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Correction to This Article
A Nov. 11 Business article incorrectly described D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp's position on a plan for financing a baseball stadium. Cropp has said she would support Mayor Anthony A. Williams's plan if it included the possibility of some private financing.

Cropp Backs Stadium Plan, With a Caveat

Council Leader Agrees to Support Williams's SE Proposal if Private Financing Is an Option

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 11, 2004; Page B01

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp said yesterday that she would support Mayor Anthony A. Williams's plan to build a publicly financed baseball stadium along the Anacostia River in Southeast, as long as the contract stipulates the possibility of adding private funding in the future.

"We probably will do that," she said. "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 (D) says she is "just looking for a better deal" for the city. (Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

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Cropp's statement came after she and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) met with Fred Cooke, an attorney for BW Realty Advisors LLC. That group has proposed using as much as $350 million in private funds to build the stadium, estimated to cost as much as $530 million.

Evans said Cooke was unable to answer many of the key questions about the company's plan. Cooke said in an interview that he needed more data from the city about the ballpark to supply those answers. Cooke will return Monday to provide additional information to the full council.

BW Realty is not the only group interested in presenting a private financing proposal to the District government. After Cropp (D) held up a council vote on the mayor's stadium plan Tuesday, a half-dozen inquiries were made by private companies, mayoral aides said.

Williams (D), who had expressed shock when Cropp blocked the vote, took a more moderate stance yesterday. He said he feels "love and respect" for the chairman and was open to considering all funding options.

"If we can incorporate a way to publicly vet and approve a private financing package . . . then by all means I'd be the first to endorse it," Williams said.

Cropp has placed the stadium plan on the council's Nov. 23 agenda. But Evans said that Harold Brazil (D-At Large) cannot attend that meeting, so Evans will seek to move up the vote to next week.

Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) said he expects the council to approve the mayor's plan and then continue to review private financing options by setting up a competitive bid process. Seven of the 13 council members continue to offer "rock-solid" support for the mayor's plan, Orange added.

Under the mayor's pact with Major League Baseball, the stadium would be financed by a gross receipts tax on big businesses, a tax on concessions and an annual rent payment by the team. In return, baseball officials would relocate the Montreal Expos to Washington in the spring.

Mayoral aides said they had spent considerable time looking into a handful of private funding proposals offered by developers. Several of those contained a key provision that the developer would gain control of parcels of land outside the stadium's 21-acre plot, aides said.

Such a plan was deemed risky because gaining control of the extra land would be difficult, aides said. Though the government can seize land through eminent domain for public causes, it is far more difficult to do so legally if the land is to be turned over to a private developer.

The plan offered by BW Realty, owned by lawyer Richard A. Gross and Michael Sununu, does not include such a provision, according to company documents. Under the proposal, the District would pay $150 million for infrastructure improvements and to buy the 21 acres. The city would lease the land to BW Realty, which would find investors and float bonds to raise $350 million for the stadium, an office building and a parking structure.

BW Realty would then lease the stadium to the team's owners. After 25 years, the company could pay off its land lease or give the stadium to the city. How BW Realty would repay the debt annually and make money is not clear, Evans said.

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