Thursday, September 7, 2006

Officials from the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission said yesterday they are pleased how quickly construction of the Washington Nationals’ ballpark along South Capitol Street is progressing.

With about 19 months left to complete the $611million stadium in time for its official unveiling in April 2008, the ballpark construction team is nearly done placing several thousand pilings that will provide support for the stadium. In addition, much of the main concourse at the southeast section of the stadium is near completion.

“The stadium construction is going quite well,” commission chairman Mark Tuohey said at the group’s monthly board meeting. “I think we’re doing a tremendous job of managing the project.”

Clark Construction has said the ballpark likely will be completed on time as long as the steel framework is in place by October. The project is on target for that goal, officials said.

Development of a parking garage on the site, however, is not coming along as quickly. Tuohey said the commission was still waiting for city officials to forward plans for an above-ground garage surrounded by condominiums and retail outlets.

The garage is needed to satisfy a requirement for 1,250 parking spaces at the site. Tuohey said he expects the plans to be forwarded for approval by the Nationals and the commission within two weeks.

Meanwhile, the commission approved a measure allowing its CEO, Allen Lew, to enter into any ballpark-related contracts worth up to $500,000. The move was made in order to allow for any changes to the ballpark plans without causing delays in construction.

Also yesterday, the commission revealed that a soccer-only stadium for D.C. United probably will not be ready until 2009. Officials had hoped the facility, to be built at Poplar Point in Southeast, would be ready in time for the 2008 season. But delays in completing a transfer of the needed land from the federal government have prevented the team from starting construction.

With the delay, D.C. United will play at RFK Stadium in 2008, requiring the commission to pay for an additional year of maintenance on the 45-year-old facility.

In other news, commission members said they are in early talks with the National Lacrosse League (NLL) about forming a franchise in the District. The NLL has asked whether the city would finance a new or renovated stadium for the team and assist in building a Hall of Fame facility.

The sports commission also learned that organizers of the World Police and Fire Games are eyeing the Nationals’ new ballpark for the event in 2013. The biennial competition pits active and retired police officers and firefighters in more than 60 sports and normally draws upward of 10,000 participants.

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