- The Washington Times - Friday, November 18, 2005

MILWAUKEE — Major League Baseball yesterday said it has no plans to extend any deadlines relating to the Washington Nationals’ new ballpark, likely setting up a tense December for D.C. officials trying to complete a financing deal for the stadium by the end of the year.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said negotiations with the city over a lease agreement for the new ballpark are progressing quickly enough that the city will not be constrained by time, though he acknowledged that some disagreements have yet to be resolved.

“There’s a ways to go,” Mr. Selig said after a meeting of team owners. “We want to bring that to conclusion as expeditiously as possible, and I believe we will. The report was they had very constructive meetings.”

The city must have money from the sale of bonds for the $535 million ballpark by the end of the year, or it will be in violation of the ballpark agreement made with MLB last December. The lease agreement includes several provisions relating to the stadium financing, and bond raters will not provide investment grade ratings to the city until the agreement is complete.

For a realistic time frame to meet the deadline, the city must present the complete financing plan to bond raters and begin selling bonds before Christmas.

City officials have not submitted a formal request for an extension of the financing deadline and said publicly that discussions this week involving Mayor Anthony A. Williams and MLB leaders went well.

“We’re still on the same timetable,” said Vince Morris, a spokesman for Mr. Williams. “It will be a little tight if we have to delay, but we’re pretty close on a lot of different issues.”

Some city sources said privately that they think the deadline is setting the stage for a last-minute dash similar to last year’s effort to finalize the agreement to build the ballpark along the Anacostia River in Southeast.

The city and baseball are still debating several lease issues, including a guaranteed $6 million annual lease payment and a $24 million line of credit by MLB to cover costs if the ballpark could not be completed. The city also is asking baseball to pay $20 million toward construction of an underground VIP parking lot.

Even if the lease agreement is completed by next week, as some officials have suggested, progress could be delayed further if D.C. Council approval is required. City officials are working hard behind the scenes to avoid such hurdles.

MLB officials have insisted that the lease agreement be in place before it chooses a new owner for the Nationals. Mr. Selig said he plans to refocus his efforts on reviewing the bids from eight groups willing to pay at least $450 million for the Nationals. He has interviewed five of the teams and said he will interview the other three, perhaps as soon as next week.

“Given my travel schedule, and steroids and everything else, I’ve been sidetracked.” Mr. Selig said. “But I want to finish that as soon as possible.”

Mr. Selig refused to offer a timeline for when a new owner would be announced, acknowledging that he has been incorrect on several earlier predictions. But he said he was confident the Nationals would have a new owner for the 2006 season.

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