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Amended Deal on Stadium Approved

Allen Y. Lew, chief executive officer of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, said yesterday that he postponed some excavation work at RFK this week because of uncertainty over the financing package. He will resume renovations immediately in an effort to prepare for an exhibition game April 3 and the first regular season home game April 14.

"So we lost a few days," he said. "We'll make up those days. We will get it finished on time."

Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. celebrates with a baseball bat during the news conference. (Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

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Voting in favor of the financing package were Cropp, Harold Brazil (D-At Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) and Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8).

Voting against it were Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), David A. Catania (I-At Large), Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4).

"Why can't the team owners pay their fair share?" Fenty asked shortly before the vote. "No, voting against the stadium doesn't mean money will automatically go to schools and other needs. But it does mean that a government that does not get those things right should not be exploring putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the pockets of multimillionaires."

After the vote, members of the audience, many wearing red Nationals caps, broke into a round of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in the middle of the council's ornate chambers. A smaller number, wearing light blue hats with the slogan "No Stadium Giveaway!" left the room looking glum.

The District, a capital city of 69 square miles and 570,000 residents, bested a host of competitors, including Northern Virginia, for the team. Although critics said a publicly financed stadium would be a giveaway to rich baseball owners, city leaders argued that the ballpark would spark economic development in an area that has been largely neglected.

Washington joins 27 cities with a baseball franchise, and it gains a fifth professional team to go with the Wizards, Mystics, Capitals and D.C. United. The Washington Redskins play in Landover.

The debate over building a stadium through public financing has raged since the day Williams unveiled details of an agreement with baseball officials more than two months ago. Under that pact, the stadium, to be built near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street, would have been financed mostly by bonds backed by the gross receipts tax, as well as a tax on concessions and an annual rent payment by the team.

Mayoral aides have said the project could cost $440 million. But the city's chief financial officer estimated the cost at $530 million, and the D.C. auditor said $584 million.

Some business leaders objected to the amount of taxes, and civic activists contended that public money would be better spent on such pressing needs as schools, libraries, health care, recreation centers and affordable housing. For several weeks, Cropp and other council members negotiated with the mayor, baseball and each other to make changes.

Major League Baseball executives had threatened to pull the Nationals franchise out of the city last week because of the provision that said the stadium project would die if private money was not found. That "was a critical issue because it changed the transaction and did not commit the government to the financing agreed to in the stadium agreement," Selig said in his statement.

After Monday's negotiations, Cropp agreed to reopen the legislation and eliminate the provision because she is confident that private money will be found.

"The chairman has taken a lot of grief, but the chairman put herself on the line to get baseball," said Evans, the council's chief baseball booster. "She brought a compromise solution."

Next up for baseball is making an agreement with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos over a financial package designed to offset the potential impact of the Nationals on the Baltimore ballclub. The two sides have not spoken for more than a week, but Major League Baseball President Robert A. DuPuy is expected to visit Angelos again in the near future, baseball officials said.

Fred Malek, head of one group that is trying to buy the Washington team, said: "We are pleased that the mayor and city council have shown the wisdom of approving an outstanding stadium deal, and we very much look forward to bidding aggressively for ownership."

Staff writers Barry Svrluga, Martin Weil and Eric M. Weiss contributed to this report.

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