The D.C. Council approved legislation late last night that dramatically restructures the city's deal with Major League Baseball by requiring that private financing cover half the cost of a new stadium.
Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) shocked her colleagues after 11 hours of debate on a stadium package by offering the private financing amendment about 10 p.m., saying she was disappointed by recent talks with Major League Baseball.
Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) reacts as D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) says she will not support a baseball stadium without private financing.
(Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
The bill, which was approved on a 7 to 6 vote, gives Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) until June to find the required private financing plan. If that plan is not certified by Natwar M. Gandhi, the city's chief financial officer, and approved by the council, the stadium bill would lapse.
"My basic belief is that there are too many public dollars going into this," Cropp said. "This will make the mayor seek private dollars more than anything else. I don't know how Major League Baseball will react."
Williams and other baseball supporters believed Cropp was nearing a compromise with baseball officials that would keep in place the key terms of the mayor's pact to use public funding. Williams was furious after the amendment was approved and stormed out of the chambers as Cropp's council allies spoke in favor of her action.
Cropp said the council could reconsider the legislation next week if baseball officials show they are willing to seriously renegotiate some terms of the agreement.
But the move opens another threat to the stadium: Three new council members, all of whom oppose using public funds for a stadium, take office next month.
Over the past two weeks, as Cropp pressed for better terms, baseball officials consistently emphasized that they had a deal with the city. That agreement, negotiated by the city, the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission and Major League Baseball, requires that the city pay for the baseball stadium.
For baseball, the two-year search for a permanent home for the former Montreal Expos seemed on the verge of collapse last night. Baseball officials had privately expressed concern that the city would try to renegotiate once they made a commitment to Washington. That concern became a reality last night, although baseball did not officially weigh in on the council's decision.
"We're not going to comment piecemeal on these amendments," Robert A. DuPuy, president of Major League Baseball, said. He said baseball officials will comment after "we've had time to review it and talk it over with the commissioner."
Under the pact Williams negotiated with baseball officials in September, a stadium along the Anacostia River in Southeast, estimated to cost $279 million, would be funded largely through a gross receipts tax on businesses. The deal's total price tag has been estimated by mayoral aides at $440 million, but Gandhi put it at $530 million and D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols said $584 million.
Baseball officials had given the city until Dec. 31 to pass the financing legislation. The Washington Nationals are to begin next season at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.
"We guaranteed that a baseball stadium would get built," said Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), the council's most ardent stadium supporter. "That guarantee is essential for Major League Baseball, because they want to sell the team. . . . Without that guarantee, I don't see baseball staying here."
He added: "Now she has stuck a poker in their eye. . . . The chairman laid down the gauntlet and said, 'Baseball needs to negotiate with us and do what I want.' We've given them the opportunity to leave, which wasn't there before."