- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The D.C. Council yesterday ignored pleas from the Nationals’ incoming ownership group and unanimously authorized the city to partner with Western Development on a plan to build two parking garages with condominiums and retail space on the north side of the team’s ballpark in Southeast.

The plan calls for two parking garages to be built on parcels outside the left-field wall of the ballpark, with about 600 condominiums to be built around and on top of the garages. Retail outlets and a boutique hotel are also part of the proposal, which was crafted as a compromise designed to satisfy much of the parking requirement at the site while spurring commercial development in the area.

Approval of the parking plan by the council comes despite strong objections from the Nationals’ new ownership group, which last week called the development “speculative” and a threat to the city’s ability to complete the stadium project on time.

Under the plan, the city would sell the land needed for the project to Western for $61 million. Western and two other developers, the Jarvis Company and Jair Lynch Companies, would be in charge of the project, and the city would pay for the parking portion of the development.

“This is very good news,” said Vince Morris, a spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams. “The most important thing is that this allows us to move forward very quickly.”

Through a contract with the Nationals, the city is required to provide 1,225 parking spaces at the $611 million ballpark, which must open by April 2008. Just more than 900 parking spaces would be provided for fans and the team through the Western plan. The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which is overseeing the full stadium project, is providing an additional 300 underground spaces at the south of the new ballpark site.

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi said last week he would not recommend the sale of the land to Western until the company finalized the financing for the deal. Gandhi also asked that the city be protected against any damages if Western were late in delivering the parking requirement. If the project is not completed by Opening Day 2008, the city could be sued by the team for damages. Gandhi has been meeting with Western president Herb Miller this week. Gandhi does not have the power to block the transaction, but it is highly unusual for the city to enter into a deal this big against the advice of the city’s CFO.

“[Gandhi] asked some of the same questions we have,” Morris said. “We’re waiting to see if Herb Miller can answer those questions. The pressure is on his shoulders to produce. He has said he can answer Dr. Gandhi’s questions, and the mayor believes him.”

Incoming Nationals president Stan Kasten, who objected to the parking plan last week, could not be reached for comment last night.

The city has no backup plan to address the parking issue if Western is unable to follow through on its project. A simpler plan to build two aboveground garages without any attached development was rejected by the D.C. Zoning Commission last week.

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