The Washington Times - August 4, 2008, 03:30PM

The District of Columbia has successfully made its first debt service payment on Nationals Park, despite the lack of a rent check from the Nationals.

The first debt payment of $13.9 million (all interest) was due Friday and was made without complication, according to a spokesman for D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi

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The $3.5 million rent payment is a key portion of the money used to pay back the $535 million in bonds used to finance the stadium. But it appears that the city was able to raise enough money through other financing components to cover the gap.

The Nationals are witholding the first rent payment because they insist that the stadium did not meet the requirements to be considered “substantially complete” at the start of the season. The city has disputed this, pointing to the ballpark’s opening in time for the first regular season game on March 30. Sources with knowledge of the negotiation said it appears that the city and the Lerners will be headed to arbitration to resolve the issue.

Without the rent, the debt service must be met through a tax on tickets and concessions, a utility tax and a ballpark fee on businesses in the city.

So far, the city has raised $17.7 million from the ballpark fee, above the projection of $14 million for the entire calendar year.

It has raised $8.6 million from the utility tax.

The city is still crunching numbers to determine the proceeds from ticket and concession sales. Attendance is about 29,000 per game and the city had projected crowds of about 33,000 per game. However, the financing is structured to allow for attendance as low as 10,000 per game for the season.

So in other words, there’s plenty of cushion there.

All that being said, the lack of a rent payment and lower than expected attendance has been enough of a concern that the D.C. Council could take up legislation this fall calling for an increase in taxes on stadium sales taxes.

The next debt payment, of $18.9 million in principal and debt, is due on Feb. 1 of next year.