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Things You Wouldn't Do--Hospital and Stadium Division

Big governments and big businesses don't always act as you would with your money. Somehow, when the numbers get insanely large, and when situations get very complicated, the basic rules that govern how you watch your dollars go out the window.

Two examples from the past 24 hours: The D.C. government, despite a clear and scary warning from its own chief financial officer that the company the city is helping to buy an ailing hospital is in very shaky condition and is unlikely to improve its situation, decides to pump $79 million into a doomed effort to revive the deeply troubled Greater Southeast Community Hospital.

And the Washington Nationals, having failed to secure sufficient parking to serve the fans who will come to their new stadium next spring, announce that while their season ticket holders will have access to nearby lots and garages, the mere mortals who make the difference between a struggling franchise and a thriving one will be shunted over to the old RFK Stadium lots, from which they will have to take a shuttle bus to the new ballpark. (This apparently comes as news to the city, which controls those RFK lots.)

1) If your beloved sister were in deep financial crisis and desperately needed help, and someone came to you and offered to pay her back rent and refurbish her apartment and get her back up onto her feet, and that someone then revealed himself to be in lousy financial condition himself, and that someone asked you to kick in a big bucket of cash to pay for him to help your struggling sister, you would tell that someone to take a very long and winding hike.

But the D.C. government, in a unanimous vote by its Council and unreasonably optimistic statements by Mayor Adrian Fenty, has decided to take that deal. The city is going to shell out $79 million to support Specialty Hospitals of America's proposal to take over Greater Southeast Community Hospital, the city's only hospital east of the Anacostia River.

D.C. politicians feel compelled to do whatever it takes to maintain and improve health facilities in an underserved part of the city, and that's a good and worthy goal. But as the city's chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, practically shouted from the mountaintops yesterday, this is not the way to save Greater Southeast. Gandhi issued a report stating that Specialty is "not in strong financial condition." The company's plan for the D.C. hospital is too vague to promise any success in turning around an institution where conditions are so bad that the facility may lose its accreditation. And, Gandhi said, the District stands to be left holding the bag, committed to huge additional payments as Greater Southeast continues its long decline.

Essentially, the deal the city cut would force D.C. taxpayers to pay to let Specialty get the land under Greater Southeast--land that is certainly worth far more than the health care facility that sits on it--and the hospital company in return commits to improving Greater Southeast so that by 2011, its emergency room operates at least as well as the average hospital in the city. Gandhi notes that Specialty's plan for the hospital is so far-fetched that it stakes its financial future on getting licensed to provide both short-term and long-term acute care beds--something the federal government actually prohibits.

And a real estate company being set up by the hospital's new owner plans to sell off parts of Greater Southeast's 17-acre site, which sounds like that's Specialty's real interest in buying the place. Gandhi warns that if Specialty is allowed to sell that land to developers, the city faces the risky possibility that the hospital will in essence be selling off the security that backs up the taxpayers' loans to Specialty.

Sounds pretty shaky, pretty scary. But not to the politicians. After all, it's not their money.

2) If you owned a new business in town, and you'd been given the stupendous gift of a free building in which to conduct your operations, and you were well on the way toward developing a great, popular product, and all you really had to do was make certain that your customers could easily and happily get to your shop to spend their money, you probably wouldn't decide to tell those customers that they were not permitted to drive to your shop's neighborhood, but instead would have to drive a couple of neighborhoods away, park and board a shuttle bus to come visit you.

In fact, you'd sooner search for another location than commit such an egregious offense against your own customer base.

But the Washington Nationals announced yesterday that fans who are not season ticket holders who nonetheless "choose to drive to Nationals Park" will be allowed to park at RFK Stadium, "with a speedy and free roundtrip shuttle service to the games." Oh boy, won't that be fun! You'll get to drive to the old stadium, park, and take a seat in a bus that will then sit in traffic and eventually get you to the new stadium. Isn't that special?

As quick, efficient and under budget as the city's construction of the new stadium has been so far, the search for sufficient parking in the new Southeast waterfront area has been a slow-moving fiasco. In good part, this is the fault of the federal government, which has obstinately refused to let Nats fans use the many hundreds of parking spaces that sit empty in the Transportation Department headquarters each evening. The usual phony security concerns are hauled out--though somehow the feds manage to get around that at the far more likely terror target of the Reagan Building near the National Mall. Then there's an increasingly ugly dispute between Metro and one of the major landowners in the ballpark district--a battle that threatens to hold up completion of the expanded transit station a block away from the stadium.

The bottom line remains that the Nats have so far failed to line up enough parking spaces to handle the expected crowds. So now, in a lovely bit o' spin, the Nats put out a news release assuring all season ticket holders that they indeed will have the opportunity to buy access to parking spaces near the stadium. It's the non-swells who look like they will be left driving to some other quadrant of the city to park.

The good news about sports venues in the city is that, as RFK and the Abe Pollin Center have repeatedly shown us, fans from the city and the suburbs alike are quite willing to travel by Metro to take in a game. The Nats were pleasantly surprised by the very high percentage of fans who came to RFK by train, just as the decision to build the downtown arena with very little parking proved to be a brilliant one, as it encouraged the majority of the crowd to come by Metro. But a downtown arena that seats 16,000 is quite different from a baseball park on the edge of the city, with a capacity of more than 40,000.

Even if more than half the crowd takes Metro, that leaves thousands of fans who will drive to the new stadium, and they may be in for a rough go of it for the crucial first few seasons, when most folks' first impressions of the ballpark experience will be shaped.

A shuttle bus won't do. Parking in the shadow of the abandoned old stadium is a bad joke.

If someone's building you a $611 million stadium, as the District is for Major League Baseball, the least you can do in return is to make certain that it is a relatively easy place to get to. The city is doing its part--it has already nearly finished work on clearing out the elevated roadway that used to block Capitol Street near the new stadium. Metro is doing its part--work is well underway on the expanded Navy Yard station, even if the legal dispute threatens to slow progress. There's plenty of empty land right near the stadium; after all, that was the whole point of developing the ballpark there. The Nats need to pay whatever it takes to create temporary parking facilities to get fans through the first couple of seasons, before the new development near the park is ready with large, underground garages.

That's what you would do to protect your business, right?

By Marc Fisher |  October 24, 2007; 7:31 AM ET
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Comments

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Has anyone thought to ask to use the three large parking garages in the Washington Navy Yard?

Posted by: Stick | October 24, 2007 8:42 AM

SE Hospital: Pure politics going on. If you piss off the poor people of Washginton you don't stay Mayor for long. I believe Marion Barry said that some time ago.

Nats Stadium: Again politics. The DC Council had ample opportunities to get the stadium location right and they chose the South Capital St. location which going in everyone knew didn't have any parking. The other sites had ample room for more parking but too many NIMBYs made too much noise and so the ballpark parking situation is their blame, not the Nationals.

Note to Fisher: The Lerner family was not gifted a stadium. Major Leage Baseball was gifted the stadium well before the Lerner family bought the Nationals. The Lerners are saddled with this stadium for better or worse. Your misrepresentation of the facts (a consistent theme of your columns) does not help the discussion. But then again, you've never let facts get in the way of your weak arguments.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 24, 2007 9:09 AM

Wasn't security in the parking lot at RFK an issue even when it was occupied? Didn't a Nats player get his car broken into? Now fans are supposed to leave their cars in a dark parking lot next to empty stadium? If I was a smash-and-grabber or even a car thief, I'd be thrilled.

Posted by: TheGreenMiles | October 24, 2007 9:39 AM

I had thought the RFK parking was mostly a sop to the nostalgic diehards that want to continue their tailgating tradition. I doubt that it will continue past the first year, if it even lasts that long.

Posted by: Cosmo | October 24, 2007 9:59 AM

As a full season ticket holder, I'm happy to take a pass on paying for parking at the new stadium if I'm offered FREE parking and the shuttle from RFK. I don't see how fans can be displeased with the chance to park FREE and use that $15 on a hot dog and coke (beer would likely require another buck or two)instead.

Get with the program, Fisher. We suburbanites consider free parking to be a god-given right.

Posted by: Season Ticket Holder | October 24, 2007 11:54 AM

The Nats management look like fools this morning now that their proclamation of free parking at RFK has been contradicted by the DC government via the Post. Is the city going to give the Nationals free access to RFK parking at the expense of limiting the use of the parking lot for other events where they can charge a fee? I doubt it. Is Lerner planning on paying for security at the RFK lots (from two hours before each game until at least an hour after even the longest extra inning games) or does he expect DC to handle this for free as well?

Posted by: PowerBoater69 | October 24, 2007 12:00 PM

That "free parking" sure will be interesting on DC United game days..."Uh, no, no, I'm not here for the soccer game, no need to charge me - I'm just here for the baseball." Extra bonus fun if DC United still have to base their home schedule on when the Nats are in town, even after the District dropped $611 million on the new stadium.

Posted by: EdTheRed | October 24, 2007 12:05 PM

If the Nats have good secure bicyle parking at the new stadium I will ride my bike to most games. I'm a season ticket holder.

Posted by: Biker | October 24, 2007 12:10 PM

I'm waiting for one of the soccer fans to take umbrage at Fisher's reference to "the abandoned old stadium."

Posted by: Rich | October 24, 2007 12:15 PM

I would get used to taking the metro regardless of whether its the better, less expensive, more fun option of those on the table. The city is definitely pushing people to eventually get used to the idea of taking public transport to the stadium. Lot's of other cities do it. I'm a STH, took the metro to RFK, will take it to NP, its not that bad I promise!

Posted by: G-town | October 24, 2007 12:24 PM

I concur G-Town, take Metro. I live in the suburbs, and I don't consider free parking a God-given right. Maybe it's because I grew up in NYC, but I have never driven to a base ball game. Who would want to?? I take public transportation, that way I can indulge in as many overpriced beers as I want!

Posted by: SParks | October 24, 2007 12:39 PM

D.C. Council member Jack Evans said "You have to make sure the routes are open and the shuttles do not get caught in traffic. you might ned a designated lange to get from RFK to the new stadium. Dedicated lanes to (and presumably from) the stadium will, if nothing else, disrupt the rest of traffic, meaning the general public (which helps pay for the stadium) will be inconveniced for the benefit of the teams paying customers (who's money goes to team ownership). Who will pay for the, apparently, dedicated vans or busses and drivers (who will have to work only 82 games a year? You have to assume the transportation will be "game available" before and after the game for the passengers' (fans) convenience. Vans/busses will need to be purchased (since we can assume that all current city vehicles are being for their primary purppse and not just sitting waiting for a reason to be used, and drivers will need to be hired (part-time, I assume) since it's unlikely the city has drivers with the time available to shuttle passengers before, during, and after the traditional 3 hour game. One can assume fans will want to get there in sufficient time to buy snacks and get settled in their seats prior to first pitch. Drivers will also need to be available to shuttle late arrivals and those wanting to depart the game early. And, there's the cost of fuel and vehicle maintenance... isn't there? Is this what the city should be paying for? Won't that deplete any revenue from ticket and concession sales? That doesn't bring into issue the operating costs for RFK parking (facilities, security, lights, etc.). Sorry, but the team owners got a free stadium out of the deal and a lot of concessions; can't they do something to help bring paying fans to the stadium? Or, should the city, in addition to paying for the stadium, be responsible for ensuring the team's owners have paying customers, and consequently make a profit?

Posted by: Dungarees | October 24, 2007 1:19 PM

SParks,

Totally agree, I can't drive home from a game anyway! Not to mention, starting in 2009, the bars in the Half St. corridor should be up and running, so we'll be able to grab drinks after the game on the way to the metro!

Posted by: G-town | October 24, 2007 1:31 PM

RE the hospital: The DC government has a vested interest in doing whatever it takes to keep GSCH afloat -- even on a wing and a prayer, which may well be the case here. When they decided to shut down DC General, they committed to making GSCH its replacement to serve that community. And it's been a nightmare ever since. Trust me; I know more about this than the average person. When Nat Gandhi speaks his mind, he should be listened to. But the Council has no other options at this point than to hope that Specialty comes through.

RE the stadium: Again, the DC Government had better step up to the plate, or its $611 million investment of our money will be ill-spent. "If you build it, they will come... but only if they can get there reasonably easily." Especially since they can stay home and watch the game on TV, with better visuals. With all of the Eminent Domain the government did to get the land for the stadium, couldn't they do more to secure (commandeer) parking? The feds should be induced to offer the DOT building by any means necessary... maybe DC should "offer" to decline support of federal events (4th of July, inaugurations, funerals, day-to-day federal employee and diplomatic presence) for as long as the feds decline support of the stadium's parking needs...? As for encouraging Metro use, how about planning shuttle buses from the 2 stations nearest on either side, to supplement the Navy Yard station capacity, especially until that station can be radically improved? (Note: Stadium-Armory has been no easy flow for games at RFK, at least returning after a game.) That seems to me a better use of resources than a phalanx of shuttle buses from RFK. And to the Metro-centric posters: you are good people. But Metro isn't as feasible for everyone. Think of the Mom or Dad bringing a group of Little Leaguers, or even younger kids. Or folks with health conditions who can only walk so far. Some folks really do need to have their cars handy.

Posted by: In The Know | October 24, 2007 1:38 PM

I've deliberately passed on a season ticket plan at the new stadium because of the inexcusable parking fiasco ... it takes me at least an hour to get to RFK and will to the new stadium by Metro, and that's more time than I usually want to put in to see a game, so the byproduct of the Nats hamfisted management is that I'll have more money to spend elsewhere while I see maybe 1 or 2 games a year, if that, as opposed to the 10-20+ I would otherwise consider.

The Lerners are off to a great start ... NOT.

Posted by: Arlington VA | October 24, 2007 1:39 PM

The Nationals wanted to add two large vertical(tall) parking garages to the stadium mix. This was nixed by the City which said it would violate "the Plan".

As to the hospital issue, it waa reported on TV news that the City said it was either the deal or shut the Hospital down ( a course of action by implication you, Marc, seem to prefer but you don't have to get elected). Madam President will, of course take care of this when happy days are here again.

Posted by: A Hardwick | October 24, 2007 1:39 PM

I've deliberately passed on a season ticket plan at the new stadium because of the inexcusable parking fiasco ... it takes me at least an hour to get to RFK and will to the new stadium by Metro, and that's more time than I usually want to put in to see a game, so the byproduct of the Nats hamfisted management is that I'll have more money to spend elsewhere while I see maybe 1 or 2 games a year, if that, as opposed to the 10-20+ I would otherwise consider.

The Lerners are off to a great start ... NOT.

Posted by: Arlington VA | October 24, 2007 1:40 PM

I'm willing to try the Metro to the new stadium, even though it will take me longer than driving, but only if Metro corrects their biggest problem from the RFK days. After a game, there would be plenty of trains on the Orange and Blue lines, but once I got to Metro Center to transfer to the Red line, me and 2500 of my closest friends got the honor of waiting 15-20 minutes between Red Line trains, which then became very crowded - not something I'd want to take kids along on. As a season ticket holder I even got a survey from the nats on transportation, but this issue wasn't even on it!

If Metro and the team can provide rush hour service on ALL lines after the game, I'll be on the train. Otherwise...who knows, might just end up giving up the season tickets and just going a few times a season.

Posted by: Want to Try Metro | October 24, 2007 1:47 PM

Yes, Metro is working to improve the Navy Yard station for the new Nats park but what are they doing to make sure the L'Enfant station doesn't become an ugly mass of transferring sardines as Orange and Blue line and some Yellow line riders try to squeeze onto the Green line to get to the games?

Posted by: Pedro | October 24, 2007 1:49 PM

As a DC United fan, I must say:

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

That's DC for ya!

Posted by: Hoost | October 24, 2007 3:26 PM

Responding to several of the comments above, it's the Lerners, not the city, who will pay for the shuttle service from RFK to the new stadium. The team is picking up the cost of the buses and drivers.
And the team is working on routing that they believe will permit the shuttles to make the trip from RFK to the new stadium in seven minutes. That seems overly optimistic to me, but that's the current planning.
But most of all, the Nats are depending on a higher proportion of fans taking Metro than they had at RFK (and that was very high)--and the team will launch a big ad campaign to support this idea. The fact is that the Metro station will be closer to the ballpark even than the Stadium/Armory station is to RFK.
The parking situation is clearly a mess, but there's so much empty land around the stadium that it should be possible to find more solutions, and the Nats are still working on that, with the city and whatever federal agencies are willing to talk about use of their property.

Posted by: Fisher | October 24, 2007 3:36 PM

I take umbrage at Fisher's reference to "the abandoned old stadium."


(Actually, that really did annoy me.)


Anyhow, I heard a rumor that the DC Circulator buses (which are terrific) are going to add game-day only routes from Georgetown to the park. Anybody know about this?

Posted by: Georgetwoner | October 24, 2007 3:38 PM

It must be easy in the ivory tower to wave your hand and make parking spaces magically appear.

Posted by: Not Impressed | October 24, 2007 9:18 PM

Wouldn't it be just as easy to shuttle people directly to the L'Enfant Plaza station? (Similar to the buses to the Red line at Union Station they provided from RFK for some time) It can move people out quickly and put people directly on the Yellow, Orange and Blue trains. Buses could go down I street and up 7th. It seems that the bottlenecks with taking Metro occur when you have to change trains late at night.

Posted by: JJJ | October 24, 2007 10:58 PM

"Parking in the shadow of the abandoned old stadium is a bad joke."

An immature and transparent effort to once again rile up soccer fans. Are you needy for attention?

Anyway: If gamedays coincide, Nats fans are welcome to join us in in Lot 8 for tailgating. There we can all be friends, as we laugh and cry in our beers, in the shadow of the "abandoned" old stadium, about the tragicomic DC government.

Posted by: Nonplussed | October 25, 2007 4:13 AM

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