The District's attempt to bring major league baseball back to the nation's capital was thrown into uncertainty yesterday when D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp declared that she will pursue building a publicly funded baseball stadium adjacent to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, breaking sharply from Mayor Anthony A. Williams's plan to build along the Anacostia River.
Cropp (D) made her announcement just four days before the council's key vote Tuesday on the future of the stadium. She shocked Williams (D) and her council colleagues by saying that the mayor's plan was too expensive and risky for the city's businesses that would be taxed to pay for construction.
A satellite photo shows RFK Stadium in the top right. The new proposal calls for a ballpark adjacent to the stadium site instead of near the Anacostia River.
(U.s. Geological Survey)
It is not clear, however, whether either Cropp or Williams has enough votes lined up on the 13-member council to pass a plan. Both have four or five solid supporters, with the remaining members undecided or opposed to both proposals. The mayor vowed to continue his fight, saying he will make a public appeal Monday on the city's cable channel.
Building a stadium next to RFK would save the city at least 20 percent compared with Williams's preferred site in Southeast near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street, Cropp said. The cost of the mayor's plan, estimated by his advisers at $440 million, could soar to $530 million or more, according to an analysis released last week by Natwar M. Gandhi, the city's chief financial officer.
"This is a better deal for the District of Columbia," Cropp said at a midday news conference at the John A. Wilson Building. "The business community said they are willing to support baseball, but not at any cost."
Cropp's proposal did not include another key provision of Williams's plan, a community investment fund worth up to $450 million that could be spent on schools and libraries and that would be made possible by economic development around his proposed stadium site.
Williams responded angrily at his own news conference an hour later, saying that Cropp's proposal could "blow . . . up" the deal he cut with baseball officials to bring the Montreal Expos to Washington in the spring. Under the agreement, the team would play at RFK for three years, then move to a stadium along the Anacostia in 2008.
"The dream of having a team is at risk; it is in jeopardy," Williams said. "I can't emphasize it enough, so I'm trying to raise the volume. We've worked for 10, 20, 30 years for this, and now it's in jeopardy."
Reaction from Major League Baseball officials was muted. They said they will give the mayor until Dec. 31 to work out an acceptable plan, as originally agreed. Some prospective ownership groups of the team said they thought that Cropp's plan would not automatically reduce the value of the franchise or tamp down bids.
John McHale Jr., baseball's executive vice president for administration, said league executives were not panicking.
"We struck a deal with the mayor, which provided that he had until December 31 to get legislation passed which effectuated the baseball stadium agreement," McHale said. "We are some ways from that date, so we are not going to get too excited at this point."
Cropp worked on her plan into the early hours yesterday. About 10 a.m., she presented it to a group of city leaders, including Williams and his top aides; council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5); and D.C. Sports and Entertainment Chairman Mark H. Tuohey. As of last evening, Cropp had not spoken to Major League Baseball officials.
However, Tuohey immediately telephoned Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, head of baseball's relocation subcommittee, to inform him of Cropp's actions. Reinsdorf declined to comment publicly yesterday.
Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks, a member of the relocation committee, said baseball officials "thought they had an understanding [with the District], and I think at this point it would be difficult to deviate from that understanding."