- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2006

Major League Baseball has warned the District it is in violation of the lease agreement for the Washington Nationals’ new ballpark because it has been late in providing a host of key documents relating to the project.

Lawyers for the league said the issues must be resolved within 30 days, or it could pursue legal action. The missed deadlines have also delayed the completion of the sale of the Nationals to the family of local real estate developer Ted Lerner.

The information baseball is seeking from the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission includes: copies of the executed lease and ground lease for the stadium site; a funding report on the ballpark construction; a monthly project schedule; evidence of soil tests showing the site can support construction of the ballpark; and a letter outlining the availability of necessary utilities for the stadium. Most of these documents were due to MLB before the end of June.

“[T]his letter constitutes formal written notice of the Commission’s failure to specifically perform of comply with the enumerated provisions of the [Construction Administration Agreement],” MLB attorney Tom Ostertag wrote to city officials on Tuesday. “This letter also constitutes formal written notice … that the Commission has thereby failed to specifically perform or comply with the first sentence of the Lease Agreement. The team hereby demands that these failures be corrected.”

Sports commission chairman Mark Tuohey said several of the issues, including the presentation of the ground lease, can be resolved as soon as today.

“It’s paperwork,” Tuohey said. “Some of the information in the documents has been relayed on a consistent basis. Some of these documents are simply taking longer than anticipated. This will get resolved.”

One outstanding issue that could remain unresolved for some time is the city’s lack of title on the stadium land. The city controls the stadium property after acquiring it through eminent domain last year, but a court must first decide how much the city will pay for the land before granting official title. Legal proceedings in eminent domain cases can often take months, or even years, and in most instances construction on the acquired land can proceed even while issues are being debated by a court.

It is unclear exactly what legal actions MLB or the new ownership could take against the city for failing to meet the document deadlines. No specific penalties are outlined in the stadium lease or construction agreement, and city officials said MLB’s warning is simply a legal maneuver designed to help build a case in the event the city fails to complete the stadium by Opening Day 2008.

“The stadium construction is on time, on our view,” Tuohey said.

The $611 million stadium project has been facing intense deadline pressure from the start. The city and MLB only finalized the stadium lease and construction agreements in March, more than a year after the city first agreed to build the stadium in Southeast near the Anacostia River waterfront. Furthermore, MLB only named the Lerner family as the Nationals’ new ownership group in May, forcing the city to push back several stadium-related decisions, particularly those relating to parking.

The city is required to build 1,225 parking spaces at the stadium site and agreed earlier this month to work with District-based Western Development on constructing two garages with condominiums, retail and a hotel on the north side of the stadium site. Western has said it must begin construction by September to complete the parking portion of the development on time.

Meanwhile, the Lerner family has objected to the parking plan, arguing the ongoing development of condominiums and commercial space at the site will disrupt fan experience at the new ballpark.

The Lerner family had hoped to take official control of the Nationals by this weekend, in time for the much-touted “grand reopening” weekend at RFK Stadium. The Lerners essentially have been in control for several weeks, however, and have been involved in several key decisions relating to players and the ballpark.

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