- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 6, 2005

The wrangling in City Hall over building a new stadium for the new baseball team has turned into taxpayers’ worst nightmare. The Williams administration refuses to concede the true costs of the project, and lawmakers pretend to be surprised as projected costs continue to rise. As Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s deja vu all over again.”

The baseball deal is no laughing matter. The city’s creditworthiness on Wall Street — and its credibility at home and on Capitol Hill — are at stake.

While scribes and pundits avail themselves of the many exclamation points making the rounds of City Hall, we report the facts on the rising costs of the stadium project.

• The initial estimated cost of the stadium itself was $279 million.

• In September 2004, D.C. and baseball officials signed an agreement: The estimate stood at $435 million.

• Later that fall, projected costs by the city’s chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, were $486 million.

• By mid-November, the city’s auditor, Deborah Nichols, issued a report based on the projected figures of $435 million and $486 million, and said both “may be seriously underestimated and therefore are not representative of the true costs of the project.” Mrs. Nichols projected costs at $584 million.

• Mr. Gandhi, the CFO, revised his figures upward to $530 million.

• Tony Williams, whose mayoral legacy is riding on the deal, raised his numbers, too — to $550 million.

• In August, Mr. Gandhi revised his estimate — upward, yet again — to $535 million, the amount the city would borrow to build the stadium. Lawmakers passed legislation accordingly.

What began with a $279 million price tag has become a $535 million project. But now hear this: Mr. Gandhi is revising his figures yet again. The costs of building materials, labor and land are forcing his hand.

News reports put the as-yet-unannounced new estimate at $700 million (a more forthright estimate). Now that the mayor and the lawmakers have a ballpark figure, are they still willing to leave their legacies in the hands of the owners of Major League Baseball?

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