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'Big Boxes' Part Of Stadium Pitch

Sales Tax Would Help Pay Debt Service

By Dana Hedgpeth and Neil Irwin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 11, 2005; Page E03

Herbert S. Miller, a leading Washington retail developer, has proposed financing the new baseball stadium on the District's Anacostia waterfront partly by building a retail and residential complex anchored by "big box" stores such as Wal-Mart or Costco.

Miller has released details of what he called a $1.4 billion complex, one of eight private financing schemes that competing groups submitted to the District government in January.

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Miller, who developed the Gallery Place retail complex in downtown Washington and mega-malls such as Potomac Mills in Woodbridge, proposes developing the land surrounding the planned ballpark in Southeast with the large-scale retailers, a variety of smaller stores and restaurants, 450 loft apartments, 780,000 square feet of office space and a 250-room hotel. He said debt service on the ballpark would be paid partly by sales tax revenue from the retailers, eliminating the need for a citywide gross receipts tax on businesses.

Development experts not involved with Miller's plan called the idea intriguing but said it depends on luring the big-box retailers to what is now a run-down area of empty lots and industrial property.

"We are interested in being in the District, and [a site near the baseball stadium] would be a great one for us," said Jeffrey H. Brotman, chairman of Costco Wholesale Corp., who said Miller recently contacted him about being a retailer in his project. A Wal-Mart Stores Inc. spokesman did not return calls seeking comment.

Under legislation passed by the D.C. Council in December, the city must seek private funds to pay half the cost of the $279 million stadium for Major League Baseball's Nationals.

Natwar M. Gandhi, the city's chief financial officer, has until March 15 to determine whether any of the private financing plans is feasible. If he certifies one or more of the plans, they would be considered by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and the D.C. Council.

Among the plans that have been submitted are a proposal by one investment group to buy the rights to future parking revenue from streets around the ballpark, and another proposal to help pay for the stadium in return for using depreciation on it as a tax write-off. The remaining plans have not been made public.

A spokesman for the mayor declined to comment on Miller's proposal. Andrew Altman, head of the Anacostia Waterfront Development Corp., which is drawing up a master plan for development near the stadium, said, "We're at the point of gathering all ideas and trying to determine what is the vision that makes the most sense."

Miller says he has assembled a group of investors including Merrill Lynch Capital Markets and the California Public Employees' Retirement System, a multibillion-dollar pension fund. Merrill Lynch and Calpers declined to comment.

In addition to the stadium financing, Miller said his group would pay for improvements such as $85 million in new roads, site improvements, demolition and utility work. In exchange, Miller wants the city to acquire and sell to his group the land bounded by M Street SE to the north, First Street SE to the east, Potomac Avenue to the south and South Capitol Street to the west.

"You need something to make this part of town come alive," Miller said. "This can be more than just building a baseball stadium. We can create a real sense of place."

Staff writer David Nakamura contributed to this report.

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