- The Washington Times - Monday, October 31, 2005

D.C. Council chairwoman Linda Cropp said yesterday the city has made changes to the ballpark financing agreement needed to satisfy bond raters on Wall Street and that the city should have the funds by the end of this year to build a stadium for the Washington Nationals along the Southeast waterfront.

Cropp expressed confidence that the full council today would approve amendments to the ballpark financing plan, which was rejected by Wall Street last month because of several technical problems. She said the changes will appease Wall Street but are minor enough that she can limit the council’s ability to make further changes that would disrupt the deal.

“The council is a responsible body, and I don’t think that there would be action to make significant changes,” she said.

Under the financing agreement, the city would pay for the $535million ballpark through a gross receipts tax on businesses and a utility tax, with a $246million contribution from Deutsche Bank in exchange for revenue from the stadium and the team’s rent payment.

To be sent back to Wall Street, the financing agreement must be voted on twice by the council, with the second coming during the next legislative meeting Dec.1. The city is required to have revenue from the sale of bonds by the end of this year, essentially meaning it must get Wall Street’s approval by mid-December.

“[Chief financial officer Natwar Gandhi] has said that if the council takes action by December, that there is enough time to do whatever is necessary to complete the process,” Cropp said. “We can only go by what the CFO tells us.”

Major League Baseball officials will meet with city leaders this week to work out details of a lease agreement over the new ballpark. MLB has said it would prefer to finalize the lease before announcing the Nationals’ new owner. Some aspects of the lease agreement also affect the ability to get financing for the ballpark.

Meanwhile, Vincent Orange, Ward 5 Democrat and chairman of the Council’s Committee on Government Relations, filed suit against Cropp in D.C. Superior Court after she refused to allow Orange to hold a hearing on baseball-related items, arguing that his committee had no authority over the issue. Orange tried to hold the hearing yesterday but Cropp did not provide the necessary staff or equipment needed to hold it, and no other council members appeared. Cropp said she will file motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The council will vote tomorrow on several pieces of baseball-related legislation introduced by Orange, including a non-binding resolution to require the new ownership of the Nationals to be taxed locally. Another resolution that would require MLB to select an owner before a lease agreement is in place could be binding unless it conflicts with the existing agreement between the city and baseball, Cropp said.

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