Sunday, November 11, 2007

Oot in a Boot: National's Stadium

DC is a sports town. Invested or not, its hard to ignore the maroon and yellow clad Washington football team fans on Sundays, Capitals fans streaming in from all over on the subway on hockey nights, or the die hard Barra Brava of the DC United. Not even counting the local college sports teams, DC has a pretty hefty sports heritage. Its baseball history is a large part of the story. Home to the hapless Senators (two versions! the first left to become the Minnesota Twins, the other to become the Texas Rangers) and the Grays of the Negro Leagues, DC is not just a football town.

With the "return" of baseball to DC in 2004 (we got an orphaned Montreal team with a lot of baggage, and a losing record) came the monstrous, daunting responsibility of constructing a stadium, for a team with billionaire owners, on the taxpayer's dime. The price tag rose almost daily during the initial negotiations, debates and back room deals. One of the first firm numbers tossed about for the stadium cost was $440,000,000 in late 2004. That number rose and the official "cap," or maximum that the city will pay for the stadium ended up as $610,800,000. There are questions as to whether city's fiscal responsibility will rise above the $611 million for various hidden costs including overruns, but as of today, $611 million is the official number.

There are several other excellent websites like Ballpark and Beyond that cover the baseball stadium and surrounding development much better than I can on a one-day outing, but I wanted to go see the stadium site myself and see what these millions are buying. Full disclosure: I bought a partial ticket plan to the Nationals last year and will so again this year. I was against the public financing-at-all-cost strategy employed by former Mayor Williams, but am happy that an MLB team is located in the city of Washington. I would have liked to see the team owners (originally Major League Baseball, then the Lerner family) step up and take on a larger share of the fiscal burden, but since the former mayor ponied up and showed his cards before the game even began, we got caught holding the short straw.

Here are some photos of the stadium today from just outside its walls, from across the Anacostia River and from the Frederick Douglass Bridge.