Nats Bidders Told Not to Offer Funds

By David Nakamura and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 22, 2005

Major League Baseball has ordered bidders for the Washington Nationals not to promise D.C. government leaders money for a new stadium because their involvement could disrupt negotiations, angering some city officials who believe the bidders could help solve their cost concerns.

Despite what some bidders have called a "gag order" issued by baseball, at least two of the eight groups have offered to cover cost overruns for the stadium project, with one brandishing a $100 million check in the halls of the city's John A. Wilson Building, according to a council member.

Baseball officials declined to comment. But in an e-mail sent to the bidders Nov. 1, two baseball representatives, including attorney Thomas Ostertag, ordered the bidders not to make offers.

"Please be reminded that we are currently involved in sensitive lease negotiations," said the e-mail, obtained by council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who disclosed it yesterday to The Washington Post. "No bidding groups have any standing at this point, and therefore no group should be in direct or indirect communications with the City or Commission in regard to any stadium issues. Similarly, no bidding groups should be in communication with the press about these issues."

Baseball's 29 team owners collectively own the Nationals and are poised to sell the franchise for $450 million, offers the bidders have made with the expectation that the District will build a publicly funded stadium on the Anacostia River in Southeast. Projected costs for the stadium project have grown to $667 million, well above the city's $589 million budget.

Baseball officials are concerned that if bidders offer to pay for some of the stadium construction, the city will try to drive up the future contribution of whichever group gets the team. That, in turn, could force the bidders to try to lower their bids for the franchise, some baseball officials have said. Baseball also has stressed that the stadium agreement with the city specifies that the city will pay for all cost overruns.

But Mendelson and other council members said they would like to hear offers from bidders to help with the stadium costs.

"I've never been in a negotiation for a $600 million project where the partners do not want to find common ground," Mendelson said.

The council was supposed to vote on the lease Tuesday, but Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) asked that the document be withdrawn, and council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) postponed the vote until next month.

Williams continued to meet with council members yesterday to try to win support for the stadium lease agreement. He stepped up the pressure on the council in a statement criticizing council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) for supporting the use of public money to help build a parking garage for a future Target store in his ward while opposing public funding for the stadium.

"His actions are inconsistent and shortsighted," Williams said. "It's time for Mr. Graham and other council members to stop holding up our agreement with Major League Baseball."

Graham said the Target project was different because the costs are much lower and the use of public funds far less. "I hope the mayor is not in meltdown mode," he said.


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