- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

District and Major League Baseball officials will meet today to finalize a lease agreement for the Washington Nationals’ new ballpark, paving the way for the selection of a team owner as soon as next week.

Members of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission and city officials will have face-to-face talks with Jerry Reinsdorf, baseball’s lead negotiator, and others to reach an agreement on four or five issues that have been sticking points in the lease talks.

Most of the undecided issues deal with securitizing ballpark revenue streams so that Wall Street will provide investment grade ratings to the bonds used to pay for the $535 million ballpark in Southeast.

If negotiations go well, the agreement could be done by tomorrow. This would allow Major League Baseball to announce its ownership choice next week, though most commission members and city officials said it is much more likely the announcement will come after an MLB owners meeting Nov. 16 and 17.

Commission officials expressed relief that the council this week voted in favor of technical amendments to the ballpark financing agreement, as requested by Wall Street. And they downplayed talk that the city is removing elements of the ballpark design in order to stay under budget with stadium construction.

“We’re committed to building the stadium according to the program we agreed to,” said Bill Hall, chairman of the commission’s baseball committee.

The commission is scheduled to meet privately Monday morning with stadium architect Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum to review ballpark designs. Briefings before city officials and the D.C. Council will follow before designs are released publicly.

Also yesterday, commission members said they received the support of D.C. Councilman Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, for the construction of a new soccer stadium at Poplar Point in Southeast.

Barry, who has long opposed the construction of a facility for D.C. United east of the Anacostia River, changed his position after reviewing plans that included the construction of affordable housing and neighborhood-serving retail, commission members said.

“He’s looking at this now in a much larger context,” sports commission chairman Mark Tuohey. “He’s very supportive.”

Officials hope the new soccer stadium can open around the same time as the new ballpark, but the city must first wait for a transfer of the land from the federal government. Legislation to approve the transfer awaits action by Congress.

Meanwhile, the commission also plans to ask the city’s chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, how the commission can pay between $25 million and $30 million for renovations to the D.C. Armory next year. It is unclear whether the commission can perform armory renovations for 2006 because the budget for the year already has been finalized.

But Tuohey said the renovations are needed now to accommodate a new indoor lacrosse team and a possible new franchise of the National Basketball Development League.

“I don’t want to wait for ‘07,” Tuohey said. “The question is how do we get the money to do the renovation in ‘06.”

David Wherley, a commission member and the commanding general for the D.C. National Guard, said $100 million eventually would be needed for a full renovation, which would include a replacement of all utilities and the installation of air conditioning.

Also yesterday, the sports commission said it will ask the city to pressure the federal government to reimburse it for more than $170,000 spent to use the armory to house people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The government had assured the city it would be paid back for any costs incurred while caring for Katrina refugees, but the federal government has failed to pay so far.

“We were all ready to help our fellow citizens, but this is reimbursable by the federal government, and I’m not going to sit around and wait for it,” Tuohey said. “I’m totally unsatisfied. What we’re getting is absolute baloney.”

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