- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The District has asked a Superior Court judge to force landowners at the site of a proposed baseball stadium in Southeast to vacate their properties by Feb. 7.

The move is part of an effort to gain possession of about 14 acres along South Capitol Street near the Anacostia River, part of a 26-acre plot to be set aside for the new stadium for the Washington Nationals.

Superior Court Judge Joan Zeldon has yet to rule on the motion.

Meanwhile, city officials say they will submit a revised stadium-lease agreement Friday to the D.C. Council in anticipation of a vote scheduled for Feb. 7. The council must approve the lease for construction to begin.

The city in October used eminent domain to gain title on the properties, but has not been able to gain possession. Property owners have refused tomove out, in part because the city has not gained approval of a lease agreement needed for the stadium project to move forward.

Some owners also are waiting for relocation assistance from the city.

A hearing on the motion likely will be scheduled before Feb. 7. City officials want to break ground on the stadium as soon as possible in order to open the ballpark by March 2008.

A vote on the lease had been planned for Dec. 20, but was postponed after Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, determined it would not be approved.

Major League Baseball filed on Jan. 4 to have a mediator enter the dispute, and last week, the league and city officials began meeting with Dennis Archer, a lawyer and former mayor of Detroit.

Council members have resisted approving the lease because they would like to see a cap placed on the amount the city will pay toward the project.

The city is authorized to sell no more than $535 million in bonds for the project, but the latest cost estimate is $667 million.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, sent a letter to Mr. Williams last week requesting that the city’s costs be capped at $535 million, plus a $20 million contribution from MLB, $39 million in bond premium and interest and $37 million in baseball-related revenue from 2005.

City officials are working with the stadium construction team on crafting a contract that would establish a “guaranteed price.”

Under the contract, the city would provide the team a set amount of money and Clark Construction, Hunt Construction Group and Smoot Construction would gain control of the project. The team would have the power to make any changes needed to stay within budget, and the city would have little or no input.

The city also is looking to remove some more costly materials, such as glass, to reduce construction costs.

City officials also have made progress in persuading MLB to contribute more in the way of community benefits, including a potential youth baseball academy and renovation of ball fields in the city.

Meanwhile, the Anacostia Waterfront Corp., which was created by the city to direct waterfront-development efforts, is working with developers on a plan to cap the cost of acquiring the 26 acres of land at the ballpark site.

Under the plan, the city would direct any revenue from development on the ballpark site toward cost overruns.

Determining how to pay for overruns on land costs will be key. The city has set aside $97 million to buy the land, but under eminent domain, a court will decide what the city will pay.

Many landowners have said the city’s offers are too low, and land costs could rise as court battles drag on for months or even years.

Property owner Robert Siegel of Glorious Health and Amusement, a homosexual movie house and video store, is fighting the District.

“The assessment is bananas,” said Mr. Siegel, an advisory neighborhood commissioner who has lived in the area since 1979. “The city has offered me $6.7 million, and $6.7 million doesn’t buy you diddly.

“This is my home,” he said. “If I lose my house because of baseball, I lose my commission, how about that.”

• Robert Redding Jr. contributed to this report.

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