- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2005

District officials have whittled the list of prospective architects for the Washington Nationals’ planned ballpark in Southeast to three design teams, with the final selection set for late next week.

The D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, leading the development process for the forthcoming stadium, originally received eight bids and now will guide the selection among three finalists: HOK Sport, HKS Inc., and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM).

The three firms have worked on some of the most beloved and prominent facilities in pro sports and general urban design, and each outfit has a significant regional tie. HOK Sport, the largest player in sports architecture, led the design of FedEx Field in Landover and Camden Yards and M&T; Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Dallas-based HKS Inc., designer of Ameriquest Field in Arlington, Texas, was the chosen stadium architect for Northern Virginia’s failed relocation effort for the Montreal Expos.

And SOM, which itself does not boast as extensive a sports background as its competitors for the Washington baseball project, worked on the master plan for the Mall, as well as the Hirshorn Museum and National Sculpture Garden. SOM is being significantly aided by Turner-Meis & Associates, a Los Angeles-based firm whose principals have worked on Seattle’s Safeco Field and Milwaukee’s Miller Park.

District officials declined to detail the reasoning for their selections, but Claude Bailey, sports commission general counsel, said the short list “reflects the companies that best met the requirements of the [request for proposals.]”

Industry sources, however, said strong experience in designing stadiums for Major League Baseball loomed large in the District stadium decision, despite a previously stated desire to break away from the recent wave of retro-inspired ballparks. Projected design fees also weighed significantly.

The short-listed firms declined to comment.

The selection of architect finalists provided a surprise in that a combined bid from District-based architects Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut & Kuhn and Devrouax & Purnell did not make the cut. The firm was also relying on assistance from Ellerbe Beckett, designers of MCI Center, and Janet Marie Smith, vice president of planning and development for the Boston Red Sox and a dominant figure in the design of Camden Yards and Atlanta’s Turner Field. The group widely was seen as a strong entry.

Devroaux & Purnell is still part of the HOK bid, while another District outfit, McKissick & McKissick, is aligned with HKS.

The final choice will be made following interviews today and tomorrow. Leading the evaluation will be a six-person review team, composed of two members each from the sports commission, District government and Nationals. The team will report back to Allen Y. Lew, sports commission chief executive officer.

The prospective stadium architects are not being judged on preliminary stadium designs and, in fact, were not required to submit any. The search is essentially a resume contest in which the city is seeking architects with extensive skill working with baseball stadiums and large-scale urban projects.

Other cities building sports facilities have picked architects based on preliminary renderings, but both selection processes are common.

In the District, the tight timeline in place to select an architect is necessary to keep the project on course for its planned opening in March 2008. Major League Baseball, in its relocation contract with the District, is mandating that deadline, as well as several other milestone dates before then.

Meanwhile, the sports commission yesterday approved a revised budget for 2005 and testified before the D.C. Council’s committee on economic development on its fiscal progress. The commission budget this year was raised from $7.3 million to $20.8 million to reflect the presence of the Nationals. But the organization remains under pressure to post profits after several straight unprofitable years.

The commission’s 2006 budget is projected to balloon past $200 million as the organization will act as the financial body actually paying the costs of the Nationals’ stadium.

In other sports commission business:

• The organization is wrestling with how to deal with street vendors near RFK Stadium during Nationals games. Commission officials are concerned about additional trash near the facility, as well as a potential loss of tax revenue, as taxes on in-stadium concession sales will help fund the new stadium in Southeast. Banning independent vendor sales on streets near RFK is being considered, but the commission may be unable to gain legal authority to control activity beyond the property lines of the stadium complex. A final decision on the matter is expected late this month.

• A $195,000 contract with Duraturf Service Corp. was approved to help convert the RFK Stadium playing field back and forth between baseball and soccer. While stadium workers ultimately intend to do the conversions themselves, the contract is designed to work through the initial switches and train the existing staff on the process.

Twenty field conversions are planned this year. To aid their efforts, stadium workers have mechanized a section of seats on the stadium’s northwest end that will slide on a rail based on the scheduled event, as well as placed the pitching mound on a recessed, hydraulic platform.

• Sports commission chairman Mark Tuohey yesterday led a commission delegation testifying before Sharon Ambrose, chair of the D.C. Council’s economic development committee. Much of the discussion centered on parking, noise and neighborhood relations with the areas near RFK Stadium, echoing a community meeting held Tuesday night between residents of that area, the commission and representatives of the Nationals.

As a result of these sessions, the commission is exploring the use of pyrotechnics contained within RFK for celebratory events in which fireworks traditionally would be used.

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