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Smaller stadium envisioned

(Published July 15, 2002)


Staff Writer

The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission and the Washington Baseball Club have agreed on 10 "ballpark planning principles" for siting a new stadium in the District.

Along with the 10-point checklist, commission officials and members of the group that is seeking to bring a Major League Baseball team back to the District now say they want to build a stadium with a seating capacity smaller than Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

At the first of two planned public meetings last month to discuss the status of the baseball effort, the public was asked to comment on the 10 principles. At a second meeting, which is expected to be held in mid-September or October, officials are expected to reveal a list of possible sites for a new baseball stadium, based on these principles.

The 10 principles were described at the meeting as criteria that will be used by developers to evaluate any site for a new ballpark. They are:

Based on the first principle, officials said they are hoping to build a stadium with 35,000 to 40,000 seats, declaring that baseball works better in smaller venues. This number, which is smaller than the original proposal, means that RFK Stadiumís seating capacity of more than 45,000 is too large to fit the criteria.

During the public meeting, Steve Bernstein, a resident of Olney, Md., expressed concern that a stadium with less than 45,000 seats would be an "insult" and that it would shortchange the residents of the District. A smaller ballpark inevitably would mean higher ticket prices, as well, some noted during the meeting.

According to a January 1999 Economic and Fiscal Impact Analysis, the weighted average ticket price would be about $17.50. Officials insisted that the new ballpark would be built for the average attendance expected on a daily basis.

Before the 10 planning principles were presented, a Shaw location near downtown was widely presumed to top the list for a new stadium. Upset residents and workers, however, displayed their frustration with this idea.

"Too much emphasis is put on Mount Vernon Square and it makes no sense to squeeze a baseball stadium in so that it is close to the MCI Center and the convention center," said Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2C member Lydia Goring.

Goring also pointed out that there is very little parking available near the convention center, which negates one of the new planning principles.

Although many in attendance at the first meeting said they assumed site of the new ballpark is already determined, officials said this assumption is false.

"We are locating all possible sites that are both financially stable and fit the vision of the city," said Robert Goldwater, executive director of the sports commission.

Christopher Dunlavey of Brailsford and Dunlavey, a Washington-based sports facility finance firm that leads the consultant team for the project, announced that the process of gathering information to determine possible ballpark locations has just begun.

"There are no sites focused on," he said. "There is a broad range of possibilities and we will decide based on the criterion."

The January 1999 site location study identified three potential stadium locations: a downtown site near Mount Vernon Square, an area adjacent to RFK Stadium, or a renovated RFK Stadium. The sites were evaluated based on program requirements, accessibility and planning considerations, site acquisition and preparation requirements, as well as economic impact.

Regardless of the stadiumís location, the probability of the District actually getting a major league franchise looks positive at this point.

"We think we are in a good position," Goldwater said. "There is a sense of optimism that has not been here in years. There is a passion for baseball in this town."

If the District acquired a major league franchise, it could happen as early as next season. The team would play at RFK Stadium until the new stadium is completed, officials said.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator