- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The 13 members of the D.C. Council are waiting on one of the parties to blink before they vote on the city’s stadium-lease agreement with the 29 team owners of Major League Baseball, none of whom is in the mood to feel the pain of the city’s taxpayers.

The odorous deal before the council members packs the unsettling scent of the Anacostia River on a hot, steamy day in the summer. The vote comes in an election year that threatens to revolve around one question: Did you vote yes or no on the stadium lease? The language of Mayor Anthony A. Williams and his minions has been consistently lacking and naive. The cost of the proposed ballpark off South Capitol Street is being passed along to those businesses that meet the minimum cutoff in gross receipts. That maneuver supposedly leaves the overly burdened taxpayer out of the ballpark-construction business.

But that is only if you believe that merchants lack the common sense to pass along their increased operating costs to consumers. And that is why council Chairman Linda W. Cropp and her merry band are struggling with the lease agreement.

They have no easy way to go. The ones who vote yes will have a lot of explaining to do before Election Day. The ones who vote no will be staring at the prospect of the baseball owners pulling up stakes.

The baseball owners are holding all the best cards. They can take the case to arbitration, and probably win big-time. If not, they can begin discussions anew with other interested parties, starting with the Northern Virginia ownership group that wanted to plop the baseball team in a field near Washington Dulles International Airport.

To be fair to the Williams administration, the securing of a baseball team was no small achievement, given baseball’s historically tepid response to the two-time loser and the specter of a fight with the geographically challenged Peter Angelos in Baltimore.

Mr. Williams handed baseball everything but the combination to the city vault to make the deal, and more than a few have argued that he did just that. But with so many other variables conspiring against the city — the nearby Orioles, two previous baseball failures and the competition of Northern Virginia — Mr. Williams had no choice but to accept baseball’s terms.

The developers who purchased tracts of the suddenly fashionable land near the proposed ballpark site have become a force as well, perhaps the deciding one. Their investment is hardly a good one if the waterfront ballpark site is abandoned because of the fear of cost overruns.

The developers undoubtedly have deep enough pockets to push the messy deal through, if it comes to that. They are in business to make money, not answer to the concerns of constituents or the property owners and proprietors whose land and livelihoods, in some cases, are being taken from them through an expanded eminent domain.

Our Founding Fathers never intended eminent domain to be a tool that enriched the private interests of the very rich. Regardless of the Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London, Conn., last summer, this fundamental fact has been essentially ignored in the debate.

The self-interests of the principals are varied: a mayor with a legacy to protect, fans blinded by their devotion to the game, council members with political futures to consider, developers looking to receive a hefty return on their investments and baseball’s owners looking to squeeze every last penny they can out of the deal.

None of it is about the little people, that is certain.

This is about the rich getting richer, and it is happening in the bluest of blue precincts.

The deal is destined to be completed in the end, and maybe not so much because of the Williams administration, the D.C. Council, the baseball owners or the prospect of arbitration.

It will be completed because of the developers who have a serious interest in the land around the Southeast waterfront site.

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