New ballpark design unveiled
Nationals aiming to begin play in new stadium in 2008
WASHINGTON -- Mayor Anthony Williams, the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission and the Washington Nationals unveiled plans for a 41,000-seat state-of-the-art baseball stadium during a press conference Tuesday at the Washington Convention Center.
Williams and DCSEC officials are planning on having the ballpark ready for the 2008 season. The budget is scheduled to be $611 million in District funds, and the stadium is going to be located in southeast Washington along the Anacostia River waterfront. It should catch the attention of many fans, thanks to the way glass, steel, stone and concrete will be used on the outside of a building that will be a little different from recent ballparks but very much representative of the District.
"There was a lot of [talking], there was a lot of discussion, there was a lot of debate," said DCSEC chairman Mark H. Tuohey, III. "It will be ready by 2008. Our plan is to get it ready for Opening Day."
The stadium was designed by District-based Devrouax & Purnell Architects in a joint venture with the sports division of Kansas City-based Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, Inc. -- also known as HOK Sport -- and known throughout sports for its designs of athletic facilities.
The stadium will be located along the Anacostia River bounded by South Capitol Street to the west, M Street to the north, First Street to the east and Potomac Avenue to the south.
Included in the ballpark's configuration are approximately 22,000 seats in the lower bowl, 12,100 in the upper seating bowl, from where fans can see the U.S. Capitol building, 2,500 club seats, 1,112 suite seats, a 500-seat founder's club with indoor dining and a 1,300-seat diamond club with indoor dining.
Getting the politicians to agree on the financial details proved to be a nearly back-breaking chore for the Mayor, who constantly worked behind the scenes with the D.C. Council -- whose changes of direction often confused many and appeared at times to be blocking the project.
The project took about a year-and-a-half to come to fruition, and was finally approved by Major League Baseball and the D.C. Council last week after a long and difficult negotiating process. Clark Construction Group, along with the Hunt Construction Group and Smoot Construction, will build the ballpark over the next two years.
"It's kind of ironic," said D.C. Council member Jack Evans, one of the stadium's most ardent supporters. "It was harder to keep baseball than it was to get baseball."
Working out the financial caps and limits proved to be a political football for several months before a deal came together in recent weeks.
"We see baseball as part of an overall Anacostia River vision, not the other way around," Williams said. "We're going to have a better situation. We're going to have a better deal. The dream, the flame, was kept alive."
Statistics about the drawings and the ballpark show that it will be very similar to new stadiums built in recent years, including the one opening in St. Louis this season. Seating capacity, total gross area, space for team facilities all will be on a par with ballparks in Philadelphia, San Diego, Cincinnati, San Francisco and St. Louis.
Nationals president Tony Tavares said he anticipates it will be more of a pitcher's park, and the proposed dimensions seem to back that up. It will be 332 feet to the left-field foul pole and 335 to right. In addition, it will be 409 to dead center field, 370 to the power alley in right-center and 377 to the alley in left-center.
But Tavares said those distances can be changed if it is an issue after the team's owner is named. The Nationals are currently operated by Major League Baseball.
"We wanted flexibility," Tavares said. "But just getting this done is [great]. It's been arduous to say the least."
Local officials are hoping the ballpark will not only be something that serves as a cornerstone for the new Anacostia River waterfront entertainment district but also be looked at as something special in terms of sports architecture.
The exterior design includes a lot of glass, similar to the Washington Convention Center, which several people on this project also worked on. Tavares said the amount of glass surprised him a bit, but he liked the drawings.
More than anything, Tavares said he was glad to have the long process finished.
"It feels like being cured after having a long illness," Tavares said. "The good thing is we're healthy again."
Tavares said the new stadium has similarities to Turner Field in Atlanta because about 70 percent of the fans will have to enter through outfield gates.
When the team moved to the District, it was with the understanding that it would play at RFK Stadium for the first three years. Groundbreaking will commence at some point this month or next.
"We're forging forward now," said Allen Y. Lew, the DCSEC's chief executive officer.
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.