- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 7, 2006

City officials yesterday said they believe they can gain council support for a lease agreement for the Washington Nationals’ new ballpark in Southeast by establishing a cap on the amount of money the city would have to pay toward the project.

“One way or the other we will have a resolution that guarantees that the cost overruns for construction of the stadium will not be borne by the District,” D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission Chairman Mark Tuohey said in an interview on “D.C. Politics Hour” on WAMU (FM-88.5).

A majority of the council must approve the lease for the project to move forward, but members have hesitated to support the lease because of fear the city would bear the full cost of constructing the ballpark. Major League Baseball requested this week that a mediator help end the dispute because the city had allowed a Dec. 31 deadline to pass.

The stadium’s price tag has risen from an estimate of $535 million last year to $667 million.

Officials also are asking for written commitments from private developers or the federal government to pay for infrastructure and Metro upgrades and could sell or lease land near the ballpark with the revenues going toward ballpark construction. The Anacostia Waterfront Corporation, the quasi-public agency charged with leading the city’s waterfront redevelopment, also is involved in the talks.

“I don’t know what the numbers are,” said Kwame Brown, at-large Democrat, who said he won’t vote for a lease unless there is a cap. “How can I vote yes when I don’t know where it’s going to stop?”

Even some council members who plan to vote in favor of the lease said implementing a cap on costs was reasonable.

“I believe the best course of action is not arbitration but to establish a reasonable cap at $535 million and any monies generated out of that amount as long as the money is not coming out of the general fund,” said Vincent B. Orange Sr., Ward 5 Democrat and a strong ballpark supporter.

But cost overruns must be paid for by someone. MLB has resisted paying any more money toward the stadium. While some developers have committed to pay for road upgrades, most others said they will not contribute money until the lease is approved.

“We’re trying to pull together as many other sources of revenue as we can,” said Vince Morris, a spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams. “We’re working on some things that will give [council members] reassurance.”

The city is authorized to borrow $535 million to build the ballpark. D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi said that money can support a project of $631 million because the city will be receiving interest, premium on the bonds, more than $37 million in baseball revenue from 2005 and a $20 million contribution from MLB.

The city has not decided whether it will participate in the mediation process.

“Mediation in the end may be helpful in getting this done a little quicker, but we’ll see,” Tuohey said. “I think the process we’re using now will be the process we’re using to get it done.”

After mediation, MLB could request binding arbitration. City officials said they hope to have a council vote before arbitration begins because under arbitration the city could lose all of the concessions MLB has made up until this point.

“I don’t like arbitration,” Williams said. “I think we’re making headway, and we can get some things done and get this finished before that happens.”

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