- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

The District’s stadium financing legislation has a strong chance of picking up extra votes and gaining true majority support when the D.C. Council conducts its final reading of the bill Dec.14.

District sources said the three council members who abstained from Tuesday’s first ballpark vote — Democrats Linda Cropp, Kathy Patterson and Phil Mendelson — could support the legislation if tangible evidence is produced that improves the funding mechanisms and community benefits governing the projected $435.2million ballpark near the Anacostia River waterfront in Southeast.

“I think there’s a very good chance of some or all of them coming over,” said a District official familiar with the baseball project. “The mayor attending the vote made a big impact, and the mood around this [bill] is much better than it was.”

Cropp and Patterson refused to commit publicly to voting “yes” at the second reading. Both were slated as “no” votes in recent weeks before abstaining Tuesday and said yesterday they believed the stadium bill is far stronger than it was on its introduction to the council Oct.1.

“We’ll have to see what happens [at the second reading]. I have to keep the feet to the fire and keep pushing to make this a better deal,” Cropp said. “But I made sure this did not fail. I kept this alive, and I think the amendments passed [Tuesday] have made a huge difference in how this is being received.”

Council chairwoman Cropp proposed and helped pass a block of amendments that mandates a six-month search for private financing as a potential means to lower the city’s investment in the ballpark and a switch to a new ballpark site if building at the Southeast site is projected to exceed $631million.

Cropp also is pressing Mayor Anthony A. Williams to renegotiate with Major League Baseball to gain additional community grants stemming from baseball, as well as more legal protection for the city if the stadium project falls behind schedule through no fault of its own. Cropp also would like to see the Washington club, currently owned by MLB, share in some stadium cost overruns should they occur.

Patterson, who voted against the stadium bill in the finance and revenue committee, similarly spoke more positively about the legislation than at any point since its introduction.

“The public financing is still too much [for me] to vote yes,” Patterson said. “I want to keep the pressure on to get a better deal. I’m one of these people who, like [Cropp], really hopes we get and the pressure on to get a better deal. I’m one of these people who, like [Cropp], really hopes we get and keep baseball but not at any price.”

Tuesday’s vote generated a 6-4-3 result — a coincidental nod to the baseball scoring code for a double play — but also a showing that gave Williams a decidedly tepid level of support for the project.

Even with the abstaining council members leaning positively toward the ballpark project, Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, himself a staunch stadium advocate, warned “the debate is not over.”

Mendelson was not available for comment yesterday.

The looming question is whether Williams and his staff can extract extra concessions from MLB, an entity that held nearly all negotiating leverage during a protracted search for the Montreal Expos’ new home. History does not paint MLB as a particularly concessionary organization.

“We’re still unenlightened,” said John McHale Jr., MLB vice president of administration. “We still have not seen a copy of the legislation passed by the council, nor have we heard from the mayor or his staff. So it’s impossible to say where this will go.”

MLB owners still need to approve the relocation of the Expos, turning them into the Washington Nationals, and have until Monday to do so. Industry sources said a conference call could be held tomorrow to make that vote, which has been held up in part because of still incomplete negotiations over compensation to Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. suggested the lack of an agreement with Angelos might cause the state and the Orioles to take MLB to court to block the move.

“Peter was led to believe by baseball officials that negotiations would be fruitful and complete by this time,” Ehrlich told WBAL Radio (AM-1090) on Tuesday. “This could — could — end up in court in the relatively short term.”

Maryland used bonds to raise money for construction of Camden Yards; therefore, it is in the state’s interest that the team’s revenue is not hindered by a team in the District.

Ehrlich would not expand upon the statement yesterday.

Meanwhile, MLB commissioner Bud Selig will address the Greater Washington Board of Trade today at its annual meeting. Making his first public appearance in the District since announcing the relocation of the Expos to Washington, Selig plans to discuss the state of baseball and the marked growth of fan interest over the past two years.

Staff writer S.A. Miller contributed to this article.

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