- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

Advocates of major league baseball in the District this week made perhaps their boldest step yet in the city's long quest for a team, sending the sport's top executives a 70-page report documenting potential site plans for a stadium, as well as financing options for a project that could cost as much as $542million.
The report the result of a six-month, $300,000 site selection study by the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, D.C. Office of Planning and a bid group led by financier Fred Malek details the potential land use and financing plans for five potential stadium sites. The sites are scattered about the city: two along Massachusetts Avenue NW between Mount Vernon Square and Union Station, a location near the Southeast Federal Center and District Waterfront, the RFK Stadium property, and land north of Union Station near New York Avenue NE.
The five sites were first disclosed in September, but the new report also outlines how Malek's group and the city intend to pay for a new stadium perhaps the foremost question keeping the Washington area from getting a team after a three-decade drought.
The proposed financing outlines a 100 percent debt financing model in which the entire stadium development costs would be funded by loans and then paid off by a combination of direct ballpark revenues, city taxes on directly related items like tickets and team merchandise, and less related revenues like property taxes from adjacent developments. Other potential public funding mechanisms like special lotteries and taxes on alcohol, tobacco and on the incomes of visiting players also were identified.
In reality, the Malek group likely will provide a hefty upfront payment of private funds toward a new stadium if it lands a team, and the private contribution could ultimately reach into nine figures. Public sector help also could arrive in the form of grants.
Two years ago, Mayor Anthony Williams pledged $200million in public sector assistance toward a ballpark. A new aggregate figure for either private or public sector contributions is not provided in the new report; those figures will be subject to negotiation if and when baseball returns to Washington. But Malek and his team of investors and the sports commission aim to impress Major League Baseball nonetheless by showing that a District stadium could be financed without any down payments, if needed.
The report conservatively projects an annual revenue base of $169million to $224million for a Washington team by 2008, a sum Malek and the sports commission feel is more than sufficient to meet all expenses for the club, stadium development and financing vehicles.
"This report, I think, represents what baseball is looking for," Malek said. "Baseball, rightly so, has insisted upon more specifics relative to sites and financing for a new stadium. This should answer their questions and, more importantly, begin a serious dialogue toward getting a team here. The numbers here aren't absolutely finite, but we have developed, I think, a very solid framework for baseball succeeding and thriving here."
The report was sent Wednesday to MLB commissioner Bud Selig and several other key baseball executives, and released to the media yesterday.
Other competing jurisdictions like Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore., to date have not completed any stadium site survey of this depth. Northern Virginia baseball advocates, though holding a vast edge in seniority for pursuing a team, have not publicly disclosed potential stadium sites. A potential financing model for a stadium in the commonwealth might be presented to the Virginia legislature in January.
Other cities rumored for baseball relocation, such as Portland, have remained largely silent on the subject of a new major league-sized stadium.
"There should be no remaining question that the District is fully engaged and prepared for major league baseball with multiple viable sites for a ballpark," reads a letter sent to Selig and authored by sports commission executive director Bobby Goldwater and chairman John Richardson that was attached to the report.
Another section of the letter reads: "We are available at any time to engage MLB in serious, purposeful discussion regarding details for the construction, operation, financing of a ballpark including the readiness to complete a public-private partnership for a new ballpark with the designated ownership group and/or MLB within 60-120 days."
Each of the five sites has a proposed cost range attached to it. The site closest to Mount Vernon Square has the highest range, $468.4million to $542.1million, because of the valuable commercial real estate in that area. The RFK Stadium site is the cheapest at a cost of $342.4million because no land acquisition costs are currently factored into the site. The sports commission leases the 90-acre property from the Interior Department and National Park Service, and a revision of the lease, with a possible change to the financial terms, would be required to build a new baseball-only stadium there.
In each case, the identified costs involve all estimated land acquisition, construction, and associated hard and soft costs, and are intended to be as close to final figures as possible. Two recently built ballparks Safeco Field in Seattle and Miller Park in Milwaukee exceeded $450million once all related costs were included. Forthcoming parks in San Diego and St. Louis also will surpass that figure.
The cost estimates for a District ballpark assume a 41,000-seat, open air facility with close access to parking, public transportation and major roadways.
Baseball executives said yesterday they had not had a chance to read the full report. Relocation, however, is expected to be a prime topic of conversation during an owners' meeting scheduled next week in Dallas. Both the immediate and long-term future for the money-losing Montreal Expos, owned and operated by MLB owners, needs to be determined. The Expos' schedule for next season very likely will include 20 games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, with formal approval of the plan due at next week's meeting.
"It's a very impeccable group of consultants the Washington folks put together. Once we get through this report, I expect it will be quite thorough and helpful," said Corey Busch, a consultant working for baseball on relocation matters.
The Malek group and sports commission hired a team of six consultants to help with the report. Leading that team was Brailsford & Dunlavey, a District-based project management and design firm.
The report also details at some length the meteoric rise in the Washington area's population and spending power and the diversification of its business sector since the second Senators club left after the 1971 season.
"There are still a lot of folks who don't know about the Washington of today," Goldwater said. "This report needed to put Washington and the opportunity for baseball here in the proper context."
The five sites were presented to the public at a packed meeting in early October during which public opinion ran hard against the Mount Vernon Square site, long a center of Washington baseball discussion. Since that meeting, however, a poll at the Web site for Malek's group, www.baseballindc.com, shows that of 465 respondents, 249 (54 percent) favor Mount Vernon. The sum trumps the other four sites put together.


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