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Parking Fees Nearby Could Alleviate Stadium Funding

D.C. Considers Proposal That Would Provide Money Needed Now in Return for Firm's Profit Later

By David Nakamura and Neil Irwin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 18, 2004; Page B01

A plan to raise $100 million by charging for curbside parking near a new baseball stadium has emerged as one of the leading proposals in the District's bid to find private money to finance the ballpark, city officials said yesterday.

The proposal was made about a month ago by the Gates Group, a Cleveland-based private equity firm. City officials who have been briefed on the plan, including D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) and aides to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), said they believe it would work.

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John Ross, a senior adviser to Natwar M. Gandhi, the city's chief financial officer, is among those who have met with the Gates Group. He said he has not studied the plan in detail because the Gates Group has not formally submitted it for review.

However, Ross said that "yes, something like this could work."

Another private financing possibility under serious consideration, an administration official said, is offering to sell landowners near the stadium site the right to build taller buildings than allowed under current law. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, added that a third possibility would be to sell the rights to open retail stores on the ground level of the ballpark, facing out toward the street.

The effort to find private financing has become imperative in the District's bid for a baseball team after the council approved legislation this week that requires at least half of the funds for a new stadium to come from private sources. The $100 million that the Gates Group's proposal could raise would be a significant portion of the estimated $140 million needed to satisfy the legislation.

Major League Baseball officials have rejected the council's stadium financing agreement and have given the city until Dec. 31 to return to the original deal signed by Williams, which relies almost exclusively on public funds.

If Cropp is convinced that a viable private financing plan exists, she might agree to soften the language in the legislation by adding a provision that the city would cover the full cost of the stadium if all private options fail, mayoral aides said. Cropp said she will wait to hear more about the financing options before making a decision.

Cropp said yesterday that she called Williams and asked him to set up a meeting with baseball officials and her. She reiterated the request in a letter to him later. Williams has agreed to meet Monday, Cropp and mayoral aides said. However, it is not clear whether baseball officials will participate.

Informed of Cropp's request by a reporter, Major League Baseball President Robert A. DuPuy said: "That's news to me. No one has asked us to come. No one said what the purpose of such a meeting is."

The council could reconsider the stadium legislation Tuesday, at its last scheduled meeting of the year. Cropp must agree to do so by 10 a.m. Monday, when she sets the meeting's agenda.

"If there is a need for a change [in the legislation], I'll do it," she said. "If there's no change, then there's no need of putting it on there."

Cropp said she will ask colleagues to vote to suspend the council's holiday recess, which would allow the council to meet through the end of the year.

Meantime, baseball officials have suspended all business and promotional activities related to the Washington Nationals until further notice. Although other regions, including Northern Virginia, are poised to reopen their bids for the franchise should the District's deal collapse, DuPuy said baseball officials will wait until after Dec. 31 to make a decision about the team's future.

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