Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The D.C. Council yesterday met with Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ negotiating team behind closed doors for three hours without reaching an agreement on the revised baseball-stadium lease.

Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, however, said after the meeting that the council will address his concerns over issuing bonds for the stadium’s construction.

City officials negotiating with Major League Baseball (MLB) had eliminated from the revised lease language requiring a reserve of rent to help back the bonds. Bond raters on Wall Street in the fall said the reserve was needed to grant the bonds an investment-grade rating.

Changes to the financing plan also eliminated the involvement of Deutsche Bank, which had struck a deal with the city to pay for $246 million of the stadium upfront in exchange for stadium revenue.

The council “will put back all of the provisions, that is what they promised,” said Mr. Gandhi, who had expressed anger over the lease changes.

Deutsche Bank was “never out” of the financing plan, he said.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, an at-large Democrat running for mayor, concurred with Mr. Gandhi.

What’s more is that the council could postpone its vote on the deal, scheduled for Tuesday, if the 13-member council and mayor’s negotiators have not reached an agreement, Mrs. Cropp said.

Mr. Williams presented the revised deal to council members Friday with hopes that it would address their concerns and win majority support.

But none of the eight members who oppose the deal gave any indication yesterday of having changed their minds.

“We don’t see any appreciable improvement from what we’ve already had before us,” said David A. Catania, at-large independent. “The good news is that people want to get there.”

Council members clearly were upset with the revised lease deal. When the doors to Mrs. Cropp’s conference room occasionally opened, members could be heard yelling at the mayor’s negotiating team and the mediator, former Detroit Mayor Dennis W. Archer.

After the meeting, council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, said the main issues of contention are capping the construction costs of the $667 million stadium and keeping the project’s development rights.

The council has settled on borrowing $535 million for the stadium project, with $98 million for land acquisition.

The revised deal would give the city 57.5 percent and baseball owners 42.5 percent of the development rights of the stadium’s south end, closest to the Anacostia River.

“The 57.5 percent — we see that as a deal breaker. We’re not going to take that,” Mr. Barry said. “We bought the land.”

Mr. Barry and other council members said the real issue is the lack of trust between the mayor and MLB on one side and the council on the other.

“I think the essence of this is, I want to see the documents that support the promises to cap the costs, legally binding documents,” said Vincent C. Gray, Ward 7 Democrat.

“I can’t vote on anything without details,” said Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat.

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