A majority of D.C. Council members said yesterday that they generally support Mayor Anthony A. Williams's $440 million plan to build a stadium for the Montreal Expos on the Anacostia waterfront, but several of them cautioned that they want to see more financing details before they commit to voting for it.
The council needs to approve the plan by the end of December if the team is to start playing in the nation's capital next season.
Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), a leading critic of the proposal for a publicly funded ballpark, predicted that it will not have enough support to pass the council once it has been thoroughly debated.
Williams (D) said he will seek the backing not only of all 13 current council members but also the three council candidates who defeated incumbents in this month's Democratic primary and campaigned against a publicly financed stadium. Those three challengers -- Marion Barry, Kwame R. Brown and Vincent C. Gray -- will take office in January if they win the Nov. 2 election.
"All council members have to be on board, ultimately. My goal is to get a sizable majority of both the existing council and the to-be council," Williams said at his weekly news briefing. "It's going to take a lot of work, but that's what we're going to do."
Seven council members appeared on the dais with Williams at the City Museum for yesterday's announcement of baseball's return to Washington: Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), Harold Brazil (D-At Large), Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) and Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8). In their remarks to the crowd, they all spoke enthusiastically about the Expos' move to Washington.
Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), who was not present, has indicated that he backs the stadium plan. But several council members who were at the celebration, including Cropp, said in interviews that they need to study the stadium financing legislation before they decide how they will vote.
"The general concept you can embrace because it's not taking money from taxpayers," Cropp said. "I haven't seen the legislation. I can't buy a pig in a poke."
The mayor's plan calls for the stadium to be financed through a gross-receipts tax on certain businesses, in-stadium taxes on tickets and merchandise, and rent payments from the team's owners. City officials have said that the legislation must be sent to the council this week to ensure enough time for public hearings, committee markups and passage by the end of the year. If the council does not act by then, there will not be enough time to renovate Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium before the start of the baseball season in April, officials said. The team will use RFK while the new ballpark is built.
Three council members reiterated their opposition yesterday to the mayor's plan: Fenty, David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3). The two other council members -- Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) -- said they are undecided.
The Williams administration was still making revisions to the legislation yesterday, and officials said they plan to submit it to the council by tomorrow. Fenty said one of the reasons he opposes the plan is that it calls for increasing business taxes to help a company that should pay for the stadium on its own. "With all due respect to the mayor, he is giving a sweetheart deal to Major League Baseball," Fenty said. "It would be a dereliction of duty for the council to approve the deal as the mayor is going to present it."
But Evans told the gathering at the City Museum that MCI Center was controversial when plans were announced to spend $80 million on the infrastructure. The arena became a catalyst for $4 billion in development within a four-block radius, Evans said.
"Folks, you have to invest money to make money," Evans said. "That's what we're going to do in Southeast when we build this stadium. Don't look at the stadium itself. Look at the area, and look at the returns that we're going to get."