On Sunday night the Washington Nationals baseball team played their first regular-season game in their new stadium, Nationals Park. President George W. Bush was on hand to throw out the opening pitch before the Nationals took on the Atlanta Braves. And what a game it was! The Nationals won 3-2 on a ninth-inning homerun by third-baseman Ryan Zimmerman. It was an exciting and appropriate ending for the first game.
The new stadium itself appears quite nice and modern. It should be for $661 million. It has views of the Capitol, the Washington Monument and the Anacostia River. Among its modern technological features is a 4,500-plus square-foot high-definition video screen above right-center field. The scoreboard is about three times larger than that at the old Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) stadium, a remnant from the 1960s that was the Nationals' home from 2005-07. Upper-deck seats sell for $5 the day of the game and appear to offer great views of the surrounding city while the 66 luxury boxes assure that no wealthy lobbyist is left behind.
When the new stadium was proposed some people vigorously opposed it. To build it the City condemned and seized several properties and spent the aforementioned sum. The City countered that it would improve the surrounding area by bringing in new businesses. This tends to be a specious argument allowing cities to bow to the demands of a professional sports franchise but in this case it may prove true.
The Verizon Center, the professional basketball arena in Washington, D.C., has changed dramatically the city center. When it was built in 1997 critics complained that it would eliminate Chinatown, the area in which it was built. On the contrary, it has proved a remarkable commercial success. Many Chinese businesses, particularly restaurants, still operate downtown, but they coexist with new restaurants and businesses, including many national chains. The area has improved dramatically in terms of crime, appearance and commercial real estate and people now visit Chinatown and central D.C. on a daily basis.
If Nationals Park follows the Verizon Center's lead it could have the same affect on south-central D.C., a strange place where industrial buildings are interspersed with run-down, low-income, drug-infested neighborhoods. Should new businesses spring up around Nationals Park they could provide excellent job opportunities for many in the community. Here is hoping the Nationals Park will be as successful for the community as the home team was on opening night.
Washington, D.C., the Nation's capital, direly needs improvements in many neighborhoods, in local government efficiency, in crime reduction. As the Verizon Center has been beneficial, let us hope the Nationals Park also will be. The National's capital does not need an April Fool joke.