City Desk

Nationals Park: No Revival Yet. Here Are A Few Reasons Why

Yesterday, the Washington Post printed some very obvious news to anyone who's been on South Cap. Street in the past year: Nationals Park hasn't sparked much revitalizing in Southwest. The city spent $1 billion in infrastructure upgrades and developers have made huge holes in the ground and left a lot of buildings still vacant.

As the article states, District residents weren't just sold a new stadium paid for with public dollars. No. As an old story noted, they were sold the "Stadium District"–a full-service community of new retail and new museums and new parks. The city hasn't come close to a Stadium District. Last week, Fisher wrote about the missing neighborhood as well.

What spilled forth in Sunday's A1 article was a lot of excuse making on the part of city officials and developers.

My favorite:

"It just so happens that implementation is occurring during the worst economic downturn in recent history. So things are going to struggle a little bit," said Neil O. Albert, the District's deputy mayor for economic development.

Really? This effort had been planned for years–long before the recession and banking collapse. The reasons Nationals Park hasn't revitalized the neighborhood are too numerous. But let me try.

*The city took too long fighting and underestimating the old tenants they had to boot to make way for the stadium. There is still a lot of concern over stadium funding and revenue from the games. Councilmember David Catania has said that the city's financial wiz Natwar Gandhi has been basically wrong on everything concerning stadium-related money. As LL reported (in the above link):

"Catania says he has no faith in the latest ballpark numbers—an attitude, he says, informed by history. 'Tell me one thing [Gandhi]’s been right on,' he says. 'He’s been wrong on attendance, wrong on revenue, wrong on environmental remediation, wrong on land.'"

*The city and the Nationals spent most of last season fussing with vendors. So while there were plenty of vacant spaces, vendors fought the city and the team over where they can set up shop and how many could set up shop. This fight dragged on and on and only ended up hurting the one group of people who seemed ready and willing to set up shop near the ballpark. The vendor fight went all the way to D.C. Superior Court.

*The stadium's construction hurt a lot of older tenants when it came to higher property taxes, etc. While new buildings went up without tenants, the old ones got squeezed. One new apartment building wasted a lot of goodwill over a battle with its tenants. The fight was over parking spaces in its garage.

*In March 2007, the Lerners completed construction on a building at 20 M Street SE. After two years, they only have one tenant. Long before the economy collapsed, they couldn't fill their own building.

*The Lerners are trying to make Peter Angelos look good. The Nats owners wasted their first season in the new ballpark refusing to pay rent on the ugly thing. Meanwhile, they fielded a crummy team. At a time when people were just starting to talk about this season, the Nats GM Jim Bowden resigned over allegations of skimming from contract bonus of Latin American players.

*Even the Post's critic hated the stadium's look.

*Nationals Park made history as one of the worst attended new stadiums ever.

*The Lerners and private companies built way too many parking lots.

*The city depended on private developers to pay for other projects. When the private development started failing, projects got stalled.

*Last year, I wrote a silly little blog item wondering about how housing prices could be so high just because the homes were located near Nationals Park. I noted that the surrounding area hadn't quite developed:

"The neighborhood surrounding the ballpark hasn’t changed all that much. It’s still mechanic shops and liquor stores. Aside from the ballpark, the new amenities include a Subway sandwich shop, a Starbucks, and a Five Guys. Those things are all great. Who doesn’t want to eat fresh? Who doesn’t like a super strong cup of coffee? Who can’t resist a juicy burger? But still–$579,000 for a town house?"

I was hammered by Matthew Yglesias for being short-sighted. Looks like I turned out to be right. A Five Guys and a Starbucks still doesn't mean economic development. And a future of skyline of yuppie Lofts is not happening in the near future. What scares me is supposed liberals like Yglesias and neighborhood boosters like JDland are really pining for those Lofts.

JDLand has a personal stake in the revitalization of the neighborhood. It drives traffic to her blog. It makes her feel better. Whatever. JDLand's blog is practically an ad for these new Loft and premo apartment towers. I wonder if she's ever noted the displacement of all those low-income tenants from Arthur Capper? I wonder if she cares what happens to the residents of James Creek who live directly across from the stadium?

So far the discussion concerning the ballpark is all about: when are those lofts coming, when will they be filled with tenants? I hope the discussion turns into a broader one that includes not just the new tenants but the displaced tenants as well. And all the ones that feel left behind to deal with all those empty lots.

*photo by Darrow Montgomery.

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  • DC

    Hey Jason - you forgot to mention that every resident that once lived in the Arthur Capper Buildings will have the option to move back into an affordable housing unit as there will be more than a 1 to 1 replacement of affordable units - does it make you feel good that you write factually inaccurate material? Maybe you should do more research - neighborhood revitalization is a process and takes years to complete - people wrote the same stuff about the verizon center years ago and now that is one of the hottest parts of the city.

  • Skinsfan

    DC is on point, people were saying the same thing about the verizon center when it was first built. calm down and give the place a chance to grow into itself if you actually go down there, there are already a few companies that have set up shop in those new office buildings.

  • Jason Cherkis

    DC: Thanks for buying into DCHA's standard line of 1 to 1 replacement. If you read the fine print, that's not necessarily the case. There will be all kinds of restrictions and loopholes and it depends on what your definition of low-income means. Again, if you read the story linked above in the blog post--the link is for Arthur Capper--you'd see my post was accurate.

    The criteria used by DCHA will likely diminish the numbers of those moving back. Pre-Arthur Capper, during other Hope 6 developments, DCHA admitted that they didn't even keep records of former tenants and where they ended up. So to suggest that Arthur Cappers' old tenants would be a) allowed to come back and b) even notified that they can move back is absurd.

  • Jason Cherkis

    Skinsfan: I drive on South Cap all the time. I go by the stadium all the time. I see that there are plenty of vacancies and that the Post story was more than accurate. As for the few companies that have set up shop, I guess you are counting the Starbucks, the CVS, and the Five Guys. Wow.

  • Jason Cherkis

    As the WCP cover story states, DCHA told residents that only residents in "good standing" would be allowed to come back.

  • Resident in Good Standing

    Jason says, "As the WCP cover story states, DCHA told residents that only residents in “good standing” would be allowed to come back."

    Is that really too much to ask?

    As far as pricey rowhomes, visit They aren't making rowhomes so close to Capitol Hill for much less than 579k. If you know of some I'm missing, please fill us in on where to find them.

  • gfunk

    Speaks volumes when the author of an article feels compelled to reply at a 3:2 ratio to anyone else.

  • Jason Cherkis

    The problem with "good standing" is that it could mean anything. One thing AC tenants fought against was a good-credit requirement. How many low-income tenants would meet that requirement??

  • Angry Al Gonzales

    This stadium caused the forced eviction of hundreds of low-income residents who will never return. If you have a low income, how can you afford to move back once you've been evicted? It's like New Orleans - that city has lost about 250,000 people, permanently.
    Where is the low-income housing around the Verizon Center, replacing what was lost? These stadiums were built solely as welfare for millionaire athletes, billionaire owners, & wealthy, vulturous capitalist businessmen and developers.
    Meanwhile, Fenty gets his free luxury box at the Verizon Center & two luxury boxes at Nationals Park. How is that not "pay for play"?

  • Maia

    I think the Washington Post article was very unfair. It took a good 5 years before the Gallery Place area began to mature into the neighborhood we see today.

    Come back and report on this in 2014.

  • Mike Licht
  • Resident in Good Standing

    Jason says, "The problem with “good standing” is that it could mean anything. One thing AC tenants fought against was a good-credit requirement. How many low-income tenants would meet that requirement??" I don't know. You're the intrepid reporter, you tell me. What's wrong with requiring good credit scores? I spend time every year making sure than my credit is in good shape and that my credit reports are accurate so that I can reap the benefits of low interest rates, better jobs, etc. etc.

    The fact of the matter is that although all of the development is not here yet, violent crime has gone down in the area, tax revenue is going up, and there's no longer an open air drug market at Cappers. Does anyone dare suggest that maybe it was time to rethink the neighborhoods of near southeast? What's the point of the city pouring money into low density, crime ridden public housing, when they can have developers and customers subsidize new high-density units that are actually integrated into a neighborhood with services and amenities? Yeah, it might not be 100% the same people moving back in, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

  • Skinsfan

    Jason Cherkis Iam talking about BAE Systems, Parsons (who signed for 30 percent of a building's space early on), deals have now been completed with Battelle's transportation group (about 6,000 sq ft) and NAVSEA contractors, to name a few their names are literally on the buildings get your facts right Jason and go take a drive again down there.

  • Jason Cherkis

    Resident in Good Standing: You are arguing the old standard line about Hope 6: Anything--say massive displacement--is better than a rundown housing project filled with open-air drug markets. Having spent a lot of time in Arthur Capper during its heyday, I can tell that much of what was wrong in that neighborhood was this:

    1) The police really didn't police AC.
    2) Most of the customers that fueled those open-air drug markets were people who lived elsewhere.
    3) The buildings themselves were horrible--as in DCHA failed to fix them.
    4) You can underestimate the influence of crack and a city in financial ruin to create havoc in marginalized and isolated communities like AC.

    I'm just pointing a few things always left out of development questions and the typical boosterism associated with that neighborhood:

    1) No one talks about the displacement of low-income tenants.
    2) It's a lie to say that they would be welcomed back.

    Also, you mention that crime is way down. How could crime be anything but down? Much if not all of AC is a parking lot now.

    I don't have a problem with new condos. I have a problem when all we talk about is those new condos.


    What you are talking about is still just a tiny fraction. And those are just day workers, commuters. The city didn't convince the public to spend all those government funds so that BAE Systems could find a home.

    They spent all that money on the idea that the stadium wouldn't just mean a stadium, that there would be a life beyond just the home games.

  • MLK Library urchin

    Of note: Neil Albert has to be, along with Victor Reinoso, one of the most inarticulate and boring public officials working on behalf of DC voters. He is a holdover from A. Williams admin and another one who has a clammy handshake. He is of no consequence regardless of his deputy assitant director deputy titles. He always looks confused.

  • Bob

    I'm sorry that Jason misses the old days of the neighborhood when it was infested with drug dealers and other low life. But the bottom line is that it is a much better and safer neighborhood these days.
    The EYA neighborhood being built is mostly sold and houses are quite affordable by DC standards. The work force housing that is part of the development is very affordable and should encourage police officers, firefighters and teachers who work in DC to live in DC. It will be a good neighborhood for decent, law-abiding citizens with families to call home. I'm sorry if Jason finds this prospect boring, but not every gentrifying neighborhood can be transformed into a hiptard playground. That's why H Street and U Street are around.

    And another poster wisely pointed out that it took Gallery Place five years to develop into a useful neighborhood after Verizon Center was built. Who knows how long it would have taken to run-off the hookers and bums from that neighborhood without the arena.

    Development will pick back up when the economy improves and the neighborhood will continue evolving into something Washingtonians can be proud of instead of a blighted crime zone where even cab drivers feared to go.

    And finally the ballpark is in Southeast, not Southwest.

  • Skinsfan

    thank you bob

  • Hillman

    I have no problem with public housing tenants having to be 'in good standing' to return.

    This is FREE housing for them - paid for by my tax dollars. As such, it's not too much to ask them to not actually commit and be convicted of crimes, to maintain a minimum level of fiscal responsibility, etc.

    Many of those in AC had been there basically since the units were built.

    Remember that public housing (with the exception of senior housing) is supposed to be temporary. It was never meant to be a freebie for life.

    And Jason fails to point out that the stadium was paid for by a tax ONLY on large businesses. They by and large supported this tax. Nothing came out of the average DC taxpayers pocket. And that ballpark tax is now collecting between $10 and $20 million more per year than is needed to service the debt.

    So that alone is millions that goes - you guessed it - to the DC tax coffers.

    Plus the land around the stadium jumped in value from less than one billion to over five billion. That's tens of millions per year in additional tax revenue.

    The city is ahead tens of millions per year. And that's just as it is now.

    Is the area what we'd like? No. But it's a damn sight better than it was.

    And the fact that there is WAY less crime in that area and spilling over into southern Capitol Hill is a benefit you can't really measure just in dollars.

  • Shiba-Fussa

    Why bother to leave a comment when Jason Cherkis is always going to be right no matter what anyone says. I guess Jason Cherkis beleives the area should have just stayed the way it was back before the bad 'ole days of today.

    Maybe Jason Cherkis should write an article about what is going on in SE instead of his bitter, negative, one-sided view point.

  • Sweet William

    MLK urchin: That may be so. Albert's office replaced two entire development agencies as the go-to place for green-lighting development in the District. It's an accretion of developing power a major Northeast city has not seen since Robert Caro was knee-high to Robert Moses. Inarticulate and boring seem to work just fine for Mr. Albert.

  • Downtown rez

    "...2) Most of the customers that fueled those open-air drug markets were people who lived elsewhere..."
    The same can be said of just about any open air drug market anywhere. You know, because it's a market, and a market is a place that people drive to.
    The important part (that you are missing) is that the residents of that area ran the market. It would not have exsisted without their allowing it.

  • SW Resident

    You are right about the Southeast development surrounding the ballpark. Former Ward 6 Council woman Sharon Ambrose is responsible for this poor planning scheme and the waste of tax dollars. Whoever wrote that the average taxpayer doesn't pay a dime toward the stadium is economically illiterate. The top grossing businesses in ths city just happen to be the utilites. Who in this city doesn't need Pepco, Washington Gas, Verizon, Comcast, etc? And these companies don't have a license to print paper. If they are taxed, their customers pay. So, we pay, and pay, and pay. For what? More parking lots? David Catania is right. Gandhi has been wrong on every number. No one with his record of failure should be allowed to keep his job. There is ample blame to go around. Don't forget the AWC and NCRC, a major waste of our tax dollars.

  • Jason Cherkis

    I am not going to debate the early '90s welfare and public housing policies here. Needless to say, I think we should all question a housing authority that will allow people to move back into AC based on "good standing" requirements.

    We also know that the city has spent more than $1 billion in infrastructure costs (not including the stadium spending) for a fatcat developer who can't even fill his own building near the stadium nor could he sell out opening day.

    I have no doubt that many years from now the Stadium District will be a vibrant place. I just wonder if that vibrant place won't be the exclusive stomping grounds for the rich and well connected.

  • Dan maceda

    The Arthur Capper Hope VI project was underway a couple of years before there were any plans for a stadium.Gay nightclubs were what were mainly displaced by the Stadium.
    The problem with the Arthur Capper was it was warehousing the poor in a an area walled off by the SW Freeway on two sides , the highwalled Navy yard on the third side and school bus lots and a gas station and waste transfer station on the fourth side.No stores except for a few liquor stores , chinese take out and some small delis.
    It is a disgrace that a stadium and the office buildings and condos could be planned and built and there is no end in sight when the Hope VI project will be completed.

  • ghost town

    What was up with the attendance yesterday? Tickets available at the gates until opening pitch and later announced as a "sell-out"? How bush league is that?

    You'd pretty much need to be Travis Bickle himself to lack a connect for free Nats tix. Christ. . . even the Pirates sold out opening day, and they're about to break the Phillies record for most consecutive losing seasons by a pro sports franchise.

  • Hillman

    "I just wonder if that vibrant place won’t be the exclusive stomping grounds for the rich and well connected."

    Um, it's on what should be zillion dollar per square foot property, between riverfront and the seat of the freaking government.

    It should be for the rich.

    That way their taxes can continue to contribute to giving out free crap to the unworking, which seems to be the real concern here.

    We tried having a city without rich people. Didn't work too well, did it?

  • Jason Cherkis

    Hillman: I think you pretty much sum up the state of the District. Washington, DC: For The Rich.

  • kris

    Maybe we can bring back those same Capper residents who asked me if I wanted to buy crack or those who mugged a guy in broad daylight. Why don't we find out where the author, Darrow, lives and pay for the crack dealers to set up shop right outside his home? Keeping out residents with criminal backgrounds is not a bad thing.

    Also, it took a few years for the developers of the Verizon Center area to see it become the city destination that it is today (and that was during the boom). Those very same people are negotiating with a number of companies and are trying to convince them to come to the area. However, this takes time, especially with this economy.

  • Downtown rez

    Jason: That's just foolish. There's plenty of affordable housing in DC (unless, by affordable, you mean affordable by those who earn less than 10K/family member/year and those who can't pass a background check).
    Why on earth shouldn't best land use considerations be a factor in where it's placed?

  • Skinsfan
  • Shiba-Fussa

    Jason, wanna write a follow-up article? Think it times to update with all that has changed