By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 2, 2005
The rising price of construction materials has significantly increased the projected cost of the District's baseball stadium complex, prompting officials to begin discussing what to eliminate from the project, city leaders said yesterday.
Officials declined to say how much more the $535 million project would cost under their most recent analysis, which was conducted by the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. But they said potential cutbacks could come from features inside or outside the ballpark, such as reducing the size of concourses, suites and other amenities or moving parking above ground and reducing the number of retail stores at the site.
"We'll have to reduce some things and not be able to do a Cadillac stadium, but we could do a Buick or a Ford," D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) said at the council's monthly legislative meeting.
Her warning came shortly before the council voted 10 to 2 to give preliminary approval to three technical amendments to the stadium financing package, which relies heavily on public money.
The amendments, which deal with tax issues, were sought by city financial officials who said Wall Street bond raters would not grant the project an investment-grade rating unless the changes are made. Such a rating would give the city a lower interest rate and reduce its payments.
A final vote on the amendments is scheduled for Dec. 6. City financial officials said they need to issue bonds before the end of the year to secure the funds to begin construction.
Cropp announced that the council's Finance and Revenue and Economic Development committees will hold a joint roundtable at 10 a.m. Nov. 28 to gather public input on the project.
The council's preliminary approval relieved some city officials who feared that some members might attempt to force Major League Baseball to contribute more money or even move the stadium to another location. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) lobbied some members last week to help ensure the amendments' approval.
Only David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) voted against the financing yesterday, saying they would like to reduce the public investment in the project. Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who opposes public funding, was absent.
"I appreciate the Council moving this legislation along," Williams said in a written statement. "The changes will save taxpayers money and help get the city positioned to build a new, state-of-the-art stadium along the Anacostia River."
But even as the financing matters appeared headed toward resolution, Cropp unexpectedly raised another problem related to potential cost overruns.
Sports commission officials said last week that plans for underground parking, retail shops on the stadium site and some plazas outside the park might be eliminated. Those features are not considered core items by Major League Baseball, but they have been sought by the city to help generate more revenue from a ballpark entertainment district along the Anacostia in near Southeast that would feature restaurants and retail.
Allen Y. Lew, chief executive of the sports commission, said yesterday that he has ordered a full review of the stadium project to determine where costs can be reduced -- both inside and outside the ballpark. In the most recent plans, the complex is 100,000 square feet larger than the roughly 1.05 million square feet stipulated in last year's agreement between the city and baseball, Lew said.
If necessary, features not contained in the agreement will be eliminated or paid for in other ways, such as by private developers, he added. However, Lew and mayoral spokesman Vince Morris played down concerns that the stadium's quality might be compromised.
"It's way too early to say anything has been decided," Morris said. "We have to determine what we want and what [baseball officials] want and what makes sense."
But Cropp said that the commission told her in a briefing that the city might be forced to buy cheaper quality materials for features inside the ballpark.
The council's latest questions about costs prompted business Franklin L. Haney, who is heading one of the eight groups bidding to buy the Washington Nationals from Major League Baseball, to reiterate his offer to pay for overruns if he is awarded the team and some land nearby.
Yesterday, Catania challenged Cropp, arguing that the council had approved the stadium package last year after being told that the city needed a state-of-the-art ballpark to replace 44-year-old Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.
"If we want a Buick, we have one -- it's called RFK," said Catania, who voted against the financing package last year.
"What we have is a body that will approve this [financing] package out of inertia," Catania said to his colleagues. "Any way you slice it, we're already over [the budget]. Who will pay for it? Look around you. Shouldn't the people who will benefit from this stadium pay something?"
Catania added that the federal government owns a small parcel on the stadium site and that a congressional committee is considering legislation that would sell the plot to the District for "fair market value." That could add an unexpected $11 million to the city's tab, Catania said.
But a spokesman for the House Committee on Government Reform, headed by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), said that committee is considering drafting legislation that would give the District the land for free.
Staff writers Thomas Heath and Eric M. Weiss contributed to this report.