- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 25, 2006

The reasons for this month’s impasse over stadium parking near the Anacostia River should be clear to everyone: The city’s interests lie with Southeast’s fullest long-term development, whereas the Lerners’ are with rapid and on-time completion of all ballpark amenities. The most relevant fact to keep in mind, though, is ownership: The Lerners own the Washington Nationals, but the city and its taxpayers own the $611 million stadium and the land. That means the city has final say on parking. The Lerners must acquiesce.

Last week’s compromise to allow developer Herbert S. Miller of Western Development to construct 925 parking spots above ground with a facade of condominiums strikes us as half a loaf, but considerably better than what the Lerners wanted. Mr. Miller’s track record with Gallery Place and with retail space generally is encouraging. This proposal has a number of virtues: It hides the above-ground parking; it entails 660 condominiums; and it promises a 180-room hotel and 50,000-square-feet of retail space.

If not the revving engine of Anacostia’s economic growth the city had initially envisioned, the Miller plan has the makings of a strong center of revitalization. It also gets the aesthetics right, although the stubborn insistence on above-ground garage space is the type of dead weight Washingtonians had hoped to avoid.

Some activists are raising questions over the Lerners’ suburban commercial holdings — specifically, they note that a bustling downtown commercial development would inevitably draw business away from suburban malls like the Lerners’. This makes a degree of sense, conspiratorial as it sounds, although the clear driver of the Lerners’ behavior must be the compelling financial interest in getting everything ready for Opening Day 2008. At the very least, this is yet another reminder that the city cannot expect the Lerners to act in ways that contravene their immediate interests in a wholly completed waterfront area before two years are up.

The city must take the wiser, long-term view, which so far Mayor Tony Williams has. This view begins by noting that the Lerners may or may not be around as Nationals owners in 20 years and ends with the fact that whatever is decided upon now will be. We hope this continues. The city has to get real value for the hundreds of millions of dollars it has committed to this project — against our objections and the public’s denunciations of public funding for the new stadium. Real value starts with a rejuvenated Southeast.

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