Washington DC home to first "green" stadium in U.S.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Washington Nationals’ gleaming new baseball park that opens Sunday night will be the first green professional stadium in the United States, the U.S. Green Building Council said Friday.

The Nats’ stadium received a LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certification from the council on Friday for its energy-conserving and environmental design.

To earn the certification, the ballpark was outfitted with energy-saving light fixtures, water-conserving plumbing, drought-resistant plants, and a green roof over the concessions area.

It was also erected on a restored brownfield that once had contaminated soil, and it has special systems in place to keep stormwater runoff from polluting the nearby Anacostia River.

“One of the things that really strikes me about stadium facilities is that they directly touch millions of people over the course of their existence,” the council’s Brendan Owens said.

The stadium’s eco-friendly design would encourage visitors to preserve the environment in other ways, Owens said.

The stadium will use air-cooled chillers for concessions instead of water-cooled ones, as well, which will likely save six million gallons of water each year.

The city spent $611 million to build the stadium, selling $535 million in bonds in 2006. The DC Sports and Entertainment Commission said construction alone cost $311 million.

Mayor Adrian Fenty, who had questioned using public funds for the ballpark when he was a member of the city council, touted the stadium’s accomplishments.

“It was put on a schedule so tight that most people thought the stadium would never be ready,” he told reporters. “It only took 724 days to build the ballpark.”

In preparation for Sunday’s inaugural game against the Atlanta Braves, construction workers bustled past photographers and camera crews on Friday to add touches of blue paint to seating and decor to the restaurant overlooking center field.

Construction cranes swept through the skies at building sites nearby -- signs of the development the stadium has inspired in the surrounding area.

The Nats, once the Montreal Expos, moved to Washington in 2005 after the city pledged to build a new Major League stadium. The team is now owned by a group led by local real estate developer Theodore Lerner.

While the new stadium’s closeness to public transit may have helped it earn the LEED certification, fans who want to drive have grumbled about the shortage of parking in the long-neglected area just south of Capitol Hill.

For the time being, fans can park at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, where the Nats had been playing.

Editing by Philip Barbara