9/24/2004

Many upset in Southeast
The Washington Times, 9/24/04

By Jon Siegel

It came like a blizzard on a hot summer's day. And was about as welcome.

Merchants and residents in the Southeast neighborhood were stunned to learn that their community on the Anacostia River was chosen as the preferred site for a Major League Baseball ballpark by District officials earlier this week.

People in the largely industrial community, which also has a small number of row houses, were shocked and saddened by the news. They now face the prospect of losing their businesses and homes should the city exercise eminent domain to take over the 20 acres to build a stadium, which is expected to cost more than $400 million.

"This is really upsetting," said Bob Siegel, a resident who owns 11 properties in the targeted area. "I might fight it. The city is going to have to contend with the best eminent domain lawyers. I don't want to move. It's happening too fast."

The ballpark site near South Capitol and M streets was thought to be the third choice behind a New York Avenue NE site and the RFK Stadium property. The Southeast location is now expected to be the new home of the Montreal Expos if Major League Baseball decides to move the club to Washington.

Eung Joon Chung was forced to move his auto transmission repair franchise to South Capitol Street south of N Street less than three years ago after eminent domain took his previous location to put up a big building. Now he wonders if he can keep his small business since AAMCO assigns him a specific district and he is unsure if there is another suitable location where he won't infringe on another franchiser's territory.

"I spent $150,000 here," Chung said of the current site. "Now I might have to move to another place."

The refrain was similar in the small but tightly knit community, which includes some 25 businesses and 11 townhouses. Calvin Reid, whose company does commercial building, fears businesses like Atlas Manufacturing will be chased out of the city.

"Industrial commercial space is already limited," said Reid, 44, while surveying his business at Half and O streets. "To displace blue-collar businesses is a mistake. ... Mayor [Anthony Williams] doesn't have a clue about the local business community. He is only interested in big business."

Rose Butler is concerned about losing her row house on N Street where she has raised seven children since 1957. Butler, 64, is in favor of baseball coming to Washington but not if it destroys her community.

"I guess I can't stop it," Butler said while watching one of her 17 grandchildren in the two-story house yesterday. "I love it here. I have been here all my life. I can't imagine living anywhere else."

Butler is one of many who question the city's decision to choose her community over the previously front-running site at RFK.

"Why spend a lot of money for something that is already here?" she said. "It seems ridiculous to me."

Siegel also is distressed about the possibility of losing his home of nearly 30 years. The civic leader owns a shop called Glorious Health and Amusements that sells pornographic magazines and videos catering to gays.

"The businesses I am the landlord of cannot be moved anywhere else," he said. "This strip for 30 years has been a strong segment of gay life. I am proud of that. My hands are tied as to what to do right now."

The frustration was perhaps best summed up by Michael Parker, who took a break from his job as facilities manager at the Washington Sculpture Center to walk a dog along Half Street. His nonprofit business recently has spent about $200,000 in upgrades.

"We go to every community meeting, but we heard about [the site choice] in the newspapers," Parker said. "They didn't want to give us time to get armed and fight back. It was out of the blue to target this area."


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