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The RFK Site Could Work

[Dec. 31st] --I know, I know. The MLB suits have repeatedly said no to a new stadium at the RFK site, so they'd likely go into spasms at the thought of renovating our old circular, waffle-topped friend.

But lets think this through a little bit.

Part of the problem between the city council and Bud Selig and MLB is that [for a variety of reasons] billion dollar decisions are being made too quickly, with many on both sides wary of both the process and the ultimate outcome of the stadium issue. The Anacostia site seemed to have been picked out of a hat as much as anything else. I seriously doubt that any demographic surveys were made of the region, with projections and cost comparisons helping to decide the outcome. The city has a stadium that is serviceable today, and could become a cornerstone for a "sports community" within the city. Why not renovate RFK and build around it a series of sports facilities that would bring thousands of Washington's athletic-minded citizens to its local nightly?

Riverfront Stadium, renamed Cinergy Field later in its life, was renovated and had its foot-print completed altered even though it was to be used for only two seasons before the Reds were to move into their new ballpark [granted, part of that major renovation was necessary to complete the Great American Ballpark being built next door]. Riverfront Stadium was the third of the "cookie-cutter" stadiums that were built using RFK as a basis for its design [Fulton County Stadium and Busch Stadium were the other two]. Riverfront was the first of the circular stadiums, however, to use artificial turf [and those gosh-awful sliding pits] instead of natural grass on its field. Everything about the stadium, from the color of the seats to its general construction, was b-0-r-i-n-g. Other than a fresh coat of paint and the occasional replacement of the turf, nothing much changed until 2001. The footprint of the new Great American Ballpark overlapped the outfield stands of Riverfront Stadium, and had to be removed to complete the new park. Following the end of the 2000 season, workman removed the outfield sections of the stadium, replaced the astro-turf with real grass, and gave the park a fresh coat of paint.

In just six months, the new Cinergy Field was ready for baseball.

I saw that first game on TV. I was still a Braves' fan then, and never missed an Atlanta game on TBS. I was stunned by the beauty of the new design of the old lady. It seemed to be a great place to watch a baseball game. Thanks to the Bengals' new stadium just down the road, Cinergy was no longer "multi-purpose." Oh, parts of it looked a little like Shea, and there was still more work to be done, but there was nothing about the facility that was a "negative" in any way. After two short seasons, the stadium was razed in favor of parking for the new park.

So, why not do the same at RFK? Rip out three-quarters of the outfield stands and supporting walls. Remove the vertical-beam facade from the stadium's exterior and replace it with glass. Build a square, supporting structure around the facility that would house the amenities that today's RFK doesn't have room for. The resulting 38,000 seat stadium, while not a gem, would be a jewel nonetheless.

On the surrounding land, a large, fan friendly mini-city could be built. Sports bars, fine restaurants, gyms and other athletics-based enterprises could easily turn the black top and tumbleweed appearance of the surrounding area into a place "to see and be seen." A soccer stadium could be built next to RFK to house DC United. The Armory could possibly be renovated and house a box-lacrosse team. The opportunities are endless.

The "new" RFK could be given a definitive life span, say ten years or so. During that time, the team's new owners, Major League Baseball and the D.C. City Council could all work together, patiently and cautiously, to design and build the "state-of-the-art" facility that everyone is dreaming about today But will never happen today. As the cost overruns continue to mount, our "grandiose" facility will be chipped at and chipped at until, when all is said and done, the park will be a simple structure with little more than seats, toilets and grass.

RFK could give us ten more years, and the cost of renovating the old gal could probably be recouped by building the new stadium in a way that will make sense, cost less and be in the right location. I know it'll never happen, but then they said that Alfonso Soriano would never play in the outfield.

Oh, shoot.

I suggested ripping out the upper deck outfield seats at RFK to an architect who was bidding on the renovation project in late 2004. (I don't know if his firm won.) He replied that such a major change was way beyond what was being considered for the short term, but I agree it's an option that should not be dismissed. A view toward the Anacostia River might just have a breathtaking effect, especially if they go ahead with long-term plans to make that area into a nature/recreation area. I also suggested to Tom Boswell in an Wash. Post online chat that RFK be given a few extra years of baseball life, and he seemed to agree with that. You never know...
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