the Banneker site was eliminated as an option because of difficult engineering requirements — it would have required building over Interstate 395 — and soaring costs.

The New York Avenue site was deemed to have more potential for development without baseball and did not meet with overwhelming enthusiasm among the members of the relocation committee.

“M Street is our best shot going forward,” said a source closely tied to the D.C. baseball effort.

If oriented on a northward fashion, following baseball custom, the M Street site would allow views of the Capitol dome.

The stadium would be funded by a combination of ballpark-related sales and use taxes, annual rent paid by team owners and a return of the gross-receipts tax that was used to finance MCI Center. The exact amount of the gross receipts tax that will be collected from large D.C. businesses remains uncertain.

The ballpark project would add to a development effort that aims to put 5 million square feet of commercial and office space and more than 9,000 residential units near the South Capitol Street corridor over the next 10 years. Other projects under development in the area include the 44-acre Southeast Federal Center and the new headquarters of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

D.C. planners said the construction, along with the creation of new parkland and a cleanup of the Anacostia River, will make the waterfront an attractive destination with or without baseball. But real estate experts said the area still lacks an anchor to generate excitement and collateral development.

“I think you want to encourage people to come to the new waterfront and provide a reason for them to come,” said Maureen McAvey, a senior fellow with the Urban Land Institute. “You want an array of development, and a ballpark does offer a whole diverse group of people.”

The broader plans for South Capitol Street also include further refinements to improve pedestrian flow and a light rail line running from RFK Stadium down to the eastern side of the Washington Channel, along M Street and to the north edge of the proposed ballpark. Water-taxi service also is being contemplated.

The site already is served by the Navy Yard and Waterfront Metro stations.

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