Council Forges Deal on Stadium

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 8, 2006

The D.C. Council voted to reject a baseball stadium lease agreement last night, then reconsidered four hours later and approved the deal after a plea from Mayor Anthony A. Williams and a threat from Major League Baseball President Robert A. DuPuy.

The dramatic about-face came at 12:40 this morning after the council added its own price cap to the lease, limiting the District's spending to $611 million for the project along the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington. With the cap in place, the council voted 9 to 4 for emergency legislation that approved the lease deal.

It was not clear whether baseball would endorse the spending cap, but Williams's aides said the mayor supported the council's final plan.

"The agreement we approved caps the city's investment . . . and protects the District from potential cost overruns," council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) said. "Major League Baseball did not get an open checkbook. . . . Now we will present this package to baseball and hope they agree it is a better deal for everybody."

DuPuy, who had threatened to take the city to binding arbitration after the council initially rejected the lease, reacted cautiously to the approval of the deal with the spending cap.

"I have no comment until we study this," he said. "The city has an obligation to build a stadium in conformity with the Basic Stadium Agreement."

Asked whether baseball officials would support the revised deal, Williams (D) said: "We're going to get them on board. . . . They should appreciate what Chairman Cropp has done. She improved the deal and got nine members in support of baseball."

There were stronger clues that baseball officials might endorse the deal. After the vote, Mark H. Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, approached Cropp and told her: "Good job, you really pulled this through, and DuPuy says thank you."

About 8:40 p.m., after a day of negotiating, the council voted 8 to 5 to turn down the lease deal that had been negotiated between baseball officials and the Williams administration. The council had been unable to agree to a spending cap after determining that a cap offered by Williams did not fully protect the city.

Without a lease, the city would have been unable to issue bonds to build a stadium along the Anacostia River in Southeast, and baseball probably would have halted its plans to sell the Nationals to an ownership group.

Within half an hour of the council rejecting the lease, DuPuy issued a statement saying baseball would pursue arbitration and consider "all other options." Williams descended from his sixth-floor suite in the District building and urged the council members to move for a reconsideration of their vote.

"I beg and implore the council to reconsider the deal, even tonight," Williams told reporters. "I think we're in danger of losing baseball."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company