I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a fan who doesn’t want the All-Star Game in the city. It’s so much more than just the game itself: the Futures Game, FanFest, Home Run Derby. Tens of thousands of fans flooding the park’s neighborhood for an entire weekend has to have an sizable economic impact (or not?), but it would also be an outstanding showcase for the new park we’re still proud of and just a little defensive about (see also: Showalter, Buck). A newer park,
Bailout Ballpark Citi Field in New York, was just granted the 2013 game. So when do we get our moment in the sun?
Former Nationals beat writer Ben Goessling looked at this very issue last season, and he concluded it wasn’t likely going to happen for about eight years. That feels right, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up arriving sooner. First, the Midsummer Classic shifts between leagues each year, so 2015 is the earliest we could see it here. Goessling looked at the area immediately around the park, an area for which “barren wasteland” wasn’t then too far off as a descriptor. There was simply no infrastructure around the park to support the tens of thousands of fans that would occupy the area for three full days. But great steps have been taken to get the area around the park to an acceptable level of self-sufficiency to show off our beautiful stadium, and while it’s not there yet, it’s rapidly getting closer.
The area around Nationals Park has always seemed conspicuously deficient in the kinds of places baseball fans like to haunt. Namely bars and restaurants. There are only perhaps four hotels within easy walking distance. After games Nats fans don’t seem too interested in sticking around; they shuffle off to the Navy Yard Metro stop and go on their merry way. Development along this Half Street path, clearly the prime area for development close to the park, has seen some recent signs of life, but it has also been stalled for years, with signs featuring constantly changing opening dates. Developers claimed a soft market for new construction following the recession of 2008 was responsible for the delays. Maybe so. However Washington, DC, was not hit nearly as hard as other areas of the country, and construction is quickly coming back across the city. It’s time for this strip to come to life, too.
The west of the stadium is blocked by residential pockets, many of them not particularly attractive. There’s not a whole lot the city can really do about that without creating an unwanted firestorm of controversy. We just discussed what’s happening in the small strip north of the stadium, but beyond that you hit the freeway, then the Capitol complex and its related infrastructure. So development is limited to the north. But it’s to the east of the park that the development is starting to take hold in a serious way. This piece from The Atlantic shows the changes that have already happened and continue to flower on the Navy Yard side of the stadium. The centerpiece of this development is The Yards, a massive mixed-use project, featuring office, restaurant, retail, and residential spaces, as well as numerous cultural amenities. For a vibrant ballpark scene, don’t look to the coming velodrome and development west of the park or to the tiny Half Street strip to the north. Look east to the future.
And hopefully it’s this kind of innovative development that will convince Major League Baseball to let Washington, DC, showcase Nationals Park as early as 2017. Or perhaps even 2019 for the 50th anniversary of the last time Washington, DC hosted the sport’s showcase.