Cropp Proposes 'Compromise' on D.C. Stadium

By David Nakamura and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 12, 2006

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp sent a letter to Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday detailing a plan that she said would guarantee council support for the stalled stadium project.

After a flurry of meetings with her colleagues, the mayor and Major League Baseball officials over the past few days, Cropp listed 10 provisions that she said would ensure that at least seven of the council's 13 members would vote to approve a critical stadium lease deal.

The key provision would be a guarantee that the city's costs for the project would be capped at the $535 million the council approved last year, plus $54 million in bond financing fees. Any additional costs would have to be covered by the league, the owner of the Washington Nationals or private developers, Cropp wrote.

Furthermore, the council expects Major League Baseball to select a local group to own the Nationals and wants more community benefits -- such as free tickets for disadvantaged youth -- added in the lease agreement, she said. Cropp said her letter represents the cumulative wish list of at least seven council members.

"This is a decent compromise," Cropp said in an interview yesterday evening. "This would answer the concerns of at least seven members, possibly more."

Williams postponed a trip to the National League of Cities meeting in Key West, Fla., yesterday to continue negotiations with council members and baseball representatives. He was scheduled to leave this morning.

Vince Morris, a spokesman for the mayor, said Cropp's letter is a significant development.

"We're confident we can meet all of her criteria," Morris said. "The letter from Chairman Cropp is a great thing. It puts a firm marker in the sand that all parties can agree on. And it cements what the mayor has said for a year, that no residential tax dollars will be used on the ballpark and that District residents will reap enormous economic benefits once it's built."

Messages left for baseball officials were not returned yesterday. But city officials said Williams conducted a conference call with baseball representatives yesterday and informed them of Cropp's letter.

The District and Major League Baseball have been deadlocked over the proposed stadium, which would be built near South Capitol Street and the Navy Yard in Southeast Washington. A majority of council members have said they will not approve the lease deal because they fear that the city will be forced to pay any cost overruns. Recent estimates by city financial officials have placed the total cost at $667 million.

Williams and his aides have been trying in recent days to address the issues Cropp raised in her letter, particularly the question of how cost overruns would be paid. Administration officials have grouped the project costs into three categories: the ballpark, the land around it and upgrades to roads and a Metro station.

The Williams administration is negotiating with Clark Construction, which has been hired to build the ballpark, to set a guaranteed maximum price for construction.

The cost of land is uncertain because some landowners have gone to court to fight for more than the city has offered and because of the possibility of environmental contamination at the 21-acre site. Administration officials are trying to get private developers to agree to cover any overruns on land costs in exchange for development rights on adjacent property.

And city officials are talking to the federal government about contributing to the $20 million cost of upgrading the Navy Yard Metro station.

Williams and Cropp said they hope the council will approve the lease no later than Feb. 7, which is the council's next scheduled legislative meeting. Baseball officials have filed a claim with the American Arbitration Association to begin mediation with the city, but the mayor and Cropp hope to avoid that process.

Council members Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) and Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), who have opposed the lease deal, said they would consider supporting it if the city's project costs were capped.

"This won't pass unless the price is capped," Brown said. "The chairman and mayor know exactly where I am and what will bring me aboard."

As the negotiations continue, Williams also is considering launching a public relations offensive. Yesterday, he asked Major League Baseball and private developers to contribute up to $500,000 to purchase advertisements in newspapers and on radio stations to help convince the public that the stadium is a good economic investment for the city.

The council is scheduled to meet today with Louis S. Cohen, a stadium development consultant with the Chicago-based firm DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary. David A. Catania (I-At Large) has recommended that the council hire Cohen, who has represented other cities in stadium deals, to help renegotiate some of the lease terms with baseball.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company