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Council Approves Altered Stadium Deal

"Why can't the owners pay for this themselves?" asked Fenty. "That's the one question no one has been able to answer. . . . We cannot in good conscience build a stadium, with all the problems we have in the District of Columbia. Where are the priorities of the government?"

The debate over building a stadium with public money has raged since Williams unveiled the details of his agreement with Major League Baseball in September. Under the pact, the stadium would be funded mostly by a gross receipts tax on the city's biggest businesses, as well as a tax on concessions and an annual rent payment by the team.

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)

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Some business leaders objected to the amount of the taxes, while civic activists protested that public money would be better spent on other pressing needs, such as schools, libraries, health care, recreation centers and affordable housing.

Williams added a community investment package to his legislation to appease some of the neighborhood activists. His aides proposed creating a special tax district around the stadium in which tax revenue from businesses would go toward funding bonds of as much as $450 million for neighborhood investment.

Also, council members persuaded the mayor to agree to an investment of $45 million for libraries and $30 million for computers for students and other items. But the library money required an increase in the business taxes, and Cropp, responding to concerns from business leaders, persuaded her colleagues to strip the $75 million from the legislation. That left only the special tax district, which some economists say is unfeasible because the stadium will not lure enough businesses to the area.

Cropp surprised Williams in early November by delaying a first council vote on the stadium deal, saying she feared the potential rising costs of the project and the liability of the city to pay for such overruns.

She suggested a number of ideas, including building adjacent to RFK, which was rejected, and setting up a formal process for seeking private funds, which the council adopted in an amendment to the legislation.

Cropp also insisted that Williams reopen talks with Major League Baseball on portions of the stadium agreement. Last week and early this week, mayoral aides and members of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission discussed ideas with baseball leaders.

On Monday, baseball officials agreed to some changes to the stadium deal in a letter to the city. Among those were allowing the city to use the stadium for 18 days a year, instead of 12, and providing additional free tickets for District youths.

The letter also said that baseball will give $100,000 to renovate a community center in Ward 8 and set up a foundation to help provide money for more neighborhood investments. Also included in the letter were discussions of ways to limit the amount of damages the District would have to pay if the new stadium were not completed by March 2008.

Staff writers Manny Fernandez, Thomas Heath, Lori Montgomery, Clarence Williams and Yolanda Woodlee contributed to this report.

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