Park Service Plays Hardball on Fort Dupont Park
By Vincent C. Gray
With the arrival of warm weather, baseballs are once again flying on city ballfields. Many people want to see more D.C. youth, particularly underserved children living east of the Anacostia River, get the chance to participate in America’s favorite pastime, and they’re dreaming of a youth baseball academy at Fort Dupont Park. Too bad these dreams are being held up by stalled negotiations between the District and the federal government.
Earlier this year, the D.C. Council passed legislation that was submitted by the mayor to transfer jurisdiction over 15 acres of underutilized land at Fort Dupont Park from the National Park Service to the District to build a youth baseball academy and expand the Fort Dupont Ice Arena. I remain grateful to former interior secretary Dirk Kempthorne for working with the District to facilitate a project that both governments believe will be a plus for D.C. youth. But we continue to face one major roadblock: the National Park Service’s unreasonable insistence that a broad “reversionary clause” be attached to the land transfer.
The youth baseball academy is one of the community benefits resulting from the District’s agreement to build and lease a stadium for the Washington Nationals. The academy won’t just teach children the sports and life skills that come from being part of a team. Participants also will receive academic instruction and get valuable experience in areas such as sports journalism, umpiring, groundskeeping and sports medicine.
In addition, expanding the ice rink will allow Kids On Ice and other excellent programs run by the nonprofit group Friends of Fort Dupont to reach many more young people. The Fort Dupont Ice Arena now serves 10,000 kids a year, but demand is so much greater. A second indoor rink is needed.
In December, the D.C. government and the National Park Service concluded an environmental review of the land transfer that involved extensive community outreach. The result was a “finding of no significant impact” on the environment. Nonetheless, we are still awaiting final action from the Park Service and the National Capital Planning Commission. The stumbling block is that the Park Service has included a highly unusual provision in the land transfer document — the broad reversionary clause — that is unacceptable to the city. This provision calls for the return of the property to the Park Service if there is noncompliance on many requirements that have nothing to do with the mandate that the land be used for recreation — conditions related to parking access, green building standards and naming rights, for example. The District believes such conditions can be enforced through means other than reversion.
This broad reversion clause would put planned public and private investments in the project at substantial risk and make it difficult, if not impossible, to obtain such financing. To try to move the land transfer forward, the District has agreed to the nonrecreational conditions and added language clarifying that each condition is enforceable. But the city has asked the Park Service to remove the reversionary clause’s application to any condition that does not relate to recreation.
By allowing this land transfer to proceed just as dozens of other property agreements between the federal and District governments have over the years, the National Park Service can allow the baseball academy and ice arena projects to finally move forward. Perhaps it will take intervention from the White House or the Congress to get us there. The dreams of our youth hang on a breakthrough.
The writer, a Democrat, is chairman of the D.C. Council.
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