- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I know, I know, stadium parking? Zzzzzzzz. Not the sexiest topic, I’ll admit. But I know there are a handful of Nats fans and D.C. residents that have been following the ballpark project closely, so I’m going to try and break this all down as simply as possible in a handy Q&A; format.

Q: What did the D.C. Council approve on Tuesday?

A: The council voted to allow construction of three above-ground parking garages. Two garages for 1,200 cars will be built at the north end of the site. A garage for another 130 will be built to the south. The garages will cost $32.9 million, about $3.1 million less than what is currently budgeted for parking at the site.

Q: Why did the council do this?

A: The garages are needed to satisfy a requirement by the Nationals to provide 1,225 parking spots at the stadium site. The council needed to vote in order to overrule the D.C. Zoning Commission, which said this summer that the garages needed to be built underground.

Q: Why can’t the city build the garages underground?

A: The city wanted to, especially since doing so would have allowed for commercial development like shops and restaurants at the street level. But underground parking would have been more expensive, and there was not enough money in the $611 million ballpark budget.

Q: Couldn’t the city have found a creative way to pay for underground parking?

A: The city tried. The quasi-public Anacostia Waterfront Corporation talked over the last year with several developers, including Herb Miller of Western Development, who would have built the garages in exchange for development rights at the site. But no deal was ever finalized, and with Opening Day of 2008 less than 18 months away, it’s too late in the game to do anything else.

Q: Wasn’t there some discussion of using surface lots across from the stadium as a temporary parking solution?

A: Yes, some council members suggested using a lot currently controlled by WASA, but only as a last resort. By placing the parking across the street, the city would have been in violation of its contract with the Nationals, thus exposing the District to possible lawsuits.

Q: Why is Herb Miller suing the city?

A: Miller believes that he had a deal with the city to build parking garages with condos and retail at the north end of the site, in exchange for development revenue. In his view, the city unfairly killed the deal last month. City officials claim that Miller was unable to prove that he could pay for the project and complete it on time.

Q: Can’t the Lerner family, the Nationals’ new ownership group, pay for the underground parking?

A: The Lerner family paid $450 million for the Nationals franchise, plus $20 million toward construction of the ballpark. The price of the team was set based on the fact that the city would finance nearly all of the ballpark construction.

Contractually, it is the city’s responsibility to provide the completed stadium — including the parking — on time for the 2008 season. While there are some city officials who would have liked to see the Lerners contribute money and be more open to underground parking at the site, the fact is that the family and the team is not required to contribute any additional money toward the project. To put it simply, the Lerners have been insistent that the city complete, and pay for, the parking requirement at the site. And that is their right.

Q: So are we stuck with two ugly garages in left field?

A: The short answer is yes, and few people close to the project believe it’s the best choice, aesthetically. Architects said there may be ways to design the garages so they don’t look too bad. And it’s possible that in five years or so the team and city will agree to demolish the garages in favor of something nicer. For sure, the land will increase in value and look very attractive to a developer.

Q: Is the city losing out financially?

A: Possibly. The city claims that it could have gotten tens of millions of dollars for the development rights near the stadium alone, plus tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue each year. But failing to provide the parking on time might have cost them a similar amount in penalties. It really depends on who you talk to. Either way, no one is particularly thrilled with the way this situation was resolved.

Q: These garages are set aside primarily for the team and luxury box holders, right? Where will the average fan park their car?

A: The city and the Lerner family are working to identify at least 7,000 parking spots in the area surrounding the ballpark. Many of the spaces will be several blocks away, and some may not be available right away. Odds are, fans will want to take Metro to the Navy Yard station, which is getting a nice upgrade thanks to developer Monument Realty and money from the federal government.

Q: So does this mean construction of the stadium project can finally move forward smoothly?

A: Yes, unless Herb Miller prevails in his lawsuit. The parking issue was the last major outstanding issue relating to the ballpark project. Construction of the stadium itself is, according to the sports commission, well under way and on schedule to open in April of 2008.

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