- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 8, 2006

The Washington Nationals’ new ownership group slammed the city’s plan to build two parking garages at the north side of the team’s new stadium and wrap them in condominiums, calling the plan “speculative development” that will harm the team.

Team president Stan Kasten released a statement criticizing the plan as a threat to the ability to complete the stadium project by the spring of 2008, and urged the D.C. Council to reject the plan when it votes on it Tuesday.

Kasten said the parking proposal “will not work for many reasons. But most important it has the potential to cause considerable damage. Our efforts to create a strong fan base will also be harmed for years to come. We do not think the city should support such a speculative development.”

Under the plan, the city would sell two parcels of land at the north side of the stadium site to D.C.-based Western Development, which would build above-ground garages for about 925 cars, plus 600 condominiums, 50,000 square feet of retail and a 180-room hotel. The plan would satisfy most of the city’s requirement to provide 1,225 parking spaces at the ballpark.

The council’s Committee on Government Operations signed off on the plan yesterday, and the D.C. Zoning Commission approved it Thursday night. A vote before the full council is scheduled for Tuesday.

According to the city’s contract with the team, the ballpark and parking must be completed by April 2008. Construction of the stadium itself has begun but work on the garages can’t begin until the plan is approved. Work must begin before Labor Day for the project to be completed on time, construction officials have told the city.

Kasten said too many questions about the plan remained, including whether financing could be arranged in time for work to begin in September.

“There are no guarantees regarding the impact on the timing and cost of the ballpark,” Kasten said. “The requisite design and use restrictions are violated in multiple ways. There are neither firm developer or financing commitments, nor feasibility studies. The plan does not even guarantee the city cash payment of the full value of the development rights.”

His concerns appeared to echo those of D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi, who presented Western and the city with a list of 11 issues that must be resolved before he will approve the plan. Chief among Gandhi’s concerns, in addition to the financing question, is that the city be protected from damages in the event that the Western plan falls through. Gandhi also said the city faces a $9 million shortfall in paying for the plan.

Western president Herb Miller is expected to meet with Gandhi on Monday. It is unclear if meetings are scheduled between Miller and members of the Lerner family or Kasten.

“If the stadium complex is not completed on Opening Day, the city and the team will suffer tremendous losses, in the tens of millions of dollars,” Kasten said. “[Gandhi] has confirmed this.”

The city does not have a solid backup plan for parking if the Western plan falls through. A more simple plan involving two above-ground garages without surrounding development was rejected by the zoning commission.

Some city officials have suggested an alternative interim parking arrangement involving 250 spaces on surface lots at the north side of the ballpark, 300 underground spots to the south, and about 700 spaces on an adjacent lot to the southeast owned by the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA). That plan, however, would not comply with the city’s requirement to provide 1,225 parking spaces at the stadium site, because the WASA property is across the street.

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