Saturday, February 11, 2006

A top Major League Baseball official yesterday told city officials that new legislation passed by the D.C. Council governing construction of the Washington Nationals’ new ballpark goes “well beyond” existing agreements between the city and league and requested a in-depth discussion about the deal.

MLB president Bob DuPuy said he was concerned the stadium would not be built or paid for in the way that had been previously agreed to and that the league was fearful the D.C. Council had the power to change any contract signed by MLB and the city.

DuPuy made his comments in a letter to Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.

Early Wednesday morning, the D.C. Council approved a lease agreement for the ballpark, contingent on the league’s acceptance of a cap on the city’s expenditure for the project at $611 million. It passed the measure on an emergency basis during a special session after the lease was rejected mere hours earlier.

“[The legislation] clearly contains conditions, restrictions and new provisions which go well beyond our previous agreements and raises a number of questions,” DuPuy said. “Our review will take into an account not only those agreements but also what is needed to make the ballpark a long-term success for the team, its fans and the District of Columbia.”

The legislation allows the Nationals’ owner to pay for cost overruns on some parts of the project, a provision that is in violation of an existing deal between the city and MLB that calls for the city to incur all costs. DuPuy also said he was concerned about the league’s ability to have adequate control of the ballpark site.

After the council refused to approve the lease back in December, MLB and the city used a mediator to help end the dispute. The two sides agreed on a revised lease, with additional concessions from MLB, as well as commitments from developers to pay for land on the ballpark site. DuPuy said he is seeking a review to see that “the balance of burdens and benefits agreed to by us in mediation is readdressed since it has been seriously disrupted by the legislation.”

Tuohey did not return calls requesting comment last evening, but City Administrator Robert C. Bobb urged the league to sign off on the deal.

“Given all of the challenges the mayor has gone through and the challenges of the city council, it just seems to me that this is the final hour of the deal and that Major League Baseball should bend over backwards … so that we can move on with this project,” he told WAMU radio.

The council insisted on the cap legislation to avoid paying for unseen costs associated with the ballpark, which is projected to cost nearly $200 million more than a $535 million estimate made last year.

DuPuy said that because the cap legislation was passed on an “emergency” basis, the text of the bill may not serve as the proper basis for analysis. He requested a review of any analysis performed by D.C.’s chief financial officer and attorney general.

If MLB does not sign off on the agreement, it could pursue arbitration to end the dispute. Under arbitration, a three-person panel could order the city to pay damages to the league. In a worst-case scenario for the city, the league also could relocate the team.

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