Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Officials in charge of building the Washington Nationals’ new ballpark in Southeast have struck a deal with the District-based Western Development Corp. to build two parking garages above ground at the stadium site and surround them with condominiums.

The plan, which requires approval by the D.C. Council and D.C. Zoning Commission, is designed to satisfy the city’s requirement to provide parking near the stadium while also sparking commercial development in the neighborhood.

But the plan has not received the approval of the Nationals’ new owners, who said they had been presented with the plan late last week.

“Reports of an agreement on a new parking plan for the Nationals’ new ballpark are at best premature,” incoming Nationals President Stan Kasten said. “Our development experts reviewed the plan and forwarded a series of questions to the [D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission]. We have not yet gotten a response to our questions.”

Mr. Kasten and the family of Theodore Lerner, which are expected to take over the team next month, said they were concerned that another contract involving a third party would threaten the timeline for construction of the stadium.

Western will build about 660 housing units around the garages and on eight levels above them. About 140 of the units will be set aside for low-income residents. Some of the condominiums will offer views of the field.

The company also plans about 50,000 square feet of retail space on the southern side of the ballpark and a hotel for 150 to 200 guests at First and N streets Southeast.

“Our goal is to be a partner in building a wonderful environment around the stadium,” said Western President Herbert Miller, who also helped build the Gallery Place near Verizon Center. “It’s our commitment not only to the city but to the team owner to have an environment that creates a fan experience.”

Western will be working with D.C. developers Jarvis Company and Jair Lynch Companies on the project. The Anacostia Waterfront Corp. (AWC), the quasi-public agency in charge of spurring development near the Anacostia River, last fall chose the three companies as the lead developers in creating an entertainment district around the stadium.

In the past year, the Anacostia corporation and Western officials had pushed for the construction of underground parking to allow for retail and other commercial projects at street level. But funding shortages and a tight construction timeline necessitated a compromise. The city is required to have the stadium completed by March 2008 and has budgeted $21 million for parking. Underground garages would have cost at least $30 million more, and completing them on time would have proved more difficult.

“We feared that aboveground parking would not take us to where we want,” AWC President Adrian Washington said. “We believe this solution we have proposed in working with the mayor meets [the city’s] vision goals and also meets the parking requirements for the stadium.”

The garages will be constructed beyond the ballpark’s left-field wall and will be visible from within the stadium but shielded on the outside by the condominiums or special architectural treatments. They will house about 930 parking spots for stadium traffic, with additional parking for residents of the condominiums underground. About 300 spots also will be provided just south of the ballpark. In all, the city is required to provide 1,225 parking spaces, according to the stadium agreement struck in December 2004 with Major League Baseball.

The parking areas are expected to be completed by March 2008, but construction of the surrounding development could take an additional year.

The city will contribute about $21 million toward the construction of the garages, but the commercial development — which could be worth $300 million — will be paid for through private financing arranged by Western.

The D.C. Council must approve the sale or lease of the land to Western and its investors, and a vote is expected on July 11. A price has yet to be determined, but the land is thought to be valued at about $70 million.

“I’m really excited about this, because as I’ve always said, and I’ll say it again: This project has always been about more than a baseball stadium,” Mayor Anthony A. Williams said. “It’s about building a living and breathing neighborhood.”

The D.C. Zoning Commission must sign off on the stadium and parking plan. Sources close to the process said approval is not certain. This plan differs from original plans submitted to the commission that called for garages aboveground but no attached development. Furthermore, above ground parking requires special approval from the commission, which historically has preferred below-ground parking for big projects. A hearing before the commission is scheduled for Monday.

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