- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2003

The District has done all it can do to pursue baseball stadium financing without a relocation commitment from Major League Baseball, Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday.

Reiterating comments D.C. Council member Jack Evans made earlier this week to The Washington Times, Williams said he and many others around the city are unwilling to pursue politically risky ballpark legislation without real answers in return from MLB executives.

The demand for clarity on baseball’s plans for the Montreal Expos also have been echoed in Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore., the other candidates for the Expos.

“It’s pretty simple. We need a commitment from baseball before moving forward and expending further political capital on this,” Williams said. “It’s a political reality, and a sentiment you’re hearing all around the country. I was asked [by baseball] to get the business community behind this effort, bring them together in unified support. I did that. I was asked to create a sensible, doable financial proposal [for a stadium]. I did that. So I’ve done what I need to do.”

The local insistence on clarity from MLB inverts baseball’s original intention of securing solid stadium legislation from at least one of the relocation candidates before making a decision. It also marks a significant change in local thinking. Until the last several weeks, the District, and to a lesser degree Northern Virginia, had sought to meet baseball’s demand to have site and financing issues done as soon as possible. Virginia, however, issued a demand in January for a conditional award for the Expos before completing the final pieces of its stadium package.

Several industry sources said helping fuel the growing local anger are the increasing signals that baseball likely will opt to wait until the 2005 season to move the Expos permanently. MLB’s relocation committee is expected to make a recommendation on the Expos by July15, but it is expected baseball will opt to return the Expos to Puerto Rico for at least part of next season.

Members of MLB’s relocation committee have declined to comment on the substance of the tougher local talk, saying only the information would be sent on to commissioner Bud Selig.

Last month Williams introduced a $338.7million ballpark financing bill to the D.C. Council. That bill is now stuck in the finance committee, chaired by Evans, and he is refusing to vote it out without knowing the Expos will move to the District. Williams and his department of planning and economic development continue to meet with council members on the proposed legislation but are reserving any hard sells until more is known from baseball.

Should baseball announce intent to move to the District, Williams said yesterday a stadium financing package could be ratified by the council “within days.”

Meeting that highly ambitious timetable, however, will require the mayor to overcome current council objections over the bill’s proposed income tax on ballplayers competing in the city and a perceived lack of bonding safeguards in the package.

“There’s a lot that can still happen between now and July15,” said Bobby Goldwater, executive director of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission. “The constant is, we are still working to forge a partnership with baseball.”

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