The Youth Baseball Academy long promised for Fort Dupont Park will likely take one more step towards reality tomorrow, as the National Capital Planning Commission considers approval of a recommendation to transfer 15 acres of the park from the National Parks Service to the District government.
The project looked like a done deal early last year, as the District and NPS negotiated over the terms of the transfer, which would also allow for the doubling in size of the Fort Dupont Ice Arena. But environmental groups objected to what the D.C. Audubon Society president called “giving away land to DC in the name of development and gentrification.” In April, the Native Plant Societies of Maryland and Virginia filed a complaint in U.S. District court, alleging that NPS hadn’t adequately considered the impact of the construction on adjacent forestland.
The Washington Times wrote a story pitting an alliance of bureaucrats and plant-worshipers against the good souls who just want to help poor kids play baseball and go ice skating. Willem Polak, the chairman of the Friends of Fort Dupont, told the paper he thought the NPS might even have invited the filing in order to stall the project, which the non-profits denied.
Since then, though they admit that construction of the baseball academy “will result in short-term and long-term negligible to minor adverse impacts to soils from both construction and recreational activities on the project area,” NPS and the District have drawn up a covenant designed to mitigate development effects. The new facilities are contained within the existing footprint of the recreation area, and one configuration that would have destroyed an acre of sensitive forest land was rejected.
That, however, isn’t the end of the story. While the Baseball Academy is underwritten by the Washington Nationals, the Fort Dupont Ice Arena will have to raise about $20 million to pay for construction, Polak tells Housing Complex—which he says is not a bad rate for serving 20,000 kids a year. They’ll look to companies like Reebok or the Baltimore-based UnderArmour to foot the bill.
“It’s something we could see out of the ground in two years,” Polak says. “We have a huge task ahead of us.”