Stadium Pact To Be Revised For Financing

By David Nakamura and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 1, 2006

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi said yesterday that Mayor Anthony A. Williams has agreed to alter a new baseball stadium lease agreement to make it acceptable to Wall Street bond raters.

After seeing an amended lease agreement between the District and Major League Baseball, Gandhi said Friday that he would not issue stadium construction bonds because a reserve fund had been omitted, along with two other fiscal provisions that he considered critical. Gandhi said the provisions are necessary to secure an investment-grade rating on the bonds and obtain a lower interest rate for the city.

District officials met for 3 1/2 hours yesterday with former Detroit mayor Dennis W. Archer, who is mediating a dispute over the lease between the city and Major League Baseball. During the meeting, Williams (D) agreed to reinsert the three provisions into the agreement before the council votes on the deal, Gandhi said.

Asked whether he was satisfied, Gandhi said: "I think so. I'll wait to see the final paperwork."

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) said she did not know why the provisions had been removed from the lease. Baseball officials had resisted the provisions last fall, but they agreed to them after Gandhi insisted in December.

"It was news to the council also," Cropp said of the removal of the provisions. "We want them back in the lease."

After yesterday's meeting, Williams still faced questions from the D.C. Council over how the city will cap the costs of the stadium project.

Although the council is scheduled to vote on the lease deal Tuesday, Cropp said it is possible that she will postpone the vote if Williams does not deliver additional documents in a timely fashion and if council members request more time to review the package.

Williams promised to provide the council with a complete package of construction contracts -- known as the construction administration agreement -- by Friday. City officials said the package is expected to include a "guaranteed maximum price" contract with construction companies to cap the cost of the ballpark structure at $320 million, which would include $20 million that Major League Baseball promised in December.

Cropp said the council will hire its own consultants to review the lease agreement before the vote.

Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) is considered a swing vote by the Williams administration, which needs a majority of the 13-member council to approve the lease. Gray said he and others are waiting to see further documentation of the mayor's promises.

"I'm not there yet, period," Gray said, when asked if he supports the lease deal.

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