Friday, October 28, 2005

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp yesterday insisted that the new ballpark for the Washington Nationals will be built near the Anacostia River in Southeast and said she is working with city officials to determine how to build the best ballpark without topping cost estimates.

“Right now, it’s within budget,” she said. “We’re moving forward at that site. There will be no motion — legitimate motion — to move it to another site.”

Some D.C. Council members have suggested developing the area around RFK Stadium as a money-saving alternative to the site on the Anacostia Waterfront.

Mrs. Cropp made her comments during the first Citizen’s Forum sponsored by The Washington Times Corp., which focused on the issue of baseball and its impact on the District.

Mrs. Cropp was on the panel along with D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Lang; Steve Green, director of development for the office of the deputy mayor for planning and economic development; Bob Peck, outgoing president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade; council member Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat; and Franklin Haney, who is bidding for ownership of the Washington Nationals.

Mr. Green said a lease agreement with Major League Baseball on the stadium should be finalized soon, allowing the league to announce the Nationals’ new owner.

“I think we’re real close,” said Mr. Green, who has been involved in the talks on behalf of the city.

Panelists fended off criticism by several neighborhood commissioners, who questioned whether the construction of the baseball stadium would provide jobs and other opportunities for local and minority businesses. Officials said that such businesses already are part of the construction and architecture teams for the stadium and that they have performed more than half of the work on the renovation of RFK Stadium.

The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission next week is holding a conference to promote business opportunities related to the ballpark.

“It’s asking a lot for baseball to take care of all of these issues,” Mr. Peck said.

The hope, he said, is that the new stadium will increase the city’s revenue and allow more money to be devoted to improving schools and other community needs.

Meanwhile, Mr. Haney reiterated his desire to pay cost overruns incurred by the city for the $535 million ballpark.

“The city has done enough,” Mr. Haney said. “I think it’s up to the new owner to be responsible for cost overruns.”

Specifically, he said he would help pay for underground parking at the site, which the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission has said would increase the cost by too much. The city has offered to pay for the parking using funds or revenue streams other than those dedicated for the ballpark.

Mr. Haney, in an interview, backed off an earlier assertion that he would pay for any cost overruns in exchange for the rights to be the lead developer for a 25-acre “ballpark district” near the stadium. His company is competing against eight other developers for the project, which is being spearheaded by the new Anacostia Waterfront Corp.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig met with Mr. Haney on Wednesday to discuss his bid for the team. Mr. Haney declined to provide details about the meeting but said he thinks he is still under consideration. He is competing against seven other bidders, including Indianapolis communications executive Jeff Smulyan, who has been touring Washington recently to promote his bid, and a team led by D.C. businessmen Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients, who are preferred by the city.

Mr. Haney said he would increase the Nationals’ payroll above the $50 million from this past season, but said the White Sox victory in the World Series with a $75 million payroll proves that a gigantic payroll isn’t required to be competitive.

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