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True Costs Of Stadium Go Beyond Budget

From $435 Million To $535 Million

Architect Joe Spear tours the stadium site in Southeast. The council is expecting a study comparing the site to a location near RFK Stadium.
Architect Joe Spear tours the stadium site in Southeast. The council is expecting a study comparing the site to a location near RFK Stadium. (By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

On Sept. 29, 2004, Major League Baseball returned to Washington after 33 years, setting off a celebration among fans eager to adopt the former Montreal Expos.

The deal was made official in a 70-page contract between the District and baseball officials known as the Baseball Stadium Agreement, which contained a $435.2 million budget.

Stephen M. Green, a top mayoral adviser, developed the budget along with paid consultants who specialize in facility planning and construction, and received input from baseball's stadium consultants.

The budget, which included $244 million for materials and labor, was made over two years, starting in 2002, well before the city received a team or had any architectural designs. It was based largely on an analysis of other sports stadiums, Green has said.

In a memo dated Oct. 14, 2004, consultants stated that the District could expect to spend $232 per square foot for the stadium, comparable to ballparks in San Diego, Cincinnati, Detroit and Pittsburgh that ranged from $210 per square foot to $225. On virtually every aspect of the stadium, the consultants settled on an average cost and adjusted it for inflation and the D.C. construction market.

Green's budget, however, did not include money for upgrades to a nearby Metro station and roads or other infrastructure costs because a stadium site had not been selected, said a source who helped prepare the budget. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the project is at a sensitive stage, said officials also added relatively small contingency costs because they knew it would be hard to persuade the council to approve a larger budget.

At a council hearing on Oct. 28, 2004, however, Gandhi testified that, based on conversations with water and transportation officials, he felt compelled to add $50 million for infrastructure and $41 million in contingencies in case of cost overruns.

When revised financing fees were calculated, the stadium package reached $534.8 million -- $100 million higher than the mayor's initial budget. After significant debate, the council approved that package by a vote of 7 to 6 on Dec. 21, 2004.

"Finally and at last, all of us have risen above the fray, and the Washington Nationals are rounding third and heading for home," Williams said at a news conference that day. "Isn't that great?"

From $535 Million To $589 Million

During the stadium debate last December, no one was more influential than council Chairman Linda W. Cropp.

With her 12 colleagues evenly split, Cropp (D) negotiated several changes to the stadium agreement with Major League Baseball before blessing the deal. One amendment required Gandhi to conduct a second analysis of land and infrastructure. If the new costs were no more than $50 million above his first estimate for those two categories, the stadium could go forward.

On March 29, Gandhi sent a letter to Williams and Cropp stating that his second analysis raised the price by $46.4 million -- just under the council's $50 million cap. The stadium project was a go but was over the $535 million budget.

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