Future of Nats Park in jeopardy as permit nears expiration

Nationals fans and concertgoers may not be allowed in Nats Park soon. 

The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), the city’s permitting agency, opted not to reissue another temporary occupancy permit to Nats Park until the owner, Events DC, goes before the city’s zoning commission. 

The dispute has to do with Events DC not exactly living up to its end of the bargain.

When former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams signed off on the building of Nats Park 16 years ago, it was done under the condition that the ballpark would also include 46,000 square feet of space for shops, services, entertainment, and art. 

That area was supposed to be on the First St. and Potomac Ave. side of the stadium.

The ballpark, which has hosted numerous dignitaries including Pope Benedict XVI, opened in 2008.

However, since the other use space had not been completed, DCRA kept issuing temporary certificates of occupancy.

The Washington Business Journal was first to report: DCRA is done.

A source tells FOX 5 this issue has to be addressed — DCRA will not issue another temporary permit until Events DC goes before the city’s zoning commission to discuss its plans for the previously agreed upon space usage. 

There is now a hearing slated for Sept. 29th, which is also one day before the current ballpark certificate of occupancy permit is set to expire.

A general view of National Park in an 18 frame High Dynamic Range composite image as the Nationals work out during Summer Camp on July 4, 2020, in Washington D.C. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Events DC owns Nats Park along with a number of other venues, including RFK Stadium and the Convention Center. A spokesperson tells FOX 5 the stadium did include about 17,000 square feet of other use space when it opened the stadium in 2008. 

No businesses or art and entertainment companies appear to be occupying that space.

Events DC’s attorney already submitted a request, asking the zoning commission to reduce the required space to the 17,000 sq. feet. the stadium already maintains. The group is also asking for a timeline to be set to build out the current space.

Why wasn’t this done sooner? 

Some tell FOX 5 the 2008 recession was a big factor. 

An attorney for Events DC told the zoning commission that the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic impacted a plan proposed in 2019 by the Nationals.

Across South Capitol Street, long-time residents tell FOX 5, right now they feel too many new residential buildings are going up too quickly. 

When asked if the retail, arts and entertainment space would’ve actually helped, one man answered: "Yes, it’s more jobs. The more you build, the more you can get the people. So, if you do that, you wouldn’t see a lot of people on the streets."

"I think it’s definitely late in the game, no pun intended, as it comes down to a few days before the deadline with this," said Edward Daniels, ANC 6D Chair. "I think that when the stadium was first zoned back in 2006 for development, the neighborhood couldn’t sustain retail and art space and everything they were planning with the venue. But I think that now, obviously, we can. We’re one of the fastest growing neighborhoods of D.C." 

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Edwards told FOX 5 the ANC will have to approve plans first, and they're scheduled to meet with both Events DC and the Nationals on Wednesday for an emergency session.

Daniels acknowledged 17,000 sq. ft. is a lot less than the original 46,000 sq. ft. 

He also said Events DC and the Nationals are great community partners. 

The most important thing, Daniels told FOX 5, is what plan Events DC and the Nationals come up with.

Daniels said the neighborhood does not want to see more bars in that space.  

In a statement to FOX 5, Events DC said: "Events DC looks forward to the Zoning Commission’s decision regarding the existing retail space at Nationals Stadium along First Street in Southeast. The approximately 17,000-square-feet of retail space was built as a shell within the original stadium and delivered in 2008, per the zoning order. However, the neighborhood at the time was in the early stages of redevelopment and could not support new retail, thus Events DC made the decision to align the retail development with that of the neighborhood. The Washington Nationals had a plan for the potential retail and entertainment space that was supported by Events DC and approved by DC Council in 2019, but due to the pandemic those plans did not come to fruition."

Events DC and the Washington Nationals are eager to move forward with the build out of the existing retail space and provide more options to the now vibrant Capital Riverfront community.

Events DC will request an extension of the existing Certificate of Occupancy from DCRA pending the Zoning Commission’s decision.  

FOX 5 did not hear back from the Mayor’s Office or some council members on this situation. We’re also waiting for a response from DCRA.