- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

City officials today will seek D.C. Zoning Commission approval of two plans for game-time parking at the Washington Nationals’ new stadium in Southeast, in case one plan involving the construction of retail and housing at the site falls through.

Officials last week had endorsed a plan involving D.C.-based Western Development to build two parking garages above ground and wrap them in condominiums. At the urging of the family of Ted Lerner, which will take over ownership of the Nationals next month, the city will now also present a backup plan that calls for a two garages without any surrounding development.

By seeking zoning approval of both plans, the city will be able to move forward with the garages-only plan if Western falls behind schedule or is unable to proceed.

“I am pleased that no one seems to be pressing for the reckless support of only the [Western] plan, given the many financial, logistical and practical questions that still linger,” said incoming Nationals president Stan Kasten, also part of the Lerner ownership group. “I think this avoids putting too many eggs in one basket. Moving along this parallel path makes all parties feel a little more secure right now.”

The city today is seeking zoning approval of the entire ballpark plan, not just the parking structures. But parking has been a key issue in recent weeks because any above-ground parking requires a special exemption from the commission. City officials had hoped for parking below ground, but that plan was scrapped because it would have cost $30 million more and may have taken longer to construct.

The city is required to provide 1,225 parking spaces at the site. About 300 will be set aside to the south of the stadium, but the remaining 900 will be located in the garages.

Under the Western plan, the city will contribute $21 million and then sell or lease land to Western and its investors to build the garages and condominiums plus as much as 50,000 square feet of retail and a hotel. Parking would also be constructed underground for residents of the condominiums.

The Lerner family, however, has been resistant to endorse the Western plan, citing fears it could not be completed on time for Opening Day 2008, as is required by the city’s contract with the team. The Lerners also expressed concern about the entry of another developer into the process, because it is ultimately the responsibility of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission to ensure the ballpark is built on time.

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