- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Nationals Park is nestled in a neighborhood in Southeast that District officials hope will one day become a major destination point. Getting to the ballpark, however, looks like it won’t be easy, and there won’t be much to do in the neighborhood this season except watch the game.

There’s a Five Guys and a Subway across the street, a Starbucks a few blocks down the road and a smattering of liquor stores and take-out restaurants. But that’s about it. And the problem is made worse by a dearth of parking and a road system that’s not car friendly.

Executives from the city and team are urging fans to take Metro or walk to the ballpark, stressing a shortage of available parking.

The Nationals have secured about 5,000 parking spaces for season ticket holders, but fans with tickets to single games are unlikely to find parking near the stadium because of a shortage of lots and strict prohibitions on street parking.

“It would be very foolish to come into this part of town and look for street parking,” Nationals president Stan Kasten said. “You have no hope of achieving that before the game.”

What that means for now is that fans are less likely to flock to the neighborhood for dinner or a beer before the game. Those looking for pre-game revelry are better off meeting near Barracks Row, Union Station or other neighborhoods near Capitol Hill.

The development of new retail and restaurants along Half Street, a block from the ballpark, is still at least a year away. A complex of retail, restaurants and other development known as “The Yards,” located a few blocks east of the stadium, still is in planning.

At the moment, however, team and city officials are less concerned about pre- and postgame entertainment than with making sure fans can get to the ballpark easily.

Those officials knew early on that parking and transportation around the new ballpark would be difficult and have spent the last two years formulating a plan that includes parking enforcement, timed traffic lights, traffic control officers and new signage.

“A lot of work is being done to absolutely minimize the inconvenience,” said Nationals vice president Greg McCarthy, who has worked with the city on a parking and transportation plan. “And I think it will be just that: a minimal inconvenience.”

Officials are urging fans to take Metro’s Green Line to the Navy Yard station and walk one block south on Half Street SE to the ballpark. By Opening Night, Metro is expected to complete an expansion of the station that will increase capacity from 5,000 to 15,000 riders per hour.

For sold-out games, including Opening Night, Metro expects 24,000 fans to ride Metro to the ballpark. About 21,000 of those will arrive via the Navy Yard station. Metro plans to add as many as 18 trains for Opening Night and most weekend games but can’t add more than one or two during the week because those extra trains are needed to service rush hour.

Other Metro options include walking to the ballpark from the Waterfront or Anacostia stations on the Green Line or Capitol South station on the Orange and Blue lines. Metro also is offering expanded service on the N22 bus route.

The Nationals, meanwhile, plan to offer free shuttle service to Nationals Park from parking lots at RFK Stadium. Fans would park at RFK for free and take a luxury motorcoach directly to the new ballpark.

“We’re prepared for as many as we need,” Kasten said. “We have plenty of buses. We’ll see as time goes on who uses what. We’re all in a learning process, and I know most of our fans appreciate that.”

The team lobbied hard for its first game to be played on a Sunday night, when rush hour traffic would not be a hindrance. Major League Baseball complied, placing the Nationals’ opener on March 30. The team will not return to town until Monday, April 7, giving the team and city a full week to study what happened on Opening Night.

“The first game is not the final exam,” said Emeka Moneme, director of the D.C. Department of Transportation. “It’s the first opportunity.”

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