- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The D.C. government’s efforts are nearly dead in closing a deal with Major League Baseball to build a stadium in Southeast for the Washington Nationals.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans, a chief proponent of the stadium, has given up trying to persuade fellow members to support the deal.

No local official has assumed the lead role in lobbying for the $667 million stadium, he says, and there appears to be no opportunity to change the minds of any of the eight council members who oppose using public funds for the ballpark’s construction.

“There are not even any discussions about it taking place around here,” Mr. Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said yesterday.

However, Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday expressed hope that a deal could soon be reached, the Associated Press reported last night.

“I would hope as early as late this week to get council action on it, in a way that addresses the cost issues, in a way that addresses the cost overrun issues,” the mayor said.

The council was scheduled to vote on the stadium deal by Dec. 31, but Mr. Williams, a Democrat, withdrew the measure when it became clear it would not pass.

Last week, Major League Baseball filed with the American Arbitration Association to have a mediator end the dispute.

Nonbinding mediation talks would last no longer than 15 days, after which the two sides could enter into binding arbitration, which could last months.

In either case, the District would be represented by officials from the Office of Attorney General, and the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission — the independent agency responsible for contracting for the stadium — would be represented by attorneys from the Covington & Burling law firm.

Arbitration specialists say they do not think an arbitrator could force the D.C. Council to approve a stadium lease for the Nationals but could force the city to pay penalties to MLB.

Sports commission Chairman Mark Touhey, a key stadium negotiator, said mediation could be “helpful” but was sure the mayor’s team could sway the council through normal negotiations.

Mr. Touhey and the mayor’s other chief negotiators — City Administrator Robert C. Bobb, Deputy Chief of Staff Greg McCarthy and Steve Green, director of development — are having little success.

Council members are not optimistic that a solution can be achieved that would lead to the deal’s approval.

“If you’re telling me that the chief proponents aren’t doing anything to convince people, then I am not optimistic,” said council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat whose only sticking point is that the city cap its full contribution at $535 million as originally agreed upon.

Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr., Ward 5 Democrat who is running for mayor, said a realistic cost estimate should be about $680 million, with MLB picking up the difference.

Other members — such as Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat who is running for mayor — flat-out disapprove of public financing for a stadium.

Meanwhile, the council’s failure to approve a lease is jeopardizing the city’s ability to build the ballpark on time.

Sports commission officials say the construction team, led by Bethesda-based Clark Construction, must break ground no later than June to complete the project by March 1, 2008. But several steps must be completed before construction can begin.

The sports commission and MLB must sign a construction administration agreement outlining the roles and responsibilities that MLB and the city have in building the stadium.

The council is not required to approve that agreement, but must sign off on a separate agreement between the city and Clark before construction can start.

In addition, turnover is likely on the council, with six seats up for election this year and at least three incumbents seeking higher office.

The pace of the project has frustrated MLB officials, who reiterated that they will not name an owner for the Nationals until the lease is approved.

“Already, the city’s failure to complete its obligations prior to Dec. 31, 2005, has jeopardized the new stadium’s opening,” MLB President Robert A. DuPuy wrote in a letter sent Monday night to the eight groups bidding to own the Nationals.

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