Monday, May 31, 2004

A legislative amendment proposed by D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, seeks to tie a potential baseball stadium in Southwest to the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative (AWI).

Evans, long an ardent proponent of Washington baseball but frustrated with Major League Baseball’s delays to relocate the Montreal Expos, proposes to link a stadium at the current site of Benjamin Banneker Park to the $8billion revitalization effort. The goal would be to use tax-increment funding from nearby AWI development, including new shops and housing extending north near L’Enfant Plaza toward the Mall, to help pay for the ballpark construction.

Evans, however, cautioned the legislative effort does not signal a firm commitment to the Banneker site for baseball or exclude three other options still being considered: the RFK Stadium property, M Street Southeast and New York Avenue Northeast. Nor, he says, does it signal an end to his firm demand of an Expos commitment from MLB before advancing stadium legislation.

“Even if this gets out of committee, it has to go to the council and then to Congress. The soonest this could become law is maybe January,” Evans said. “This is a vehicle to help this project along, but if we get baseball and if that becomes the chosen site, there’s still a lot of contingencies here.”

The Evans amendment, first reported by The Washington Post, could be heard by the D.C. Council’s economic development committee tomorrow. But Evans said yesterday he may request a delay on any vote on the measure. The bill Evans is amending is one sought by Mayor Anthony Williams to create a development entity to lead the AWI work.

The Banneker site has been a favorite of many officials, including Evans, since research on the property began late last fall. But the current $383million proposal for the site remains architecturally daunting because part of the ballpark would be built on a platform above Interstate 395. Such elevated construction, while common to urban hotels and office buildings, is believed to be without precedent for a major outdoor stadium.

The Banneker land is federally owned and would require a city purchase or lease agreement to develop into a ballpark.

“That’s the most complicated site, so it needs the most help to make it happen,” said a source close to the Washington baseball effort. “If the gamble is made to go to Banneker, you want to move along as fast as possible.”

The amendment was written by attorneys for developer Herb Miller, a close ally of Evans who played a key role getting the Banneker site into the city’s baseball bid before MLB executives.

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