Thursday, September 21, 2006

D.C. officials yesterday speculated that a developer’s rejection of a contract for building a parking garage near the Washington Nationals baseball stadium will force the city to exceed its $611 stadium spending cap.

“Obviously the cap is a problem,” D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said. “This gives us issues with the council that we’re going to have to deal with potentially on the cap.”

The city had planned to build two parking garages on the north side of the stadium and surround them with condominiums, a hotel and retail spaces — a plan that some officials said would boost costs well beyond the cap.

That proposal collapsed late Wednesday when developer Herb S. Miller balked at the District’s buyout offer in the contract. The city offered a buyout of just under $1 million.

The city is required, by contract, to provide 1,225 spaces around the stadium site.

Mr. Miller’s plan would provide 925 spaces in the parking structure, while the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission would build underground parking for 300 cars on the south side of the stadium.

The baseball stadium budget includes $21 million for parking.

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, whose signature is required on the plan, opposed the Miller project and said it would cause the city to go over budget.

The Lerner family, which owns the Washington Nationals, also strongly opposed the Miller parking plan and said that it would delay parking garage construction past the opening of the 2008 baseball season, when the Nationals are scheduled to play their first game in the new ballpark.

Without the Miller proposal on the table, the city could face even more overruns and construction delays while a new plan is developed.

Mr. Williams strongly favored the Miller plan because of the retail development it included.

Yesterday, he said the city should proceed with a temporary parking lot plan, which would include paving over 5 acres north of the stadium. It would be cost-effective and leave the city’s options for future development open, he said.

But opponents said delaying construction of the parking garages any longer would put the District further in violation of the stadium construction contract.

Developers were scheduled to break ground on the parking garage Labor Day.

Mr. Williams yesterday said the city, the Lerners and developers need to come to an agreement quickly to meet the April 2008 deadline.

“We believe very strongly that, as we move quickly, we should look at a number of options,” the mayor said. “Whatever decision we make, we’ve got to make a decision … if they make a decision we can deal with that, [ but ] we cannot deal with a stalemate.”

Sources close to the stadium deal, including D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, and Bill Hall, a member of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, did not return calls for comment.

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, who would lead the council’s discussion on any cost overruns, also was unavailable.

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