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Are the Days Numbered for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission?

This afternoon, Gregory O'Dell, chief executive of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment, will throw out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals' game. It's good he's getting the chance now because it is not clear what the future holds for his agency. Some D.C. Council members are itching to get rid of the commission.

The quasi-independent commission is in charge of managing RFK Stadium and the D.C. Armory, as well as staging sports events and other entertainment acts at those venues. The commission was also responsible for overseeing construction of Nationals Park. It has had a colorful history; in 2002, then-commission director Robert Goldwater staged a Grand Prix auto race that failed to produce the expected revenue and generated noise that angered residents. The 10-year contract for the race was canceled after its inaugural year and Goldwater was ousted shortly thereafter.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) then hired Allen Y. Lew, who had overseen construction of the Convention Center, to restore respect to the commission. Lew got the ballpark project underway before leaving to head up the D.C. public schools modernization program and handing the reins to O'Dell, a former member of the office of the deputy mayor for economic development.

What has angered the council, however, is the fact that the commission ran a $2 million debt last year and came to the city for a bailout, which was approved. However, the commission is asking for another $2.5 million in Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's 2009 budget, and many council members are balking. They're not just concerned about the public subsidy, but also about the relevance of the commission. Now that Nationals Park is built, some members are saying, what's the point of the commission? Why not just let the city's Office of Property Management take over at RFK and the Armory? The Nationals are managing the new ballpark.

"OPM is already in charge of maintenance for other buildings, so why can't they just be in charge at RFK?" said Kwame Brown (D-At Large).

But other council members, including Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), say they expect the commisson to survive, considering it successfully opened the ballpark on time. The city is considering subsidizing construction of a soccer stadium at Poplar Point in Ward 8, and the commission could be integral in that effort.

Commission members--including a 13-member board headed by Fenty's lawyer friend Matthew Cutts--are concerned enough about their futures that they have been lobbying the council and mayor hard over the past several weeks.

But it did not help their cause that council Chairman Vincent Gray (D) and most of the other members were angered that Fenty has refused to turn over the full allotment of the council's tickets to the city's luxury suite at the ballpark. Gray has expressed frustration that the commission did not do more to prevent Fenty from gaining control of the tickets, according to council members. Commission members say they had no control over the tickets, which were distributed by the Nationals to the mayor's office.

By David A Nakamura  |  April 30, 2008; 10:56 AM ET
Categories:  David Nakamura , Economic Development  
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