Accord Reached On New Stadium

"We've negotiated a good deal for the city and persuaded Major League Baseball to concede on many fronts," Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said. (By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)
By David Nakamura and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 10, 2005

The District government and Major League Baseball reached a formal agreement on a stadium lease yesterday after three months of negotiations and turned it over to the D.C. Council, which is to take a critical vote in 10 days.

The city and baseball also completed a second agreement that would require the team to play in the District for 30 years. It would allow the team to relocate as many as three regular season home games once every five years to an international venue or another place requested by Major League Baseball.

Under terms of the lease deal, baseball would give the city $20 million for stadium construction and a letter of credit that would cover Washington Nationals rent payments in case of a terrorist attack or players' strike.

The city agreed in return to give the Nationals a third of the parking revenue generated at the stadium on non-game days from the 1,225 spaces required at the site. That would return about $20 million to baseball during the 30-year lease.

"We've negotiated a good deal for the city and persuaded Major League Baseball to concede on many fronts," Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said in a statement released by his office. "I look forward to a full discussion of the lease during a hearing next week and I urge the Council to approve this lease as quickly as possible the following week."

The lease agreement requires approval from the 13-member council, which has scheduled a vote for Dec. 20. However, council members are concerned about rising costs and said they would reject the deal if baseball did not make a significant financial contribution.

If the council approves the lease agreement, stadium construction could begin in March. The Nationals played their first season at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium and are scheduled to play there the next two seasons. If construction is completed on time, the stadium will open in March 2008.

"We worked hard to accommodate the areas of pressing concern identified by the city," baseball President Robert A. DuPuy said in a written statement. "We now look forward to a favorable vote by the City Council."

If the council approves the lease agreement, baseball is expected to announce a new owner for the team shortly thereafter. Eight groups have bid on the franchise, for which baseball has said it has set a price of $450 million.

The city has approved a $535 million budget, along with $54 million in bond financing fees, for the publicly funded stadium project along the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington. The bulk of the money would be paid through a gross receipts tax on businesses as well as taxes on utilities and stadium concessions.

Natwar M. Gandhi, the city's chief financial officer, is scheduled to give the council an updated cost study Monday. This week, Gandhi's office told city officials that preliminary estimates reached as high as $714 million for the stadium and related infrastructure.

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who has voted against public funding for the project, said he was unimpressed with baseball's promise of $20 million because the city would be paying it back with the non-game-day parking revenue.

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