D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp said yesterday that she will introduce legislation next week to cap the cost of a baseball stadium along the Anacostia River and force a relocation if the price is too high.
Cropp's announcement came in a letter sent yesterday to her 12 colleagues in anticipation of the council's first vote Tuesday on Mayor Anthony A. Williams's stadium financing package. It is the latest in a series of actions Cropp has taken to try to limit the amount of public money required for the project.
During the past few weeks, even as Major League Baseball named the team the Washington Nationals and put season tickets on sale, the council's heated debate over the stadium package has kept the project mired in uncertainty. The council vote already has been delayed once, and members continue to weigh their options.
Under the mayor's plan, a stadium near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street in Southeast Washington would be funded through a gross receipts tax on large businesses, a concession tax and an annual rent payment by the team.
Cropp (D), who has called the mayor's plan too costly, said her new legislation would set a price limit on the stadium.
After mayoral advisers estimated that the project would cost $440 million, Natwar M. Gandhi, the city's chief financial officer, declared it could cost about $530 million, and D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols put the figure at $584 million. A Washington Post analysis found that the price could be as much as $614 million.
Under Cropp's new legislation, Gandhi would be instructed to conduct a second cost analysis, including the price of the 21 acres of land for the stadium and the possible need to improve such nearby infrastructure as Metro stops and roads.
Gandhi said yesterday that his initial analysis included land and infrastructure. He said he stood by the conclusion that the project could cost as much as $530 million, but added that he would undertake another analysis if asked to do so by the council.
If Gandhi's second analysis exceeded his first estimate by $100 million or more, Cropp's legislation would force the mayor to move the stadium project to a site adjacent to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. That site, proposed by Cropp two weeks ago, would save as much as 20 percent because the city would not have to pay for the land.
But baseball officials, who have set a Dec. 31 deadline for the District to complete a stadium financing plan, have not agreed to a change in location.
"This just goes back to my original point when I saw the prices rising: At what point do folks say this is too much?" Cropp said.
Reaction to Cropp's latest proposal was mixed. Some colleagues praised her for setting a price cap on the stadium, while others worried that capping the project at roughly $630 million would do the opposite of what she intended: It would give the administration free rein to spend up to that amount without fear.
"This is the worst proposal yet. It's basically authorizing up to $629 million," said Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who opposes using public money for the stadium.
Mayoral spokesman Chris Bender said Williams (D) was not available to comment on Cropp's proposal yesterday because he was in St. Louis for Thanksgiving.