- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2006

City officials and architects yesterday revealed the design of the new ballpark for the Washington Nationals, a 41,000-seat modern glass, steel and concrete structure offering views of the Capitol and Anacostia River.

The new park between South Capitol and First streets will offer a distinct contrast to the “retro” ballparks built across the country in recent years, and officials touted it as the driving force for the redevelopment of the Anacostia Waterfront. The stadium is scheduled to open in 2008.

Architects from the firm of HOK Sport of Kansas City, Mo., and District-based Devrouax & Purnell said their goal was to design a ballpark so unique to the city that it would not be replicated.

“What we understood when we were retained … was that you all were looking for something new,” said Joe Spear, senior founding partner of HOK Sport. “You were looking for something fresh. You were looking for something exciting and unique to Washington, D.C.”

The announcement was made at the Washington Convention Center before hundreds of people who had waited months to see the designs while the city and Major League Baseball (MLB) fought over details of the stadium’s lease agreement. The city and MLB signed the lease last week, allowing the $611 million ballpark project to move forward.

A clearly relieved D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams thanked nearly every city official in attendance and compared the D.C. stadium saga to the Charles Dickens novel “Bleak House,” which centers on a long-running legal dispute.

“Remember that when they finally finish after generations of this dispute, where people forgot what they were fighting about, there was nothing left,” he said. “And it was our fear that we would start fighting about this thing and at the end there would be nothing left. But the dream, the flame was kept alive, and I’m pleased to announce to you that the fog has lifted.”

The ballpark’s capacity of 41,000 will make it one of the smaller new major league parks in the country. However, 19,530 of the seats will be in the lower bowl, more than in any other ballpark except Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

There also will be 2,666 club seats, some of which offer access to special lounges and food. The higher levels include 79 suites that seat a total of more than 1,200 fans. There also will be a large concourse to the north featuring a restaurant and other retailers that will remain open on nongame days.

The playing field will be located 24 feet below street level, allowing fans with tickets for the lower bowl to access their seats without using an escalator or elevator. In addition, game action will be visible from the concourses.

The exterior architecture calls for a triangular point at the ballpark’s south end, which HOK said is meant to evoke city designer Pierre L’Enfant’s plan for the District. The entire design, including the triangular shape of the ballpark plot, is meant to be integrated into the $3 billion redevelopment planned for the Anacostia Waterfront area.

“The best part of this baseball stadium on the Anacostia is that it will say to everybody that the Anacostia is not a forgotten river,” said council member Sharon Ambrose, a Democrat from Ward 6, where the ballpark will be located. “We have put our most important new building on the banks of the Anacostia to send that message to everyone.”

HOK Sport has designed many of the new ballparks in the majors, including Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore and Petco Park in San Diego.

Current designs show an aboveground parking garage beyond left field, but officials said that garage likely will be moved underground to allow other development.

The dimensions of the field will be similar to those at RFK Stadium.

A home run must travel 335 feet to the right-field foul pole, 370 feet to the right-field power alley, 409 feet to dead center, 377 feet to the left-field power alley and 322 feet to the left-field foul pole.

Nationals President Tony Tavares said the team requested the dimensions be similar to those at RFK because that stadium is a pitchers’ park. However, he said the ball should travel farther at the new park because the design allows for more airflow.

The design still lacks some finishing touches that likely will be added by the team’s new owner. For example, fans said yesterday they were eager to know whether anything special would occur after a home run. A Liberty Bell rings after homers by the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park, and a train runs inside Minute Maid Park in Houston after home runs by the Astros.

D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission officials said that the new owner likely will contribute money to make his own changes, but that major alterations to the design aren’t possible without creating serious delays.

Officials hope construction can begin by the end of this month. A Superior Court judge ruled last week that most landowners on the site must clear out by March 27.

The city is completing negotiations with two other property owners who are seeking relocation assistance. MLB is also expected to name a new owner for the team within a month.

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