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Cropp Blocks Council Vote On Stadium

Chairman Says She Has Private Financing Plan

By David Nakamura and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 10, 2004; Page A01

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp blocked approval of a bill to build a baseball stadium with public money yesterday, announcing that she has a plan that could provide up to $350 million in private funding.

Cropp's action came during two hours of closed-door debate by the council shortly before its legislative session and marked the second time in five days that she has stunned her colleagues with a new stadium proposal.

"I have said from the start that I am in favor of baseball. I'm just looking for a better deal. It's premature to say whether anything will come up that is a better deal," Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp said. (Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

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Seven of the 13 council members said that they were prepared to vote in favor of Mayor Anthony A. Williams's plan to construct the stadium along the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington. Cropp (D) abandoned an alternative proposal she made last week to build near Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. That proposal had failed to muster much council support.

But after telling colleagues that she would support the mayor's site, she tried and failed to get them to agree to delay the vote for two weeks. Cropp then exercised her power as chairman and removed the bill from consideration, placing it on the agenda for Nov. 23.

Cropp said that over the next two weeks, she will finalize details of a plan to provide private financing for the stadium, estimated to cost as much as $530 million.

But by last evening, Cropp had tempered her morning actions by telling reporters that she would back the mayor's financing plan if her support was needed to save major league baseball's return to the city. Cropp said that if her private financing package "does not make sense, I am prepared to move immediately forward with the mayor's proposal to bring baseball to this city."

The idea of private financing was proposed to Cropp late Monday afternoon by Richard A. Gross and his business partner, Michael Sununu, son of John Sununu, who was White House chief of staff under President George H.W. Bush.

Gross and Sununu, who own the firm BW Realty Advisors LLC, offered to pay two-thirds of the cost in exchange for exclusive rights to build the stadium, said Fred Cooke, their attorney. The District would provide about $150 million for infrastructure improvements and 21 acres near the Washington Navy Yard and South Capitol Street.

Under the plan, the city would lease the land to Gross and Sununu, who would recruit investors to raise $350 million. That money would be used to build the stadium, a small office building and a parking structure. Gross and Sununu would lease the stadium to the baseball team, using the rent money and revenue from ticket and concession taxes to repay the debt.

The city would not collect rent on the land for about 25 years, after which Gross and Sununu would have the option of paying off the lease or giving the city the stadium.

Stephen M. Green, the mayor's point man on baseball, described the proposal as a tax shelter that relies on a loophole in the federal tax code to generate tax benefits for a private investor claiming depreciation on a public facility.

"My plan will eliminate government financing and eliminate the risk," Cropp said. "Everyone would have to admit that if we were able to deliver a stadium at the South Capitol site while saving the citizens and our businesses $300 million to $350 million, it is extremely valuable for us to take this two-week period to see if it can be accomplished."

Council members reacted with skepticism yesterday.

"What was pretty clear is that this was a proposal that was not ready for prime time. It was not thought out," said Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who opposes using public money for the stadium. "There's no way to negotiate with a private developer to build a $500 million stadium in two weeks. That proposal is dead. It's not going to happen."

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