Saturday, June 17, 2006

Major League Baseball yesterday said it remained hopeful the sale of the Washington Nationals would be completed by early next month, thus officially allowing the Lerner family to take control of the team.

Officials are working feverishly to complete the $450 million sale before the end of June, but the process is likely to seep into early July. A completion before the All-Star break is likely.

The finalization of the sale will allow the 29 teams that bought the franchise —then the struggling Montreal Expos — for $120 million in 2002 to recoup some their investment.

But teams looking to profit off the sale likely will be disappointed. According to people familiar with the sale, each of the 29 teams will receive just less than $3.5 million each from the $450 million. That would still leave about $350 million — just less than half of which will be used toward fees and debt associated with the team’s sale — and the remaining money (believed to be close to $200 million) will be placed into a “war chest” in the event of a labor dispute or strike.

MLB spokesman Rich Levin acknowledged the league will keep some money from the sale for its own uses, but said it was unlikely all of the money would be placed in a labor fund. He said details of the sale were still being worked out and that decisions of how much money each team would receive had not yet been finalized.

Meanwhile, city officials said they believe they can work out a compromise on the construction of parking garages at the site of the Nationals’ new ballpark in Southeast. Members of the Lerner family, who will be installed next month as the new owners of the Nationals, have opposed plans by some city officials to build parking for more than 1,200 cars underground, arguing it could jeopardize the budget and timeline for the ballpark construction.

The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which is overseeing the project, is prepared to direct the construction team, led by Clark Construction, to build parking above ground. But the commission received some assurances from Clark this week that at least part of the parking could be built underground and completed by March 2008, the project’s deadline.

The Anacostia Waterfront Corp., the quasi-public agency directing development around the ballpark, said underground parking will allow for commercial development at the street level. They have presented a plan to pay for the construction that would involve payments from developers in exchange for the rights to build on certain parcels of ballpark land. But those plans have yet to be finalized, to the frustration of the Lerner family and members of the sports commission.

Talks are ongoing, and a plan could be presented to the D.C. Zoning Commission during a hearing on the entire ballpark plan June 26. Any above ground parking structures would require special approval from the zoning commission.

• Staff writer Thom Loverro contributed to this report.

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