D.C. Council Insists on Own Stadium Cost Cap

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 7, 2006

D.C. Council members said yesterday that they will seek to implement their own price cap on a new baseball stadium after a consultant told them that a cap offered by Mayor Anthony A. Williams does not protect the city against cost overruns.

The council's move came on the eve of today's scheduled vote on a critical stadium lease deal with Major League Baseball. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) said that to persuade her colleagues to approve the lease, she will introduce emergency legislation to implement a cap drafted by the council.

"There is concern by legal counsel that this is not a firm cap," Cropp said of the documents the mayor offered last week. "The council needs to act on something that is responsible and limits the city's liability."

The eleventh-hour complication threw the Williams administration into a final flurry of lobbying as mayoral aides scrambled to work with the council to draft the new legislation.

The legislation, Cropp said, would cap the city's payments for labor and materials for the ballpark at $300 million, along with an additional $20 million that MLB promised in December. Williams (D) offered the same cap last week, but council members said the mayor's cap has loopholes.

The council is also considering capping the project's entire cost at between $589 million and $630 million, council members said. Emergency legislation would require nine votes among the council's 13 members for approval.

"The key will be how they write the provision," mayoral spokesman Vince Morris said. "If they write it in such a way that they attempt to undo what we already agreed to [with baseball officials], then we'll have problems. But if they come up with something that strengthens what we already agreed to, then there's no problem, and we can go forward."

Cropp told her colleagues during the closed-door debate that by approving a cap and the stadium lease, the council would pressure baseball to either accept the deal or reject it, council members said. But Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and others said they were concerned about the legal ramifications of signing off on a lease contingent on a cap created by the council.

The lease agreement is critical to the future of the stadium, which is scheduled to be built near South Capitol Street SE and the Navy Yard along the Anacostia River. The council was supposed to vote on the lease in December, but Williams asked Cropp to withdraw the document from consideration because he lacked majority support. Members have expressed concern about the rising cost, which has increased from $535 million to about $667 million.

Major League Baseball has filed a claim with the American Arbitration Association, which assigned former Detroit mayor Dennis W. Archer to mediate the standoff. Archer's involvement ended two weeks ago when Williams submitted a revised stadium lease to the council that contained new commitments from baseball officials. Among those was a promise to help fund a youth academy in the District.

If the council does not approve the lease today, baseball officials might choose to pursue full arbitration, which could take up to six months to resolve.

With the lease agreement in limbo, several other critical elements related to the Washington Nationals and the construction of the stadium are being held up. For example, Major League Baseball has delayed the sale of the franchise to an ownership group.

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