Baseball Files for Arbitration on D.C. Stadium

By David Nakamura and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 5, 2006

Major League Baseball officials formally asked the American Arbitration Association to help settle a standoff with the District over construction of a stadium yesterday, even as D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) questioned the need for arbitrators to get involved.

Williams said at his weekly news conference that city officials continue discussions with baseball representatives and are moving toward a resolution that will allow the ballpark to be built along the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington.

"There will be give and take on both sides," Williams said, declining to offer specifics. Asked about the possibility of arbitration, Williams added: "You would expect in a negotiation they would put this in as a legal placeholder, but it's really questionable what there is to arbitrate. We have an agreement, and we're working within the parameters of that."

Baseball President Robert A. DuPuy said the District's failure to ratify a stadium lease agreement between baseball and the city led baseball officials to believe arbitration is necessary. Under the arbitration process, the two parties first would engage in mediation -- a nonbinding discussion.

The deadline for approval of the lease agreement was Sunday, but Williams withdrew the document from the council's consideration two weeks ago because he did not have enough support among the 13 members.

The "best way to move the process forward for the benefit of the District's baseball fans is through the mediation process," DuPuy said in a written statement. "It is our contractual right to seek mediation as a tool to convince the parties to fulfill their obligations as set forth in the contract that was agreed to more than a year ago."

Although the council approved a $535 million budget for the stadium project last year, recent estimates from city financial officials put the figure at $667 million. Eight council members have said they will not support the lease unless Williams and baseball guarantee that any cost overruns will not be paid for by the city's general fund.

Mayoral aides said the Williams administration may announce changes in the lease agreement by the end of this week and will resubmit it to the council within two weeks.

The stadium agreement that Major League Baseball and the city signed in September 2004 calls for the city to build a ballpark for the Washington Nationals near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street in Southeast Washington and stipulates that disagreements over any part of the stadium contract be settled first through mediation that is not to exceed 15 days.

District government and baseball officials said the American Arbitration Association would select a mediator, a process that could take a few days to two weeks.

It is not clear who would represent the District. Baseball named the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission as the opposing party in its filing, but Williams administration officials have said the D.C. attorney general's office could get involved.

If the sides cannot agree during the mediation period, the agreement calls for baseball officials and the city to claim a "dispute" and proceed to binding arbitration before a three-member panel.

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