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Council Forges Deal on Stadium

If baseball were to pursue arbitration, the process could take six months, result in large financial penalties for the District and even lead baseball officials to move the Nationals to Northern Virginia or another locale, Williams warned.

The council had resumed its legislative meeting, taking up unrelated issues. But mayoral aides, including City Administrator Robert C. Bobb, began huddling with members in conversations about how they could resurrect the deal.

"The defeat of the lease caused everyone who saw it go down to reconsider where we were," said Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), a staunch stadium supporter. "It was the catalyst for people to go back and to say, 'Maybe I should moderate my position.' "

A chief concern from some council members was that the first spending cap drafted by the council allowed the city to use funds from the sale of development rights on stadium land to cover cost overruns on the ballpark structure. Mayoral aides rewrote the spending cap to disallow such spending, limiting the flow of money from development rights to go only toward cost overruns related to the city's purchase of 14 acres for the project.

The council then voted to approve the spending cap of $611 million and voted to approve the stadium lease. The legislation allows an additional $20 million contribution Major League Baseball promised in December to go toward the project. All other costs must be covered by the Nationals' future ownership group, developers or federal sources, the legislation said.

In the first vote, the members who voted to support the deal were Cropp, Evans, Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) and Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6).

But on the second vote, when the council approved the lease with the spending cap, Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) and Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) also voted to support the deal.

Voting against the lease both times were David A. Catania (I-At Large), Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4).

"I hope everyone who voted for this gets a thank you note from baseball," Fenty said. "We are voting on a very unfair deal that every member of this council would say is a bad deal."

The council's action to approve the lease and spending cap ended weeks of intense negotiations, during which Williams tried to meet the council's demands that the city win new concessions from baseball and cap the District's financial input. Council members have expressed alarm over the city's liability for increasing project costs. Although the council approved a $535 million stadium financing package in December 2004, recent estimates from city financial officials put the cost at $667 million.

In late December, Williams asked Cropp to remove the stadium lease from council consideration a day before a scheduled vote because he lacked support. Since then, he has renegotiated with baseball officials and a mediator, former Detroit mayor Dennis W. Archer.

Williams also developed a ballpark cost cap with several construction companies and got commitments from developers to pay $70 million for land rights to help pay for stadium costs. But the council's consultant, DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, said Monday that the mayor's cost cap did not protect the city fully from potential overruns.

Cropp vowed Monday to develop another cost cap that would win council approval for the lease. However, when she unveiled it yesterday at the council's closed-door breakfast meeting before the legislative session, Williams objected because the cap appeared to leave baseball responsible for cost overruns.

Staff writers Thomas Heath, Thomas Boswell, Lori Montgomery, Eric M. Weiss and Yolanda Woodlee contributed to this report.

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