Ballpark 'Hurdles' Are Cleared, Cropp Says

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 5, 2005

The District's tentative lease agreement with Major League Baseball for a new ballpark removes "huge hurdles" and could end the push to move the site to the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium grounds, according to D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp.

Still, Cropp (D) said she could not guarantee that the council will approve the lease, which is expected to be sent to council members this week. "I hope that there are no other issues," she said, noting that her opposition to the baseball financing deal last year began only once she had seen the proposal.

City sources said baseball officials have made a number of concessions, including agreeing to meet the city's request for $20 million to help pay for construction. In return, baseball officials asked for a concession from the city, the nature of which has not been disclosed.

In addition to the $20 million, city sources said baseball officials agreed to provide the District with a letter of credit to cover stadium rent payments for one or two seasons in the event of a terrorist attack or a players' strike. D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi has said the guarantees are needed to secure an investment-grade rating on stadium construction bonds.

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee, stressed that the deal is not final.

"We're making some real progress. We've got a long way to go," Evans said Saturday. "We still don't have a deal. Hopefully [by] Monday they will work out the agreement. And then the bond agencies still have to sign off on it."

The city had requested a $24 million letter of credit to cover four seasons of rent payments and must find out whether Major League Baseball's compromise will satisfy Wall Street.

In a discussion last week with Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, baseball's lead negotiator on the lease, council members warned that they would push to move the project to a site adjacent to RFK Stadium to save money if baseball officials did not make concessions.

But Cropp and other council members said progress on the lease has pushed the discussion of building near RFK further off the table. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) favors building the stadium for the Washington Nationals at the site off South Capitol Street near the Anacostia River.

"RFK would be in the mix if we could not reconcile differences at the South Capitol site," Cropp said. "If those issues had not been addressed, the RFK site looks much better."

Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), who, like Cropp, is running for mayor, said he believes the tentative lease agreement clears the way for groundbreaking at South Capitol Street next year.

Recent discussions about the challenges of building at the RFK site underscore that it is an unrealistic option "unless council members want a three-year delay and no savings whatsoever," Orange said. "And that is what the RFK site represents."

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