- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2005

District Mayor Anthony Williams yesterday responded to a stern warning from Major League Baseball officials regarding the timeline for the new ballpark for the Washington Nationals, saying he was confident the city would agree to a lease and financing for the stadium by the end of the year.

Williams, who was scolded Tuesday in a letter by MLB president Bob DuPuy for failing to meet certain benchmarks for the stadium project, referred to the warning as “public posturing.”

“We’re in a negotiation, and Major League Baseball has their people, their Politburo … that are the hard-liners,” Williams said. “[MLB] is basically telling us we gotta get this thing done, it’s taking too long. And it’s like, hello? Yeah, we know this. And we’re going to get it done.”

Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, the lead negotiator for MLB, is scheduled to meet with members of the council this morning. City officials who are negotiating the lease have asked MLB for a $20 million contribution toward ballpark construction, plus a $24 million letter of credit to create a rent reserve.

While MLB has said publicly it will not commit any money, city officials who are negotiating the lease said they were hopeful the league would make a contribution. Williams said the $20 million and letter of credit would be needed to ensure the D.C. Council’s approval of the lease.

“It’s unclear whether the council will approve a lease without some contribution from baseball,” said Williams, who met with the council over breakfast yesterday. “It’s uphill, but I think we’re going to get it through.”

Some city leaders, including council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, have said the $20 million request should be dropped in order to get the lease done faster. But Williams said MLB should pick up some of the cost.

“We need some help,” Williams said. “We’re asking for air coverage, and you’re sending us a mud pie.”

Also yesterday, Williams defended D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi, who was criticized this week by council members who said Gandhi misled them about the cost of the ballpark. During a contentious hearing on the baseball issue, David Catania, at-large independent, and other members of the council said they believed the cost of issuing bonds was included in the $535 million to be borrowed for the project.

Gandhi said the total price tag, including the cost of issuance, was $589 million, and that was clarified when the council approved technical amendments to the financing plan last month.

“You can overargue a point, and I think it was overargued in a very disrespectful way,” Williams said of the criticism of Gandhi. “I don’t think condescension and disrespect have a place. If you look over time at everything coming into the project and going out … it is coming in at roughly $535 million.”

Gandhi reiterated yesterday the cost of issuance will not be paid for using additional District funds but rather premiums from the bonds, interest and baseball-related revenue collected this year.

“The presentation we have made consistently to the council is that we will not borrow more than $535million,” he said. “Am I asking the council to pay more money? No.”

Williams also dismissed calls by some council members to consider moving the ballpark to a site near the current RFK Stadium.

“It is not true that RFK is a slam-dunk, unquestionably cheaper site to do. It isn’t,” Williams said. “This South Capitol site is a powerful site. Hundreds of millions of dollars of private market money has been bid on this site. It’s not just me saying that. It’s validated by the market.”

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