When the Nationals open their season Sunday at their new stadium, Ken Wyban will be far away from the action in Willoughby, Ohio. But he will probably be thinking about the team and what he gave up--and what he got--so that the Nationals could have their new home.
Wyban was one of a handful of land owners in the 20-acre parcel in near Southeast who gave up their properties to the D.C. government two years ago to make way for the ballpark. In many cases, the city took the properties through eminent domain, though Wyban had agreed to sell before those cases went to court. Initially, the District offered him between $700,000 and $800,000 for his five-bedroom red-brick Civil War-era home that he had bought in 1998 and was restoring with an eye on opening a bed-and-breakfast.
Wyban and his lawyer, who had countered the city's offer by asking for more than $2 million, eventually settled for $1.5 million, a 10-fold increase on what he paid for the property. All told, the city has coughed up $43 million in additional land costs than expected, with millions more on the way because three land cases are still tied up in court. When we caught up with Wyban in a telephone interview today, he told us no one should blame the property owners for the rising stadium costs.
"I resent the fact that they're blaming the landowners for overrides. I could have told you there would be cost overrides. Their original cost estimates were outrageously low," he said.
Since leaving town on Feb. 3, 2006, Wyban first went to Tampa, Fla., where his mother lived. She was diagnosed with lung cancer, which she battled fairly successfully, before dying of pancreatic cancer last fall. He values the time he spent with her.
"I learned a lot about my childhood," he said. "When you're sitting in a hospital with nothing to do but kill time, interesting conversatons come up."
Wyban then relocated to Willoughby, near his father's home. He bought a two-bedroom house set amid three wooded acres, with a stream running through the property. It's a major change from his old brick home set in the mostly industrial area near South Capitol Street and the Navy Yard SE.
He acknowledges that he likes his new life, but he is still bitter by the District's public insistence that the stadium was the only way his old neighborhood would be revitalized. He points to the Navy Yard and the new federal Department of Transportation as evidence that the renaissance was already underway.
"That area was coming around, despite what anybody says," Wyban said. "They made it sound destitute, but that's a bunch of bull."
He said he has nothing against baseball as a fun spectator sport, but that he has mixed emotions about the business aspect of the game.
"Baseball does not feel real comfortable to me because it's more about money-making than fans," he said. "You've got to make money. I understand that, but at some point money shouldn't be the main concern. It should be: what can you give back to the fans?"
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