- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2005

D.C. City Administrator Robert C. Bobb yesterday said the city will not present a lease agreement for a new ballpark in Southeast to the D.C. Council until at least the middle of January because it is still making changes to the lease to appease council members.

Under an agreement signed with Major League Baseball last year, the city has until Saturday to approve the lease or the league could file for arbitration. A vote on the lease had been scheduled for Dec.20, but it was postponed because city leaders did not have the seven votes on the council for the lease to be approved.

Bobb yesterday said the two sides continue to talk, but he stopped short of indicating whether MLB has agreed to let the deadline pass.

“We have had ongoing discussions with Major League Baseball and our own internal team as we work toward responding to all the issues raised by the city council and the community,” Bobb said. “We’re doing a lot of analysis and putting together a lot of alternative options that we can present.”

MLB officials did not return calls requesting comment. However, one source who has worked with league officials on these issues said MLB is likely preparing the documents and arguments necessary for arbitration, even as it continues to talk, in order to establish a position of strength.

“They’re going to play hardball until the very end,” the source said.

City officials have said they are making some minor changes to the lease to sway as many as five council members who have indicated they could be persuaded to approve it. However, most council members who are opposed to the lease said they will approve it only if the city can show how it will pay for cost overruns for the ballpark. The city is only authorized to borrow $535million for the stadium, but the latest cost estimate was $667 million.

Bobb said the city could sell some land on the ballpark footprint to developers as a way of paying for cost overruns.

“All types of alternatives are being discussed as we speak and that’s only one of the alternatives,” Bobb said. “We’ve always stated that the development rights in and around the stadium itself, including the overall economic development, would more than be enough to cover any cost overruns. We’re just caught in this timetable and are putting together pieces as we speak.”

Last week, D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission Chairman Mark Tuohey, the city’s lead negotiator on the lease, said any delay longer than a month could make it difficult for the city to build the stadium on time and without taking on additional cost. The city hopes to break ground on the stadium before June, in the hopes of completing it by April 2008.

The city has used eminent domain to control the land on the 21-acre ballpark site, but still does not have possession of the properties and has told landowners they must vacate by early February. Once the land is clear, the city must then perform extensive environmental testing of the area.

“We are hoping to get [the lease] done in January one way or another,” Bobb said. “We hope that at the end of the day it will be a very successful conclusion. We just have to work through the council’s legislative calendar once we put forth our final proposal.”

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