D.C. would cozy up to smaller stadium

Anacostia ballpark would follow intimate industry trend, seat 41,000

September 29, 2004|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - When it opened in 1992, Oriole Park at Camden Yards was hailed as an old-fashioned ballpark with modern amenities that nestled cozily into its urban environs.

Now, it appears a new stadium will be built in the region, and D.C. officials believe their proposed park will accentuate the qualities that fans like best about Camden Yards. They say it would be even more intimate.

The new, unnamed stadium would be built on the Anacostia River waterfront and would house the Montreal Expos, who are being lured to Washington subject to the approval of Major League Baseball.

The ballpark would be among a generation of facilities built smaller than their predecessors.

While 12-year-old Camden Yards seats about 48,000, the Expos' home off South Capitol Street would seat just 41,000 with 74 luxury suites and 2,000 club-level seats.

The stadium would be in line with its recent contemporaries such as Pittsburgh's PNC Park , which seats about 38,000, and Houston's Minute Maid Park, which holds just under 41,000.

Those stadiums each have design features intended as a link to their respective cities' pasts. PNC Park has a series of masonry archways akin to Forbes Field, which was once the Pirates' home.

D.C. officials hope their ballpark also might evoke the city's history. Some have suggested it might incorporate small elements of RFK Stadium or Griffith Stadium, which both housed the Washington Senators.

The latter closed in 1961. It had a loudspeaker on the wall in center, and a rectangular area dodging a tree jutted into center field. Neither RFK nor Griffith was considered as charming as many other baseball stadiums of their day.

Kansas City, Mo.-based HOK Sport + Venue + Event was the architect for Camden Yards and the Pittsburgh and Houston parks.

Officials of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, which hopes to sign a stadium agreement with Major League Baseball, and members of the local investment group declined to be quoted for this article. They said they wanted to wait until baseball had formally given D.C. the OK.

The investors' group has been soliciting fans' comments about the proposed $400 million stadium.

"We want you to tell us what aspects of a ballpark are essential in making it both an enjoyable place to catch a game and an integral part of our community," the Washington Baseball Club says on its Web site.

Unlike in Baltimore, the D.C. stadium would be constructed not in the central part of downtown, but in a more isolated area in need of help.

"There's very little development there. There are some bars and some warehouses," said Sharon Gang, a spokeswoman for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

"If the ballpark were sited there, it would help revitalize the entire Anacostia waterfront and would stimulate economic development across the city," Gang said. "The mayor calls the area one of the city's most undervalued natural resources."

The city has agreed to finance and build the stadium. It would be financed in part with bonds paid for from a gross receipts tax on major businesses. The investors' partnership has been emphasizing in its bid that the levy would apply only to firms that gross more than $3 million a year, meaning "mom and pop" businesses would be exempt.

The team would cover the facility's operating cost and pay rent averaging $5.5 million over a 30-year term.

In addition to the baseball park, a soccer stadium would be built across the river on land known as Poplar Point. It would be home to D.C. United of Major League Soccer and be primarily funded by the team's leading investor.

An urban affairs expert who studies stadium funding says the District could end up paying heavily and won't reap the dividends unless the ballpark is made part of a solid redevelopment plan.

"It's a very sweet deal for the team and Major League Baseball. It's going to increase the price someone will be willing to pay for the franchise," said Mark S. Rosentraub, dean of the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University and author of a book on stadiums and cities.

"By getting the District to produce a very lucrative deal, they will be able to compensate the other team owners for the Expos' losses and compensate the Orioles," Rosentraub said.

It could turn into a good deal for D.C. officials "if they can convince private capital to develop adjacent parcels, if you have a collaborative venture," he said.

Sun staff writer Jon Morgan contributed to this article.

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