- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A three-year deal to rename RFK Stadium as National Guard Field at RFK Stadium teetered toward collapse yesterday when the military division said it did not have the money to pay the proposed $6.62 million sponsorship and needed to focus on “higher priority funding issues.”

But Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, said last night he has a signed contract with the National Guard for the sponsorship and is looking forward “to a long and productive relationship with them.”

The dispute between the two sides provides an additional level of drama as the city feverishly prepares for the Washington Nationals’ home opener Thursday.

The apparent National Guard exit would present a surprising and disappointing blow for the sports commission, which spent the weekend preparing a celebratory press conference for today to announce the pact, with much of the funds going to District youth and recreation facilities. That press conference is now “up in the air,” Tuohey said.

“Our first priority is to ensure our soldiers and airmen are properly trained and equipped for combat and homeland defense,” Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said in a prepared statement. “We must do what is right for America and our citizen soldiers and airmen.”

While Blum said the National Guard was exploring the sponsorship contract as a means for honoring and recruiting troops, it has faced repeated and vicious rebukes from Capitol Hill, opinion makers and National Guard soldiers themselves for insufficient supplies for troops fighting the war in Iraq. Enlistment to the National Guard is falling sharply as a result.

Tuohey, who spent much of yesterday in a closed-door meeting with Metro board officials over late-night transportation service for Nationals fans, said he was not contacted by the National Guard about their desire to exit the pact.

“Nobody from there has said anything to me about this,” Tuohey said. “I anticipate moving forward on this.”

The sponsorship, pursued with the blessing of the family of the late Robert F. Kennedy, is designed to take advantage of the arrival of the Nationals, raise money for District youth and preserve Kennedy’s legacy.

Other firms pursuing the RFK naming rights pact included ProFunds Advisors LLC, a Bethesda investment firm.

Meanwhile, financing for a new Nationals stadium in Southeast moved a significant step closer to clarity yesterday as District chief financial officer Natwar Gandhi formally recommended using a blend of a private financing offer from Deutsche Bank and the city’s own revenue bonds to pay for the ballpark.

Two weeks ago, D.C. Council members asked Gandhi to make a specific recommendation among the city’s financing plan and two previously certified proposals of private financing. Gandhi is specifically endorsing the use of $246 million in debt from Deutsche Bank, far less than the $493 million in peak borrowing the German financial giant initially presented, combined with $313 million in District revenue bonds.

In such a scenario, the city debt would be repaid from a gross-receipts tax on large District businesses and a utility tax on large corporations and government entities, while Deutsche Bank would acquire the annual revenue streams from the Nationals’ lease on the stadium and taxes from ballpark related commerce like tickets and concessions in exchange for an upfront payment of the $246 million. The gross-receipts tax, one of the major flashpoints in last fall’s political battle over stadium funding, could fall from $14 million in annual collections to $8 million in the plan after 10 years.

The Gandhi report represents a major win for Council chairman Linda Cropp, who stridently pushed for private funds in the deal and at several points risked the entire baseball venture. Even strident critics of the various private financing proposals, including Ward 2 Democrat Jack Evans, found themselves in favor of the new structure.

“This looks like a good deal. Hopefully, the mayor will send legislation to this effect down in the next day or so, we’ll hold hearings on it and move forward,” Evans said.

As a potential adjunct to the stadium financing plans, Evans said a master real estate development plan from Georgetown developer Herb Miller is seeing a potential revival within the John A. Wilson Building. Dismissed as one of eight private financing offers for the stadium, the plan to build a mix of office, retail and residential properties around the stadium still could happen outside the structure of paying for the ballpark, Evans said.

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