The D.C. Council narrowly gave preliminary approval yesterday to a plan to build a publicly funded baseball stadium in Southeast, moving closer toward finding a permanent home for the Washington Nationals but sending a message to Mayor Anthony A. Williams that his work is not finished.
At the end of a seven-hour meeting, with Williams (D) watching in the packed hearing room, the council voted 6 to 4 to build the stadium along the Anacostia River near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street. Three members, including Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), abstained.
D.C. Council member Harold Brazil (D-At Large) congratulates Mayor Anthony A. Williams after the stadium vote. Williams postponed a trip and sat through nearly four hours of the hearing "to show how important this is for the city." Story, Page B1.
(Michael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post)
The bill, which can be modified at a final vote Dec. 14 or 21, was amended four times yesterday. The legislation was hammered out in a series of negotiations between Williams and individual council members, who were meeting until late Monday night. Cropp, who has said the mayor's baseball plan is too expensive, backed the three amendments aimed at limiting public spending.
The council added a measure that creates a formal process for city leaders to consider private financing options for several months and eliminated a provision that promised $45 million for public libraries and $30 million for other neighborhood projects, including laptop computers for students at McKinley Technology High School. The mayor had added the project funds to win the votes of several council members.
Cropp also succeeded in attaching a provision to the legislation that would instruct Natwar M. Gandhi, the city's chief financial officer, to conduct a second cost analysis of the stadium project. If that estimate is more than $100 million above his first analysis, the legislation requires the mayor to choose another, cheaper site for the stadium.
The stadium would be funded through a gross receipts tax on large businesses, a tax on concessions and an annual rent payment by the team. While mayoral aides have estimated the stadium to cost $440 million, Gandhi said in October that the price could be $530 million, and D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols last month put it at $584 million.
Council members argued heatedly and made lengthy speeches during the session yesterday, carried live on the city's cable television station. Some members called on Williams, who made several rare appearances in the council chambers, to renegotiate with Major League Baseball. Cropp said the mayor would be talking to baseball officials about some parts of the stadium bill, although she declined to be specific.
Cropp shocked Williams last month by delaying the council's vote. Although she succeeded in reshaping the bill yesterday, Cropp still chose to abstain from voting. She explained that she wants to maintain leverage with Williams and council colleagues in hopes of winning other cost-saving concessions in the coming weeks.
"I want to keep the flexibility to bring crucial, heated but needed and necessary issues to the forefront," Cropp said on the dais. In an interview, she added: "What I will attempt to do is keep pushing this thing as hard as I can. There's more work to do."
Williams said he was not discouraged or concerned that the stadium package did not receive support from a majority of the 13-member council.
"Every major project in history has had a close vote," he said. "The College of Cardinals for the Sistine Chapel was probably a close vote. They probably had a close vote for the pyramids. Sometimes good things come in a close race."
Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8) and Harold Brazil (D-At Large) voted to support the legislation.
Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) voted against it.
Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) joined Cropp in abstaining.