Posted March 27, 2008
Fifteen blocks south of the US Capitol, at 8:05 pm this Sunday evening, a joyous thing will happen in Washington. The city’s major league baseball team, the Washington Nationals, will take the field for their first official game at their new stadium, Nationals Park. Environmentalists should applaud, for the stadium is a showcase of green development and will, I believe, prove a boost to smart growth as well in the town I call home.
I know that people can get all worked up about stadiums, especially if there is public financing involved or if, you know, they actually have to go somewhere. Former DC mayor Tony Williams was for this one. Current mayor Adrian Fenty, when he was on the city council, opposed it. Former council chair Linda Cropp pulled a John Kerry and was for it before she was against it, and then was against it before she was for it. All three will be there to celebrate on Sunday.
Count me among the boosters. First, as I’ve written here before, sports can play a uniting role in a community’s culture. Second, I’ve witnessed first hand what new sports facilities can do in rejuvenating city neighborhoods, first with Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and then with the Verizon Center in downtown DC. Every acre we can redevelop in the city tends to save 5-6 acres of countryside, slows the spread of pavement across watersheds, and helps keep driving and associated carbon dioxide emissions down.
In the case of Nationals Park (which is bound to have a cheesy corporate name at some point), the site is excellent: one block from a Metrorail public transit station, with three other stations less than a mile away; on previously developed urban land, not a greenfield on the fringe; and in an area of the city that has long lagged behind rebuilding efforts in other parts of Washington. As webmeister “JD” (Jacqueline Dupree) says on her amazingly comprehensive site about the project, the ballpark's 21-acre footprint was previously home to warehouses, parking lots, asphalt plants, auto repair garages, and a strip of nightclubs. (Five residences were also displaced, unfortunately, but only five.) Check out JD’s before and after photos of the stadium site, above, and the many more on her web site.
Moreover, the Nationals have earned certification from the US Green Building Council as the nation’s first officially “green” stadium. Environment-friendly features, in addition to the excellent location, include a green roof, complex underground water filters, a fifth of the framework built from recycled materials, water-conserving appliances, and energy-efficient lighting. Some of my NRDC colleagues helped out, and my colleague Melanie Shepherdson reports that we are hoping to work further with the team on greening their operations and perhaps assisting with some public education about the river and watershed. She says we're not there yet, but it could be a great opportunity. The green roof was donated by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and kudos to my friends at CBF for that.
Nationals Park will seat a little over 41,000 fans, and cost $611 million. It is being built largely with public funds raised through the sale of bonds, which will be repaid by stadium-generated revenues and a tax on businesses within the city. None of the public money is coming out of the city’s general fund. The Nationals have a 30-year lease and the team’s owners have paid for cost overruns and upgrades that exceed the city’s budget, which is capped.
A lot of people are grumbling over a preceived shortage of parking but, as noted, there are better ways to get there. And parking should open up when nearby office and retail buildings are ready for operation. The same worry was raised about the Verizon Center when it was new, and it is not a problem. At all. The stadium’s official site is here.
Meanwhile, some of the development that is going up around the ballpark promises to bring 24-hour life to this long-neglected part of town, creating a real urban neighborhood. Check out, for instance, Half Street, which will be just across the street north of the park, and will contribute 340 homes, 275,000 square feet of office space, a hotel, and 50,000 square feet of shops and restaurants. A block to the east is The Yards, a larger and more ambitious project that will include 2800 homes, 1.8 million square feet of office space, 300,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, and a five-acre park fronting the Anacostia River. It is being built by a branch of Forest City Enterprises, which has a good track record of green development and urban revitalization.
Good stuff. Not as good as basketball, mind you, but good enough. ;) Root, root, root for the home team. They can beat the Braves this Sunday, no problem.
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