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Baseball Sweetens Benefits To City

Cropp 'Positive' Before Vote Today

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 14, 2004; Page B01

District officials said yesterday that they have received new promises from Major League Baseball that improve a proposal to build a stadium with public money and will help persuade the D.C. Council to give final approval to the legislation today.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp and aides to Mayor Anthony A. Williams said the new commitments came in a 2 1/2-page letter in which baseball officials offered more specific community benefits and outlined a framework for continued discussions with the city about other stadium issues.

Council Chairman Linda Cropp says she has "things in writing."

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Cropp (D) said the letter means she probably will support the legislation today. "I am very positive," she said. "We have things in writing from Major League Baseball."

Mayoral spokesman Chris Bender said officials plan to release the letter today.

"We did get a letter from them outlining some of the improvements they are willing to make," Bender said. "In some cases, they are very specific. In some, they are just outlining a framework for discussion. It's really good."

Cropp and Bender declined to elaborate. District government sources said the letter provides details about the number of free tickets that will be given to the city's youth and gives the city the right to use the stadium for more than the 12 days a year agreed upon in the original contract between District and baseball officials.

The council granted preliminary approval to the stadium bill last month by a vote of 6 to 4.

Three members abstained last month, including Cropp, who said she was concerned about the costs to the city. She asked Williams (D) to reopen talks with baseball officials over several points in the agreement he signed with them in September.

Cropp's vote is considered crucial by the mayor's staff. Not only would she give Williams a majority of the 13 council members, but she could persuade others, including Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), who also abstained, to join her in supporting it.

Cropp has sought concessions from Major League Baseball in several areas. These include granting the District the use of the stadium for more than 12 days, allowing the council the ability to seek private funds to pay for ballpark construction and limiting the compensatory damages the city would have to pay if the stadium is not completed by March 2008.

Baseball officials have said publicly that the city should abide by the original deal, but they have talked several times with mayoral aides about finding a way to satisfy Cropp.

John McHale Jr., baseball's executive vice president, said yesterday that he could not comment on the specifics of the discussions.

"I don't want to comment on specifics other than they have been wide-ranging," McHale said. "We're trying to be as flexible as possible."

Yesterday, Cropp met twice with Williams and talked with members of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. In the late afternoon, she huddled with council colleagues behind closed doors for nearly two hours. Cropp told them that baseball officials were willing to compromise on several key issues, but she declined to be specific, according to council members in attendance.

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