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Accord Reached on D.C. Stadium

Williams and Cropp Negotiate Financing

By David Nakamura and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 21, 2004; Page A01

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp said last night that they had reached agreement on a stadium financing package that would satisfy Major League Baseball by guaranteeing construction of a permanent home for the Washington Nationals along the Anacostia waterfront.

Under the new proposal, which the 13-member council is to vote on today, the city will purchase insurance for potential cost overruns on the stadium and split the payments with Major League Baseball. Also, District officials will continue pursuing private financing for the project for several months. But Cropp said she will drop a requirement that 50 percent of the construction costs be paid for with private money.

Chairman Linda W. Cropp and Mayor Anthony A. Williams address reporters. (Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

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Cropp plans to offer the proposal today as an amendment to the legislation adopted last week requiring that at least 50 percent of stadium construction costs be privately financed. Yesterday, Cropp officially added the baseball issue to the council's agenda for its final regular meeting of the year, scheduled for 10 a.m. today.

Williams and Cropp announced the agreement at a news conference at 11:10 last night, following a long day of negotiations between the mayor's office, the council chairman and baseball executives.

Cropp said the proposed changes could reduce the District's potential costs for the stadium by up to $193.5 million when compared with the deal Williams struck with baseball officials in September. She said she expects a council majority to approve the new agreement.

"The final legislation that will be presented tomorrow will offer the significantly lower costs and reduced risks to the District of Columbia that many of us said we were searching for," Cropp said last night.

Reached by phone in New York, Baseball President Robert A. DuPuy said last night: "We are very hopeful that by the end of the day tomorrow, legislation will be in place consistent with the baseball stadium agreement that will enable us to return Major League Baseball to Washington."

Williams and Cropp looked tired at their news conference in the John A. Wilson Building, and only Cropp gave the smallest hint of a smile. Williams moved his leg nervously as Cropp spoke.

"I always anticipated that as we brought a team here and moved through the process, we'd improve the deal," Williams said. "And I credit Chairman Cropp for accelerating the process. We're now able to bring baseball to the city and boost the morale and unite the city, but do it in a way that reduces the costs and decreased the risk."

Cropp (D), who has sought for weeks to ensure that the public costs for the stadium are limited, shocked the mayor last week by persuading the council to adopt the amendment requiring private financing. Baseball officials rejected that language, saying they were open to private financing but needed a guarantee that the stadium would be built with public money if private financing was not found. Baseball officials have given the city until Dec. 31 to approve an acceptable financing package.

Meanwhile, opponents of the stadium deal continued to stand against the revised proposal last night. Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who was among six council members who voted against the stadium last week, said that the new proposal from Cropp and Williams would still cost too much in public funds.

Even if private financing is found for some of the costs, the city still expects to implement a gross receipts tax on large businesses and a utilities tax on businesses and federal offices.

"This is materially the exact same thing the mayor sent over," Fenty said. "It's a publicly financed stadium with less risk, but still a publicly financed stadium."

The Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, are scheduled to open their 2005 season at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington. But after the council approved its legislation last week, baseball officials said that the team might not play in the nation's capital at all if the impasse over a new stadium remained unresolved by the Dec. 31 deadline.

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