- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2005

A major owner of land on the site of a planned baseball stadium in Southeast wants to block the project, calling city estimates of how much it will cost to take over the property “false and unreasonable” in a lawsuit filed yesterday.

Robert Siegel, who owns 11 properties on the site, said in a D.C. Superior Court suit that the city should be forced to find a new location for the ballpark because its cost estimates for taking over the site along the Anacostia River waterfront are too low.

At issue is a March 30 study released by the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer, which Mr. Siegel’s lawsuit criticizes. The $466,000 study by Deloitte & Touche LLP placed a $161.4 million price tag on acquiring the land, environmental remediation and infrastructure requirements.

The study’s estimates come in below a $165 million cap that the D.C. Council placed on the stadium-financing package in December. Exceeding the cap would require the city to find another site for the stadium, jeopardizing the city’s deal with Major League Baseball to relocate the Washington Nationals.

The city’s contract calls for the District to acquire the stadium land and rezone it by Dec. 31.

Dale A. Cooter, attorney for Mr. Siegel, yesterday said that recent examinations of other property sales in the area have cast doubt about the city’s estimates. He said the true costs are likely tens of millions of dollars higher than $161.4 million.

“The study was not in good faith,” he said.

The lawsuit says the study “was designed to lead to a known result — to the result that costs associated with land acquisition, environmental remediation and infrastructure will not exceed $165 million.”

A spokesman for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday said officials cannot comment on pending litigation, but expressed confidence that the stadium project will move ahead despite the suit.

“We don’t see it as a threat to the project,” mayoral spokesman Vincent Morris said.

Maryann Young, spokeswoman for D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, declined to comment on the suit. However, she said Mr. Gandhi likely will release more details this week on how consultants arrived at their estimates.

The study came under immediate criticism last week after D.C. Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent and a stadium critic, attacked the estimates as being too low. He has asked city finance officials to review the figures.

But council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat and chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee, last week expressed confidence in the city’s figures, saying he “can’t imagine the numbers will change much.”

The lawsuit by Mr. Siegel, who owns several nightclubs for homosexuals in the area, asks a judge to block the city from “pursuing the baseball stadium site” and order city officials to respond to the complaint within 10 days.

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