Saturday, February 16, 2008

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray yesterday said a new soccer stadium at Poplar Point would help alleviate parking problems across the Anacostia River at the Nationals new ballpark.

“We have a horrific parking problem with the Nationals stadium,” Gray said. “I’m not sure people know how close Poplar Point is. If we coordinate schedules, we could actually have parking for D.C. United used for the Nationals as well.”

During an interview with reporters and editors of The Washington Times, Gray said there is now strong council support for helping D.C. United find a new home at Poplar Point, and that he has not ruled out using some public funds to construct the new facility.

“I think there are a lot of council members who are excited about how we can do this, and we’d like to reach some sort of conclusion sooner rather than later,” he said. “I’m interested in trying to see what we can do to keep D.C. United here. The feasibility side of that I think really will still have to be determined, and that is what is the deal, what is the plan, and what will be required of the District.”

Mayor Adrian Fenty on Thursday announced that Clark Realty will head up a massive redevelopment of the 110-acre Poplar Point site and said he is in favor of placing a stadium there.

Neither Fenty nor Gray, however, said they will support financing the stadium entirely with city money, as was done with the Nationals ballpark.

“I don’t think there’s likely to be any support for a deal in which we’d pay for the entire stadium,” Gray said.

Poplar Point is located east of the Anacostia River, within sight of the Nationals ballpark in Southeast. Conceivably, Gray said, fans heading to Nationals game could walk from Poplar Point across a pedestrian walkway on one of the bridges crossing the Anacostia. The Nationals have identified only about 5,000 parking spaces in the ballpark neighborhood, forcing them to use shuttles bus fans from lots at the RFK site.

Gray also said fans parking in Poplar Point would boost economic development efforts east of the Anacostia.

“With Poplar Point becoming a mixed-use site, imagine 81 days with bringing five, 10 or 15,000 back to the other side of the river after games or even before games,” he said.

Gray downplayed recent suggestions that the city would try to lure the Redskins back to a new stadium in the District. Early proposals have called for the city to tear down RFK and allow the Redskins to build a new stadium on the site. The city would provide the team with the land for free.

“To the extent there have been discussions with the council, I’m not aware of that at all,” Gray said. “RFK has been around for 48 years, and there’s absolutely no economic development that’s taken place. If economic development is supposed to be the objective of this, how should I believe things will be different after 48 years?”

Meanwhile, Gray said he is hopeful that a new Major League Baseball academy will be under construction within the next year at Fort DuPont.

Gray, who campaigned for the academy when a council member representing Ward 7, said he has had several meetings with Dirk Kempthorne, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, about getting access to the necessary land through either a transfer or long-term ground lease from the federal government. Construction could begin after an environmental study, which will take six to nine months.

Gray also said the Tiger Woods Foundation has had early talks about building a new learning center in Ward 7.

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