- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday said he is on “alert status” about building a $535 million ballpark along the Anacostia River, as the city government is set to use eminent domain as soon as next week to acquire land for the new stadium.

During his weekly briefing yesterday, Mr. Williams ruled out developing the area around RFK Stadium for Major League Baseball — which some D.C. Council members have suggested as a money-saving alternative. The stadium currently is being used as the temporary home for the Washington Nationals.

“RFK is not a slam-dunk,” Mr. Williams said, noting that efforts to build a new stadium for the Washington Redskins in that area failed. “That is a very difficult site.”

The mayor was responding to concerns among council members over the District’s financing for and construction of the ballpark.

The District is awaiting approval of a financing plan calling for a $246 million upfront payment from Deutsche Bank in exchange for a lease payment and revenue from the stadium.

The rest of the ballpark would be paid for by the issuance of municipal bonds. Wall Street has refused to grant an investment-grade rating on the bonds until the city fixes certain technical problems with the plan.

Some council members said they think this is an opportunity to revisit the plan to lower the city’s costs.

But D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, said she will block other council members from making any major changes to the deal because it was derived from an agreement signed with Major League Baseball requiring the District to build a new ballpark in Southeast by March 2008.

City officials informed the 23 landowners at the 21-acre ballpark site that they must sell their property to the city by tomorrow or have it taken through eminent domain.

That means the District could begin acquiring properties through eminent domain by next week, though it is likely to try to close any deals that are being negotiated.

Mr. Williams, a Democrat who is not seeking a third term, has been pushing for the Anacostia River location because it is key to his waterfront development initiative.

“When you consider the sum cost already put into this site, all of the time and effort and money,” he said. “I think you will find … there is no longer any comparison.”

He also said he wants MLB to select a new owner for the Nationals soon to help move along development of a stadium.

MLB said it could vote on the ownership by next month but will not announce an owner until it has finalized a lease agreement with the District.

Mr. Williams said he does not favor an ownership group led by Jeff Smulyan, chief executive officer of Emmis Communications, which is based in Indianapolis.

“I have a concern that he [Mr. Smulyan] isn’t in the city,” the mayor said. “I have a concern that his participation in and of itself is diluted by corporate investment, in other words his investment [is] out of town [and] is not even his personally.

“The last thing I want is some far-and-distant corporation having a major stake, control and direction over the baseball franchise,” Mr. Williams said.

Mr. Smulyan is considered one of the front-runners to land the team, along with a group led by D.C. businessmen Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients and another by the Lerner family, which owns a large real estate company in Bethesda.

MLB is reviewing a total of eight bids.

Meanwhile, city officials said they have struck a deal with one landowner at the ballpark site but that most others have been either unwilling to sell or have not responded.

Most landowners have been offered about three times the amount at which properties were assessed, but many have resisted selling because land around the ballpark site has risen sharply in value in anticipation of the stadium.

D.C. officials have said they would like to secure ownership of the land by Dec. 31, with construction on the stadium to begin in March.

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