Thursday, July 7, 2005

The D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission yesterday approved a series of measures aimed at improving chronic operational problems at RFK Stadium for Washington Nationals and D.C. United games.

The commission is facing intense pressure from fans, team executives and government officials over repeated gaffes at the 44-year-old stadium, with the miscues covering a wide gamut from ineffective security to erratic food service. The frustration peaked two weeks ago when a dozen cars belonging to Nationals players and employees were vandalized at RFK, with one vehicle stolen and still missing.

But commission members are hoping for better days ahead after ratifying an extensive list of corrective projects that will begin immediately. Among the approved resolutions:

• An outlay of $167,400 to provide 24-hour security at RFK Stadium over the next 45 days. The move is a direct response to the car vandalism, which occurred in daylight. During those 45 days, electronic security gates and additional video surveillance will be installed.

• An extension of the commission’s two-season food service contract with Aramark Corp. to include the Nationals’ 2007 season, as well as 2008 if the team is still playing at RFK. Commission officials last month openly threatened to fire Aramark after near-constant incidents of food outages, poor customer service and long lines. But Aramark quickly responded by changing its on-site management at RFK, adding new food items such as ice cream and burritos and paying the commission $500,000 to defray city-funded renovation costs at RFK related to food service facilities. That reimbursement from Aramark is $150,000 higher than planned last fall. The Aramark extension also calls for an increase in sausage stands, with more food and less beer sold by vendors in the stands.

• A $115,000 replacement of the infield turf, which has been beset by dead grass and thinning patches. The original infield sod, trucked in four months ago from Georgia, was a mixture of rye and bermuda grasses, but the bermuda never took hold fully. The installation of the new sod will begin this weekend.

• A series of renovations and repairs totaling about $4 million. The new work — including the repainting of some concourses, repairs to a freight elevator and piping around the stadium, and waterproofing of the lower seating bowl — is in addition to the $18.6 million renovation for baseball conducted between late December and mid-April.

The money for the latest round of work will come from an RFK reserve account created within the overall ballpark fund that paid for the first wave of RFK renovations and also will supply money for the Nationals’ new stadium in Southeast.

“We’re chipping away at all of this,” said Allen Y. Lew, sports commission chief executive officer. “A lot of this is simply basic maintenance that was deferred for years. It’s an old stadium, but we’re clearly at a different level of activity now and a different set of demands. The four main areas of concern have been cleaning, security, the field conversions [between soccer and baseball] and the quality of the turf, and the food service. I think we’re starting to make real progress on all of those fronts.”

Several of the moves, including the new infield sod, arrive after lengthy and sometimes heated negotiations with executives of both the Nationals and United.

Meanwhile, sports commission chairman Mark Tuohey said he hopes to complete a long-delayed naming rights deal for the RFK field by early August. The commission remains in deep negotiations with ProFunds Advisors LLC, a Bethesda investment firm. The pact, which could bring the commission as much as $2 million for each full Nationals season, has been repeatedly delayed after initial hopes of having a naming rights deal in place by the home opener nearly three months ago.

Also, the commission yesterday approved in concept a project labor agreement to govern hiring for the construction of the Nationals’ new stadium in Southeast. Formal ratification of the contract with a group of local building trade unions will not occur until after an economic study analyzing its potential effects is complete.

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