Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday said he believes the city can satisfy requests by council members for changes to a stadium lease agreement by the end of this week but admitted there are still tense discussions to be had with Major League Baseball.

Williams, who said he will submit a revised lease agreement to the council tomorrow, stopped short of saying he had the necessary seven votes for approval of the document but said he was optimistic.

“There are some snags, but I think we’re making headway,” the mayor said. “I’m hopeful that everybody’s in agreement by the time we submit this.”

Council chairman Linda W. Cropp, a Democrat, last week submitted a list of 12 requests she said will be needed to gain the seven votes needed to approve the lease. The key request calls for a cap on the city’s costs for the stadium project, to be built along South Capitol Street near the Anacostia River.

Projected cost for the stadium recently jumped from $535 million to $667 million, leaving some council members concerned the city will be responsible for millions of dollars in cost overruns. The mayor said yesterday progress was being made on the cost issue.

The city and MLB still disagree, however, on a request by the council that the Washington Nationals pay for an extra year of rent at RFK Stadium if the new ballpark is not built by 2008. The league has resisted this request on the grounds that an extra year at RFK already would cost the team millions of dollars in revenue from luxury boxes and other amenities.

The city and MLB are working with a mediator, former Detroit mayor Dennis Archer, on a compromise that will satisfy the council.

Some of the requests from the council require changes to the lease, but others are not specific to the lease and may not need to be included.

Changes regarding financing, rent payments and certain community benefits likely will be part of the lease. Other specifics, including who will pay for cost overruns, could be determined officially next week, though mayoral aides indicated a preference for all requests to be satisfied by tomorrow. Mayor Williams said the council would have adequate time to review the lease and other new stadium provisions before voting.

Meanwhile, a coalition of stadium supporters began a series of radio advertisements and mailings yesterday designed to urge residents to contact council members and ask them to support the lease. The ads tout the potential benefits of the stadium deal, including a proposed $450 million community benefits fund and additional tax revenue.

“The truth is there is a lot of misinformation about this deal,” said Chip Smith, a spokesman for the South Capitol Ballpark Coalition. “This campaign is aimed at giving people the facts so that collectively we can make an informed decision.”

The group is made up of the Washington Nationals, the District of Columbia Building Association, the D.C. Convention and Tourism Corporation, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Restaurant Association of Greater Washington. Also included are Monument Realty, Western Development Corporation and Forest City Enterprises, all of which were selected to redevelop land around the ballpark site.

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