- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A walk down South Capitol Street reveals one very significant truth: The Nationals will not be playing in RFK Stadium in 2008.

“We’re on time,” said Matt Haas, a project executive with Clark Construction, the lead company building the Nationals’ new $611 million ballpark that will replace RFK. “I would say we’re neither ahead nor behind at this point. We’re tracking right on schedule, which is good.”

Such a statement might have seemed laughable a year ago, when construction had not even begun. But the basic framework of the main seating bowl and upper deck are nearly complete, with only the outfield terrace, playing field and inside portions of the ballpark yet to take shape.

Clark Construction said it will double the number of workers on the site beginning this summer and will spend upward of $20 million per month until the project is done.

Just as important, the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission and D.C. Auditor report that the project is on budget and not in violation of a cap on city spending on the ballpark. The project does, however, face significant budget pressure: Less than $8 million in contingency money remains.

The family of real estate executive Ted Lerner, which bought the team last spring, said it will contribute more than $30 million toward ballpark enhancements, including an upgrade of the scoreboard and reconfiguration of a center field concourse to allow for more entertainment options.

“There were some facets of the ballpark which we felt needed some additional enhancements,” said principal owner Mark Lerner, the son of Ted. “We think it’s important to make the investment upfront to ensure that our fans are satisfied in every possible way, even if that meant spending more money right now.”

Meanwhile, city and team officials are working on plans to ensure the ballpark is easily accessible. The Navy Yard Mero station will double in capacity, and officials said they will identify 5,000 to 6,000 parking spaces in various garages within walking distance of the stadium. About $18 million worth of streetscape improvements are planned, and the D.C. Department of Transportation will introduce a draft of a new plan for transportation and parking in April.

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