You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

Williams pitches stadium’s new deal

- The Washington Times - Friday, January 27, 2006

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams completed negotiations yesterday on a revised stadium construction lease agreement that both sides hope include enough concessions from Major League Baseball to win approval from the D.C. Council.

The city's Sports and Entertainment Commission said the league contributed about $12 million more to the project, including $4.2 million in development rights around a stadium, to be built near the banks of the Anacostia River along South Capitol Street. The additional money would give the buyer of the Washington Nationals a 42.5 percent stake in the development and the city a 57.5 percent stake.

The city will issue bonds to pay for the stadium instead of borrowing money from Deutsche Bank. Bond financing will cost about $3 million less than a bank loan, as a result of the city having its bond rating upgraded to A-plus this year. And it will allow for outside investment from developers, which council members wanted in order to defer costs in excess of the $535 million they had approved two years ago.

"We're going to have private financing, but it will be in a different format ... from developers and other investors," said council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, an at-large Democrat who proposed that idea two years ago.

A summary of the new agreement released to reporters does not address the cost-overruns issue.

However, Mrs. Cropp said she was promised the new agreement would cap the construction costs. She said council members will vote on the lease at their next legislative session on Feb. 7.

In addition to league officials surrendering more development rights, they also agreed to rebuild the city's youth baseball infrastructure.

"The lease obligates the team to work with the [city's sports] commission and other District charitable organizations to develop a dedicated year-around baseball training and recreation facility in the District," commission Chairman Mark Touhey said in a letter to the council.

Commission sources said league officials also agreed to pay $1 million to cover stadium construction and some operational costs.

The team will also pay rent at RFK Stadium, about $2.6 million, while the stadium is being built. The new deal also has the team paying rent in 2008 if the new ballpark is not completed by the deadline that year. The original lease did not require the team to pay rent while remaining at RFK.

In addition, the sports commission now can collect the net revenue from the proposed 1,225 parking spaces at the stadium during events it sponsors. And the team will provide 10,000 free tickets -- worth about $600,000 annually -- for underprivileged children to attend games.

Mrs. Cropp last week submitted to Mr. Williams a list of 12 requests she said would have to be met to win the seven council votes needed to approve the lease.

The key request was to cap the city's stadium cost at the $535 million, the amount council members approved in late 2004. The construction cost is now estimated at $667 million.

Mrs. Cropp said the changes yesterday should be enough to get the seven votes and "possibly more" if all 12 requests are met.

After the new deal was announced, a group of stadium supporters began a series of radio advertisements and mailings urging residents to contact council members to ask them to support the lease. The ads tout the potential benefits of the stadium deal, including a proposed $450 million community-benefits fund and additional tax revenue.

The group is made up of the Washington Nationals, the District of Columbia Building Industry Association, the D.C. Convention and Tourism Corp., the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Restaurant Association of Greater Washington. Also included are Monument Realty, Western Development Corp. and Forest City Enterprises, all of which were selected to redevelop land around the ballpark site.