- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2004

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp and Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday agreed to a compromise that would keep on track his financing plan for a ballpark in Southeast.

Mrs. Cropp said she will bring the Williams proposal up for a full council vote by Nov. 23.

In return, the mayor and his allies on the council agreed to amend the Williams bill to provide for a six-month search for private financing for the ballpark.

The agreement ended five days of rancor over competing proposals, disputes that prompted fears Major League Baseball (MLB) would void its deal with the District to relocate the Montreal Expos to the city.

Private financing would not necessarily violate the District’s deal with MLB.The city must produce a ratified financing bill for the Southeast site by Dec. 31. However, the financing structure can be altered afterward so long as the changes do not affect the ballpark itself or the team’s revenue sources.

Several city officials said the prospects of finding a viable private source of stadium funds are uncertain and perhaps unlikely.

Private investors could not borrow against stadium revenues dedicated in writing to the Washington team. Nor could they disrupt a planned community benefit fund created through the establishment of a tax-increment financing district around the Southeast ballpark.

City officials also are concerned about the ramifications of yielding control of stadium construction to private entities.

However, the deal, brokered in part by Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, and Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, brought a swift end to an embarrassing political battle within the John A. Wilson Building.

“I think Linda is in good faith looking for ways to limit the District’s financial exposure in this project, and … I fully endorse that,” Mr. Williams said yesterday, barely 24 hours after excoriating her move to delay by two weeks a council vote on ballpark legislation. “I happen to think the interest in private financing reinforces our view of the merits of this site.”

The timing of the six-month search is tied to June 2005, when the first payments on the bond issue for the stadium are expected to be due.

“I am still a fan of baseball coming to Washington. That has not changed,” Mrs. Cropp said. “But I am still looking for a better deal for the city.”

The city has received about 10 unsolicited, private offers to help finance stadium costs, currently estimated by Mr. Williams at $435.2 million. Many more are expected in the next few weeks.

Foremost on that list, at least for the moment, is BW Realty Advisors, a group led by D.C. real estate investment executive and attorney Richard Gross. On Tuesday, Mrs. Cropp said a late-arriving, unsolicited plan from the Gross group prompted her to delay the council vote on the ballpark bill.

Mr. Gross and his partners propose to build the ballpark on land purchased by the city and recoup their investment by claiming lucrative tax credits against the depreciation of the ballpark.

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