When Council Chairman Vince Gray let it be known he would run for mayor, the athletes of the city rallied to Mayor Adrian Fenty‘s side. Today, hours after the National Capital Planning Commission approved the transfer of a chunk of Fort Dupont Park from National Park Service to District ownership, his office blasted out a release claiming credit for the action. For all the haters out there, know that Vince Gray is a staunch defender of America’s Pastime:

Gray Scores a Victory for District Youth with Baseball Academy NCPC Vote

Washington, DC –Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray today won unanimous National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) approval of a land transfer to remove the roadblocks in the way of the new Major League Baseball Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy and Fort Dupont Ice Arena expansion.

Foreseeing the great recreational and educational benefits for youth, particularly children east of the Anacostia River, Gray has been pressing hard for 15 acres of federal land to be transferred to the city’s jurisdiction. The parkland—which will still be owned by the federal government—is located in the northern portion of Fort Dupont Park, bounded by Ely Place, Minnesota Avenue, and Ridge Road , SE .

Working with District government officials, the Chairman negotiated an agreement that removed or weakened restrictive covenants—or requirements—imposed by the National Park Service.  In earlier drafts of the agreement, if NPS determined that the District broke any covenant, control of the land would have reverted to the Park Service.  With site control assured, the District can now proceed with land disposition agreements and zoning that are needed.

The sometimes tense discussions that had the District and NPS at odds have been going on for more than two years.  However, in the end, Gray said, “The big winners today are young people in Wards 7 and 8 who have been longing for new baseball fields and organized activities that will not only provide them with new recreational outlets, but also groundbreaking academic and career development programs.  As a baseball player, I know how important athletics can be in shaping personal skills in all areas of life.  I am pleased we are taking steps to get these benefits to D.C. youth.”

When the District agreed in 2006 to build a MLB stadium for the Washington Nationals, the baseball team agreed to build the Youth Academy.  In anticipation of the land transfer, the Council of the District of Columbia set aside $11.3 million in construction funding two years ago. The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation formed a steering committee to help with fundraising and program development.  The Nationals already have committed $3.5 million dollars to the project as a result of the stadium agreement.

In supporting the transfer today, Nationals officials testified that their goal is to have the ballfields ready by next season and the academic buildings completed in 2012.  The Fort Dupont Academy will be patterned after MLB academies completed or planned in Harlem, Compton/Los Angeles, Houston, and Miami.

The expansion of the ice rink will allow thousands more youth to participate in Kids On Ice and other programs run by the Friends of Fort Dupont.  Ten thousand kids a year currently use the ice arena, but the demand is so much greater, Gray said. “It’s awful that we have to turn children away and this is an opportunity to serve many more.”

An environmental study that included extensive community outreach and input concluded that the land transfer would result in no significant impact on the environment.

“I am extremely pleased the barriers have been removed and we are now able to move forward.  I am proud to have been a part of this project from its inception.  I want to thank then U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who was very supportive from the beginning, and our Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton for her role in facilitating a project that both governments believe scores a home run for our youth,” the Chairman said.

Gray also expressed appreciation to the Washington East Foundation and DC Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities organizations for testifying at NCPC today in support of the land transfer.