- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2006

The message from D.C. stakeholders has been consistent and clear since the beginning: We want a baseball team, but not at any costs. There are no exceptions to that rule. Adrian Fenty, the lawmaker who would be mayor, should have known better.

Mr. Fenty can’t claim ignorance of the law. Like all other D.C. Council members, he knew that there is a $611 million spending cap on the new stadium. Besides, Chief Financial Officer Nat Gandhi had warned City Hall this summer that reconfiguring the parking proposal “substantially increases the risk that the stadium will not be completed on time and on budget.” If the stadium is not completed by Opening Day 2008, the city could face significant damages, and if City Hall wants to spend more than the legislated $611 million, then laws must be rewritten.

Having voted against public financing for the new stadium, Mr. Fenty was keenly aware of those and other details, including a stipulation for 1,225 parking spaces by Opening Day. But earlier this week, he flip-flopped, proposing to spend money the city does not yet have. Mr. Fenty proposed emergency legislation that would have busted the parking spending cap by about $30 million. Mayor Tony Williams wants most of the parking built below ground to accommodate potential above-ground development, while Mr. Fenty wanted substantial above- and below-ground parking.

Mr. Fenty’s plan should have been stamped dead on arrival, since it proposed spending projected tax revenues. Fortunately, D.C. Council members Marion Barry and David Catania were among the no votes. Mr. Catania was indeed spot on when he said, “Make no mistake, we’re already tens of millions of dollars above the cap with no end in sight.”

The rejection of Mr. Fenty’s failed financing foible could prove to be a sign of things to come should he emerge victorious in the November mayoral election. At the very least it proves he lacks the leadership wherewithal to get his liberal Democratic colleagues on the same legislative page.

The mayor is right: If D.C. stakeholders are to reap continuous financial benefits from the publicly funded stadium then above-ground land must be fully exploited with retail and housing opportunities. As we said in an earlier editorial, the options appear to be “more expensive and even more expensive.” But above-ground asphalt lots and concrete garages taking up the retail space “where everyone else would rather shop or eat” is not an option.

Stadium construction is well underway, yet City Hall is again squabbling over the stadium. Mr. Fenty needs to step away from the plate. Time is wasting. Time is money — especially during this pivotal election year. Build the underground garages and they will come.

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