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Stadium Cost Rises But Stays Below Cap

Project Passes Legal Hurdle; Architect Picked

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 31, 2005; Page A01

The District moved closer yesterday to launching work on a new baseball stadium complex along the Anacostia waterfront by releasing a cost analysis that suggests a price increase of as much as $46 million and by settling on a lead architect.

The cost study released by Natwar M. Gandhi, the city's chief financial officer, puts the entire stadium project at $581 million. That falls just below the cap set by the D.C. Council, which narrowly approved a ballpark financing package in December.

Under that legislation, the costs to obtain about 14 acres, build infrastructure and conduct environmental cleanup for the project could not exceed $165 million. Gandhi's report says costs for those three categories could total $161.35 million.

Meanwhile, the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission has recommended HOK Sport, the Kansas City, Mo.-based division of Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, as lead architect to design the stadium, according to council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2). The firm has designed 10 of the 14 newest major league ballparks. The commission's board will vote on the selection today.

"This is a go," Evans said. "This is what we've been waiting for, and now we can start to move aggressively to acquire property, do environmental cleanup and infrastructure and design. All have to be completed by April 2006 so we can get in the ground and get started."

Gandhi's report was crucial because the council had stipulated that if the stadium cost exceeded the cap, the city would have to look for a less expensive ballpark site. Now, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has met the council's two chief mandates, including that the city seek some private investment. The city has found two private financing plans that Gandhi has certified, although the council has not acted on either.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), who pushed for Gandhi's cost study, said yesterday that she is satisfied that the stadium can move forward.

"We still should look for opportunities to reduce the costs wherever we can," Cropp said. "I still think there's a way to do it cheaper."

But Gandhi's cost study is being eyed more critically by some council members who have objected vehemently to public funding of a stadium. Unless private money is found, the stadium will be funded through a gross receipts tax on large businesses, a utilities tax, a concessions tax and an annual rent payment by the Nationals. The Williams administration first estimated that the stadium project would cost $434.7 million, but subsequent estimates have been higher.

"We're paying too much for this stadium . . . and District taxpayers are on the hook for too much of it," said council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4). "To go to the line of the [council's] restrictions is not in the spirit of making the rich owners pay their fair share for this."

A stadium for the Washington Nationals near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street in Southeast is scheduled to open in March 2008.

Gandhi's previous estimate for the stadium project -- undertaken last fall -- was $535 million. The study released yesterday was conducted with the aid of several high-priced consultants, including Deloitte Touche.

Gandhi said in a letter to city leaders that his estimates are "conservative" and factor in the highest possible costs to do particular work. For example, he estimates that relocation of a large sewer tunnel on the stadium site could cost $29 million, but he notes that the tunnel might be protected in another way and remain at the location. In that case, the cost would be $2 million.

Mayoral spokesman Chris Bender called Gandhi's study a "worst-case scenario" by a "very conservative CFO." In several areas, Bender noted, Gandhi included contingency money that might not have to be spent.

"People should not look at the numbers and assume that's it. We're going to find ways to stay under these numbers," Bender said. "If we can, we'll come in even further under, but even with everything factored in, we're still under the cap. The council set forth a bar, and we did exactly what the council asked us to do."

Gandhi's report does not include potential costs for relocating a Metro bus barn, whose parking lot is on the stadium site. The study includes only the cost the city would face in buying the parking lot from Metro.

But Metro officials have said that moving the complex could cost about $50 million.

The report also does not include costs for widening and improving South Capitol Street, which runs along the western edge of the stadium site. Government sources said that such improvements have long been planned by the city's Department of Transportation and will remain in that agency's budget.

"No question there will be a debate over the numbers," Evans said. "But we have a process. We followed the process, and the stadium is a go, and we can move ahead expeditiously."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company