Thursday, March 29, 2007
My Own Virtual Tour With Allen Lew
“I would describe the architecture as 'Transparency'. You will see the ballpark glow from its insides. So, when you are walking or driving along the outsides with all the glass and the concrete structure, you will be able to see the faces and heads of those that are inside. This Ballpark is going to be really nice looking, and special.”
Allen Lew is The Executive Director Of The DC Sports & Entertainment Commission. He has been handed the job to oversee the construction of The Nationals New Stadium rising on South Capitol Street. And, you can tell just from his comment above, Lew is excited about the new ballpark.
The 2007 Baseball Season is upon us, The Final Season Of Baseball at RFK Stadium in Washington. And, as the sun sets on one of the last of this countries Multi-Purpose Sports Stadiums, the spanking new Nationals Park is rising on the Anacostia Waterfront in Southeast, DC. Despite all the wrangling, politics and bad feelings that surrounded the hotly contested debate on public financing of the facility, The New Ballpark for Our Washington Nationals is REAL and expected to open, next April, 2008 for Opening Day. Just last week, The DC Auditor, Deborah K. Nichols, announced the project was "On Time And On Budget".
So, it was time to take a look inside the ever growing ballpark. I reached out to Bill Hall, a partner with the Law Firm of "Winston & Strawn", here in Washington, DC. Bill runs the firm's Environmental Office. Hall has been Chairman of the Baseball Committee of the DC Sports & Entertainment Commission since its creation in 1996 and his 11 year pro bono commitment to the baseball project has been a key factor in positioning the City to successfully win the competition for the Montreal Expos and finalizing the ballpark deal. Bill is a big fan of The Nats320 Blog, and agreed to set up a private tour of The New Nationals Park. Readers might recall that Bill Hall was instrumental in finding answers for my recent post concerning whether The New Ballpark will have escalators to the Upper Concourse. Yes, the Stadium will.
At 9:45 AM on March 27th, we met at the Construction Entrance at N & Half Streets. SE. The two hour tour consisted of just eight folks. Hall, Lew, Clark Construction Vice-President and Senior Project Superintendent--Ronnie Strompf, Philip Artin (Allen's right hand man at The DC Sports & Entertainment Commission), DCSEC Director of Communications & Public Affairs--Tony Robinson, myself and two of Section 320's most faithful supporters--Andy & SenatorNat. Both, good friends with Bill Hall. That was it. Allen Lew gave the overviews on how swiftly the ballpark project is moving forward. Also, the many hats he must wear to protect and advise everyones separate interests in the outcome. There are many. Ronnie, overseeing the actual day to day construction, filled in all the details. The amount of information given was immense. So, this will be a two parter. Part Two posting up on Friday Night, March 30th.
Today, my chat with Allen Lew. Tomorrow--Ronnie Strompf will talk about all the intimate details of the construction efforts being made to make The Nationals Ballpark Unique.
No one is more responsible for the Nationals New Stadium than Allen Lew. A native New Yorker, Allen's entire background involves Management, Oversight and Development on a large scale. Architecture is his life. He carries a Master of Science Degree in Architecture and Urban Design from Columbia University. Along with a Graduate "Bachelor of Architecture" Degree from the City College of New York of Architecture. As Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of The New York Convention Center Operating Corporation, Lew was heavily involved in the start up of The Jacobs K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, which opened in 1984. In 1986, Allen was appointed Acting President and CEO of the Javits Center. Later Mr. Lew became a Vice President of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation and then a VP of a large scale Commerical Office/Residential Developer called Rose Associates.
But, his life changed in 1996, when he agreed to come to Washington DC to manage and oversee the development of Washington's New Convention Center for the Washington Convention Center Authority. Building that enormous structure was his responsibilty. And, after finishing off that project, he moved to the DC Sports and Entertainment Commission. First to refurbish RFK Stadium for The Nationals Inaugural Season in 2005 and now to lead the building process on South Capitol Street.
Having worked on both the DC Convention Center and now the Stadium Site, how similar or different are they to handle?
“That one (DC Convention Center) was 2.5 Million Square Feet. This one (Stadium) is 1 Million Square Feet. I thought that Convention Center was tough politically, but this stadium is worse. I learned a lot working on the Convention Center in terms of what I can do and what I definitely can not do. So, because of that (experience), we have been able to push the schedule much harder. And, be able to hold the costs down much better.”
"But, make no mistake about it, this has been a HUGE CHALLENGE. I use to think the Convention Center was a tough challenge, but this is a far greater one. Its much more complicated with the politics. I guess Major League Baseball adds a whole new dimension to it. There seems to be political opposition that is far more staunch that anything we had with The Convention Center. But, I feel we have been able to overcome all of that. Our approach has always been to take the high road. We try to work with all the various groups and interested parties to address their issues—trying to make it work for everyone.“
Does that mean that
MLB is still involved with the project in any way?
“The program for this building was negotiated by them, just as all of the other issues that relate to The Lerners and The Nationals. Until The Lerners bought the team, the 29 Owners of Major League Teams, were the ones who owned the team (Washington). So, they are the ones that set the frame, established the menu for this new ballpark."
Then, Tony Robinson added: "But, the construction itself, is all the Sports Commission. We are doing that on behalf of The City.”
But, while you are working on the stadium do your interests only represent the DC Government view?
"I work for both. Everyone is involved. There are City Issues. Nationals Issues. We have 400 trades (workers) on the job site right now. But, if you count all the engineers, all the consultants, all the specialist involved, there are probably 1000 people working on this project already. So, I have to deal with all those issues too. There is alot to cover. A lot of technical stuff—to keep this all going and moving forward.”
Do you have to deal with many of the projects surrounding the park, including parking?
"Yes, I am directly involved with the parking structures. But, I am involved with everything from Water and Sewage Authority (WASA), to PEPCO, to Metro. Then, we also have community issues. People have concerns about how the stadium is going to impact them with the stadium is up. Then, we have interest groups that want to see the building be the greenest stadium (environmentally) in the country. If we get Green Certification, and are granted that, we will be the first ballpark in the country.”
Some may not fully understand what you mean by Greenest Stadium?
"The Ballpark Agreement spells it out. We had a similar agreement in the (DC) Convention Center. You use recyclable materials, whenever possible. You come up with systems that any runoff from the site is filtered. The ground water that is generated from the site is also filtered and treated before it goes into the sewage system. They are basic things that most consumers are aware of, like using energy efficient lights, recyclable materials, things like that. It’s a whole matrix of measurements that must be matched up before you are recognized as ‘GREEN’ or not.”
And the parking situation?
"At one point the argument was we (DCSEC) would only oversee the 21 acres (the ballpark footprint), but we have had to step in and coordinate the effort. There were too many different pieces out there that were not connected to each other. So, we sat in, The Mayors Office, Department of Transportation (DDOT) with The Nationals representatives to tackle all these problems “
So, How does the City feel about the project right now? Are they at ease with the construction after everything that went on to get to this point?
“The Council recently had the DC Auditor look at the Ballpark Project. And, at the hearing last Thursday (March 22nd), she said it was “ON TIME & ON BUDGET”, which helps ease some of the tension. I think a lot of people who are not familiar with this part of DC, are not even aware of the amount of progress that has been made over the past year. We broke ground last May, 10 months ago, and we have a lot to show for it." (Many people have expressed surprise to me when I tell them the Stadium is already a Big Erector Set—SBF) "Yes, that’s true. I am really proud of what we are doing."
Are there any major hurdles that still need to be jumped over?
"As you know, one of the key milestones was to hit the October 6th (2006) date to get steel started. We hit it. We started to put steel in on October 5th. Pretty much, all the major milestones we had in our schedule we have hit.” (In fact, Allen then pulled out a color coded time schedule and proceeded to reel off the past and current work schedule with Ronnie Strompf confirming the on time marks of the construction)
“This is the summary of all the major milestones. You got the demolition started last April (2006). Excavation started in May, 2006. The Pile Driving was in May. The Main Concourse in July ’06. The structural pre-caste in September. The structural steel in October ’06. Then we had the Club and Upper Level Concourses added in December, ’06. The Building Envelope (Basic Structural Design) May ’07. (Now looking at Ronnie) We are on target for that? [“Yes, definitely, actually starting that in April, said Ronnie.”] "And, we never want to say when we are ahead of schedule. We don’t want to be jinxed!! Escalators and Elevators, July ’07. Field Irrigation System—also July ’07. Field Turf, September ’07. Then signage and graphics and all the frilling stuff—November ’07. Does that give you a flavor of how well we are doing. (Yes, I replied-SBF). This is my cheat sheet (waving his paper). It's how we stay on schedule."
Baseball fans have certain ideas about how the new ballpark should look. This one is different and breaks the mold of the RED BRICK and STEEL Retro Parks established since Camden Yards in Baltimore went online in 1992. Steel, Concrete and Glass will be Major Structural Pieces in the final puzzle here. But, as construction began many fans have shown concerns about the exterior look of the New Nationals Park. The Original Designs stated the exterior would retain the Monument/Government Limestone Look of the DC Landscape. Many believe that aspect of the design is being scraped.
So, I asked Allen Lew to explain how the Stadium Exterior will look?
"Its going to be steel and concrete on the exterior. But, the Pre-Caste Concrete will look like limestone. Same feel, same color, the same kind of effect as you see elsewhere in Washington, DC. Like the (DC) Convention Center, there is Limestone on the Mt. Vernon Place elevation. But, on the “L” Street Elevation the exterior looks just like Limestone, matches the other side perfectly, but its really Pre-Caste Concrete. Its called "Architectural Pre-Casting". (And, you use a computer to generate and match the color?--SBF) Yes, we can match it up, look at it (on the computer) and say ‘Yeah, that’s perfect’ We can simulate the color, no problem.”
Everyone has read and heard alot about the luxury amenities for the High Dollar Fans, but not much concerning the average fan, what's being done to accomodate them here?
“One of the basic things that is different from RFK Stadium is that this (NEW NATIONALS PARK) is a smaller stadium. It’s a much more intimate stadium. Fans are going to basically be right on and over the field. There are 41,000 Seats, but very close in. So, even when you are on the Upper Deck, you have a really great shot of the field. You are looking down right over it. And, the angles of the seats will provide a nice view from anywhere you sit in the park. This stadium will be fan friendly.”
“The ironic thing is that the seats that are higher up in the ballpark, which are the less expensive seats, will have the very best views of the city. From that standpoint its very unique. It is the only ballpark like this in The Nation’s Capital. When you do come here, you experience Washington beyond baseball. You will experience the fact that you are in The Nation’s Capital, that's special.”
“The Ballpark will have a lot of choices in food, beverages and all sorts of various club spaces, restaurants set up, for all levels of affordability. Obviously there is interest from those that want plusher accomodations, and they will get it. But, we will also have Pub Style environments. I think the fans will find this ballpark another step forward in the evolution of baseball stadiums.”
Many fans have asked about Monuments or Statues to Famous Washington Players to be displayed at the new ballpark (Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson & OF COURSE--Frank Howard come to my mind). Has there been any discussion on that?
"We’ve been working with The DC Arts Commission, so I am going to approach them for you guys (fans). I am going to check with the Architect to see what can be worked out. The Nationals have talked about some sort of Washington Baseball Hall of Fame in the Stadium." ( Are you involved in any of that?-SBF). “The team has talked about some things. At one point we were talking about doing something. We’ve just got to get a handle on it. I don’t know exactly where that is in progress. There is going to be something special done.”
The Lerners have announced a committment to an additional (approximate) $30 Million Dollars for a LARGE HDTV Scoreboard, Restaurant Additions and Amenties to the Suites, has this affected the construction project, in any way?
“Basically, they have looked to enhance certain features. Sure, its taken some time to do and implement those enchancements into the project, but we have worked with them, and not had any problems. They (The Lerners/Stan Kasten) come by fairly often. Understand, they must also market the building for Suite Owners and the Selling of Season Tickets to fans. They spend a lot of time here, as we do. There is very good communication."
A couple of months ago, I remember reading where you needed $18 Million Dollars for paving and other basic transportation needs around the stadium, not on the site—has that been solved or been made a cost overrun?
“No, it was very clear, about a year ago, when the (ballpark) legislation was passed, Nat Gandhi (THE DC GOVERNMENT's CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER) represented it to The (DC) Council. He said, if you included the $18 Million in our budget, then its obviously not $611 Million Dollars (The Ballpark Set Figure). It was that plus. And, if you included the cost of the Metro Station Upgrades (Navy Yard), you add that to the budget. But, if you exclude that cost, its carried outside. There was a number, like $667 Million talked about with The Metro Station and the $18 Million on the side. (We said) If you want us to do it, you have to budget for it. If you don’t want us to do it, set it aside. The Council decided to keep (that extra funding) on the side. There may be some that don’t recall there was legislation passed.”
“At the Convention Center (during construction), we had to deal with The Metro Station as well as road work around that site. That was the way it was set up there, too. I will do it whichever way they (The Council) want to do it. But, once you set up those rules, I operate by those rules. And, if you want to change the rules, then change the rules—but, you can’t change the rules without funding it.”
With all the wrangling that took place to make this construction project happen, what would occur if there was a cost overrun (The Stadium Project can not exceed $611 Million Dollars)?
“They’ve tried to anticipate that. Right now, The Nationals have paid for about $10 Million Dollars worth of stuff, which is above the original legislation. And, if the Feds (Federal Government) are paying for The Metro Station and even the roadwork, that $18 Million Dollars in roadwork we were talking about (surrounding the ballpark). Publicly, 80% of that $18 Million is Federal Highways Administration money, Federal Dollars, with a 20% matching Highway Trust Fund from The District of Columbia. So, that is also, a permitted add to the budget, without affecting the legislative caps. The other way is monies that might come from the private sector. Lets say you actually did sell development rights to purchase a retail block on First Street, (SE), you can add that (money) to the budget.”
With all the fuss that has gone into this battle to build the Nationals New Park, I concluded this portion of the tour by asking Allen Lew whether he actually enjoys his job?
"As far as all the things we are doing, you have to have some passion for it. I really feel that’s the difference." (But what are you going to do when this project is finished?--SBF) “Probably take one really long, really big, vacation!! (Everyone Laughs) I been asked that before. I said I was going to Maui for at least a month. Yeah, I’m tired, we’ve really been pushing hard. But, pushing hard is OK, as long as you are having fun. If you are not having fun, we should not be doing what we are doing. We are having fun. Some people think its an ideal career thing, working hard, having fun and still getting paid for it."
Tomorrow, complete details about the Nationals New Ballpark. The Intricate Stuff. The New Era Lighting Towers, The Intimacy of the Park. Andy, SenatorNat and I could not believe how close the seats are to the field, even from the Upper Deck. You are going to be surprised how close the Upper Concourse sits from the field. And, speaking of concourses, they are very expansive and wide. I think you will like it.
[I had a major problem with blogger tonight. The program just would not load up a majority of my pictures. Many were taking 20 minutes each to upload. Others would not load at all. It took nearly 3 hours to get as many on the post as I have right now. I took nearly 200 pictures. So I apologize for not being able to complete the story, picture wise, as well as I would have liked. Hopefully, Blogger will be less taxing for me, tomorrow]