- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Tied up in questions about the future of a proposed baseball stadium in Southeast are several multimillion-dollar initiatives in line to receive funding from the project, including school construction, public library upgrades and recreation programs.

A community benefit fund created under the stadium legislation directs up to $125 million for school construction and modernization, $45 million for improving public libraries, $10 million for plans to build a new hospital and $2 million for supplies at McKinley Technology High School in Northeast.

D.C. officials say those projects would be in doubt if the $667 million stadium project on South Capitol Street doesn’t move ahead as planned.

“They’d all be in jeopardy,” said Vincent Morris, spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams. “We can only do this community benefit fund if we’re collecting revenue on the new stadium.”

The community benefit fund was created last year as critics of the stadium project were raising concerns that the District was spending too much money for baseball and not enough on basic services. D.C. officials have capped the District’s contribution for the stadium at $535 million, which the city will borrow.

City leaders have insisted that no money from the general fund will be used for the baseball stadium. The city plans to collect $37 million in baseball-related revenue from 2005, $9 million in premium from a bond issue and $20 million from Major League Baseball to fund the stadium’s construction.

The District also will earn $30 million in interest, $10 million of which stems from $125 million borrowed from a “rainy day” contingency fund.

The community benefit fund’s $125 million for school construction is separate from a pending proposal to raise $1 billion to renovate public schools.

The fund, which authorizes up to $450 million, also would provide money for new school-based athletic fields throughout the city and commercial development along several streets, including Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast.

However, the fund’s fate is tied to the stadium lease deal, which remains in limbo. The D.C. Council has postponed until early next year a vote on the lease with Major League Baseball.

“There is more to this than just baseball,” Mr. Morris said. “We could lose this team to Northern Virginia or some other area.”

Some D.C. Council members have criticized the stadium deal as too generous and want the future owners to pay for some of the costs.

Mr. Williams has pressed for the stadium to be built along South Capitol Street, saying the project will spark economic redevelopment along the Anacostia Waterfront.

Sports-construction experts, however, say stadium projects in other cities show that doesn’t always happen.

“Revitalization can work when you have real public-private partnerships, a development plan in place and firm commitments,” said Mark Rosentraub, dean of the College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.

“Things are a little more disappointing when you build a stadium and just hope things fall into place.”

Despite questions about the lease deal, Mr. Rosentraub said Major League Baseball would be hard-pressed to relocate the Washington Nationals outside of the metropolitan area.

“There are other markets available, but it would be hard to see where a team could be more financially successful than in the Washington D.C.-Northern Virginia market,” he said.

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