Mayor Williams Confident of Lease Agreement

By Ashton Williams
Associated Press
Wednesday, January 25, 2006; 6:14 PM

 WASHINGTON -- Mayor Anthony A. Williams hopes to present a Washington Nationals stadium lease agreement to city lawmakers by the end of the week, but he said Wednesday there are still issues to resolve.

Baseball filed for mediation after the District of Columbia Council missed a Dec. 31 deadline for approving a deal. Former Detroit mayor David Archer is working with the two sides, but an arbitration panel could be forced to resolve the matter if a deal is not reached soon.

"On some things I think we're really making a lot of progress," Williams said. "There's some snags, as always, in these kind of negotiations, but I think we are making headway."

Baseball won't name a new owner for the Nationals, who are owned by the sport's other 29 teams, until the council approves a lease.

Council members are concerned about the cost of the stadium. Estimates have grown from $535 million to $667 million in the past year.

Earlier this month, council Chair Linda Cropp sent a letter to Mayor Williams that laid out what it would take for the council to approve a lease.

On the "wish list" was a guarantee that the city's cost for the project be capped at the originally estimated $535 million, which has forced some reworking of the stadium's design.

Williams said Wednesday he was open to moneysaving ideas for financing, engineering, administration and insurance. But he still wants a ballpark that will draw tourists to the city and generate economic development.

"I am a little bit reluctant, having walked through hell to bring the stadium to the District, to end up with a diamond and a bunch of bleachers," Williams said.

Another point of contention is the city's request for a waiver of some rent if the stadium isn't completed by 2008. But Williams believes that issue can be resolved, even as negotiations again appear to be under a time crunch.

"We have to ensure that all of the points of agreement, whether it's on the cost issues, whether it's on developing rights issues or whether it's on extension of the grace period to build us a stadium," Williams said. "All these issues, if they require a change in the lease ... have to be in that lease on Friday."

© 2006 The Associated Press