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D.C. Balks at Buying Garage Near Stadium

A bus garage near the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium is on the market for the second time in two months after the D.C. government backtracked on its plan to buy the property.

The city sees the property as an integral part of the Ballpark District, where condos and shops one day will dominate the current scene of parking lots and warehouses. So city officials asked the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to move out of its busy bus garage at Half Street and M Street Southeast to make way for a more fitting development.

Selling it quickly is important — the profits will help WMATA move its busy operations from the center of game day traffic before the ballpark’s inaugural opening day in 2008. But in the city’s eagerness to get WMATA out as quickly as possible, it actually complicated and slowed down the sale.

“Basically we had an interest in the bus garage and probably the most important thing was to make sure the process moved forward fast,” said Sean Madigan, the communications director for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. “Once we took a closer look at that, we realized we might actually slow it down.”

The city didn’t show its interest in buying the property until after WMATA had begun a public bidding process. And when WMATA sent back the bids unopened to make way for a deal with the city, the city backed out. Madigan would not say what the city was planning to do with the property.

Now, the process is a month behind. WMATA opened a new bid — to end Aug. 28 — because of worries that the city’s interest in the property dissuaded some developers from bidding. The first call for bids brought in three offers.

“It was decided internally that in order to have a level playing field we should start the process all over,” said Joel Washington, acting director for WMATA’s Office of Planning and Project Development. “A lot of developers knew we were contemplating a sale to the District.”

Washington said WMATA will have to condense its schedule to move its bus operation by opening day to the site of DC Village, a homeless shelter in Southwest (Democratic Mayor Adrian Fenty has promised to find homes for the shelter’s residents when it is closed). The garage currently sits across the street from the Navy Yard Metro station’s west entrance — a desirable spot considering the tens of thousands of fans expected to take Metro on game days.

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