- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 13, 2004

The D.C. Council is unlikely to vote on its ballpark financing bill until after the Thanksgiving holiday because of scheduling conflicts among several council members.

A deal brokered this week between Mayor Anthony A. Williams and council chairman Linda W. Cropp calls for the stadium bill to reach the full council for a vote by Nov. 23. In exchange, a formal process will be established to seek potential sources of private funding for the ballpark.

But some key votes in favor of the stadium project, most notably at-large Democrat Harold Brazil and Ward 7 Democrat Kevin Chavous, will be unable to attend a vote Nov. 23 or a potential substitute date Nov. 19. The most likely date for a vote is now Nov. 30, with Cropp to set one next week.

The delays do not present any real threat to the city’s requirement to provide Major League Baseball with ratified financing for a ballpark near the Anacostia River waterfront in Southeast by Dec. 31. But they do extend the vigorous, citywide debate on the delivery of District services sparked by the ballpark bill.

And with passage of a council bill requiring two approvals 13 days apart, the delays also mean the second vote will not take place by Dec. 7, as originally intended.

“It’s hard to get everybody together on a date that has not been previously identified, so we may not end up voting [for the first time] on this bill until November 29 or November 30,” said Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat.

When the ballpark vote does happen, Evans said yesterday it is possible the Williams-Cropp deal may produce more “yes” votes than the seven known to exist. The forthcoming amendment to create a six-month search for private stadium funds could be enough to garner Cropp’s support. And city sources said Williams continues to press Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, for her support as well.

“If the chairman is comfortable with what is now being talked about and then votes with the seven, you might pick up another vote or two,” Evans said. “And I think that would be good, sending a message. A 7-6 vote is one thing, but getting to nine or 10 votes - that’s a strong vote for baseball. I hope that’s what happens.”

MLB owners, meanwhile, will take a formal vote next week on the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington. The move is expected to pass overwhelmingly, perhaps unanimously. But the approval will come conditioned on terms specified in the relocation agreement, most notably delivering stadium financing by the end of the year.

Evans yesterday also expressed more doubts on the merits of a recent proposal from BW Realty Advisors to finance part of the stadium costs. The company, led in part by District attorney Richard Gross, seeks to build the ballpark and recoup its investment through tax savings claimed against depreciation of the property. The group will meet again with Cropp and Evans on Monday.

“I’m interested to see what’s out there, but what is being proposed [so far] is nothing more than what the government could do itself,” said Evans, appearing yesterday on WTOP-AM and WAMU-FM. “What we need is for somebody to come in and write the check and not rely on tax credits or depreciation.”

But Cropp, who made the initial demand to seek out private financiers, remains optimistic the search for private financing could bear significant fiscal savings for the District.

“I’ll take something back if I can save $20,” said Cropp, appearing yesterday on WAMU. “Now if I see an opportunity to save hundreds of millions of dollars, we all ought to step back and at least look at that.”

Regardless of how the final financing structure turns out, Evans said his strident support of the ballpark package has killed his chances to win the 2006 District mayoral election.

“This has done me enormous political damage, and I’m aware of that,” Evans said. “But I think it’s very important to take a stand on things. It’s the only way things get done. But in 20 years, when all the dust has settled, baseball will still be here, and people will be happy.”

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