D.C.'s Stadium Lease Talks Stumble

Cost overruns on the $535 million stadium could mean that it's time to find another location, said D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, shown at a December vote on ballpark financing.
Cost overruns on the $535 million stadium could mean that it's time to find another location, said D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, shown at a December vote on ballpark financing. (By J. Scott Applewhite -- Associated Press)
By David Nakamura and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Major League Baseball has not agreed to the District's request for an additional $20 million to help build a stadium and might file for arbitration if a lease agreement is not reached with the city by the end of December, MLB President Robert DuPuy said yesterday.

"The stadium agreement provides for arbitration if a deal is not reached and would be one of the options," DuPuy said in an interview.

DuPuy's comments raised the stakes in the sensitive negotiations over a stadium lease between the city and baseball, which have held up the sale of the Washington Nationals and threaten to delay construction of the $535 million stadium project in Southeast.

During a nine-hour oversight hearing yesterday on the stadium project, the D.C. Council was assured by Mark H. Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, that baseball probably would contribute the extra money and that lease negotiations would wrap up as soon as next week.

Asked to comment last night on DuPuy's assessment, Tuohey said that serious negotiations are continuing and that he expected to reach an agreement soon.

"I didn't say an agreement had been reached on the $20 million -- I said we were close to an agreement," said Tuohey, who is overseeing stadium construction.

Nevertheless, the negotiations appear so bogged down that the council has demanded to be involved in the process. City Administrator Robert C. Bobb told the council that the administration will submit the lease agreement to the council for approval when it is completed and signed by baseball and the sports commission.

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) said she has been told by city officials that the lease could be completed by Thursday, but she did not set a date for a council vote.

The District needs the lease to issue construction bonds on Wall Street. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has said he will not sell the Nationals -- there are eight bidders -- until the lease is finalized.

Among several sticking points in the lease negotiations, baseball has refused the city's request for a $24 million letter of credit that would ensure the Nationals' rent payment in the event of a terrorist attack or players' strike. Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox, and Jonathan Mariner, baseball's executive vice president for finance, are believed to be coming to Washington this week to resume negotiations, baseball sources said.

The council's involvement sets up another uncertain December for the stadium project.

After a bitter debate, the council approved the stadium financing package last December by a vote of 7 to 6.


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