Stadium Spending Document Released

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 10, 2006

Major League Baseball and the District's chief financial officer began separate reviews of the D.C. Council's stadium spending cap yesterday, with the future of the project along the Anacostia River hanging in the balance.

The council released the final text of the four-page emergency legislation yesterday afternoon, and copies were distributed to council members, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. A copy was sent by the administration to Major League Baseball.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said league officials needed more time to review the document, which caps the District's investment in the ballpark project at $611 million. But he said the D.C. government's handling this week of the stadium lease agreement was frustrating and unlike anything he has witnessed.

"You think you've seen it all. And then you realize you haven't," Selig said in an interview yesterday. "I've been involved in 18 stadium negotiations, and all of them are difficult and controversial. I've been doing this my whole adult life. But this thing that happened in Washington tops them. It is already legendary in baseball for political intrigue. When it comes to demagoguery, a lot of what happened down there would have made Huey Long blush."

The council voted 9 to 4 to approve the stadium lease with MLB -- contingent upon baseball accepting the spending cap -- early Wednesday after a marathon legislative session. Before adding the cap, the council had initially voted Tuesday night to reject the lease.

The final bill states that all cost overruns, except for costs related to the purchase of stadium land, will be borne by the team's owner, the federal government or private entities.

Natwar M. Gandhi, the District's finance chief, met with Williams yesterday. Gandhi, who has said he will not issue construction bonds until the lease is made final, wants to make sure that the cap does not inhibit his effort to get an investment-grade rating from Wall Street.

Gandhi's spokeswoman said he would have no comment until he finished his review, which probably will include an analysis from bond financing consultants.

The consultants will examine whether the legislation would be looked on favorably by Wall Street. If not, Gandhi could ask the council to make amendments or smaller technical changes.

Selig called critics of the stadium deal shortsighted, saying the Washington Nationals' first season was great for the city and for baseball.

"Nobody is asking anybody in the District not to look at the dollars. That is their job. But they've got to have some vision," he said. "Everybody saw the excitement in Washington last year."

Selig said that although the economic impact of a new stadium is open to debate, "nobody debates the sociological impact. That is huge. And it lasts for generations."

"This team [in Washington] has been a godsend for baseball," he added. "Nobody wants to be in Washington more than I do. It's good for my sport."

Council members voting for the lease and cost cap were Chairman Linda W. Cropp, Kwame R. Brown (At Large), Jack Evans (Ward 2), Kathy Patterson (Ward 3), Vincent B. Orange Sr. (Ward 5), Sharon Ambrose (Ward 6), Vincent C. Gray (Ward 7) and Marion Barry (Ward 8), all Democrats; and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large). Opposing it were David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Democrats Phil Mendelson (At Large), Jim Graham (Ward 1) and Adrian M. Fenty (Ward 4).

In addition to capping the city's investment in the stadium, the council's legislation stipulates that any revenue earned from development rights sold adjacent to the stadium, and that are not used to cover infrastructure or land costs, must go into a community benefits fund.

Because the spending cap legislation was an emergency bill, it required nine council votes for approval. The bill will remain in effect for 90 days, during which time the council must vote again on a permanent version of the legislation.

Staff writer Thomas Boswell contributed to this report.

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