Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Mayor Williams and the D.C. Council face some heavy lifting over the next six months to make the promise of baseball a reality by opening day in April. The financing plan for a new ballpark is on track to be completed by year’s end, but another stadium issue looms.

Several members of the council are reluctant to approve the mayor’s $440 million financing plan for a new stadium, which would be built between the Navy Yard and Fort McNair on the western shore of the Anacostia River. Those members don’t like the sweetheart deal because it would bestow a free stadium and rent on the cheap to a private sports franchise. They’re on the same side we are.

The draft legislation for the financing package made the rounds of City Hall yesterday. It includes $13 million to renovate Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, the former home of the Washington Senators. The new baseball team is scheduled to play in RFK, which is used by the soccer club D.C. United, until a new baseball stadium is completed. Meanwhile, D.C. United, whose primary investors are Anschultz Entertainment Group, apparently wants to finance and develop a new home, too. The reported cost of the soccer stadium is, at this early juncture, between $70 million and $100 million. Some of the land is federally owned, and the site itself is near two other military installations on the eastern side of the Anacostia, which means a sign-off by federal authorities is needed. While Metro stations already are up and running at both stadium sites, considerable infrastructure improvements to the South Capitol Street Bridge and other roadways is needed whether only one or both stadiums are brought online. Working with federal authorities is a must, as well.

On a more parochial level, the return of baseball to Washington is the talk of the town. All signs point to a majority of the 13 members on the council voting yes on the baseball financing package by Christmas. As Council member Jack Evans, whose Finance and Revenue Committee gets the first vote on the financing plan, told us yesterday, “Baseball is a sexy issue.”

While baseball is the talk of the town there are no guarantees. Three other Democrats, including Marion Barry, get a chance to nix other legislation involving the baseball plan next year. Such a prospect means that, for the time being, the Fat Lady can leave her opening-day wardrobe in mothballs.

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