At Long Last, a D.C. Stadium Deal

D.C. Council members Vincent B. Orange Sr., left, Kwame R. Brown and Marion Barry react during discussion of baseball bills the council approved.
D.C. Council members Vincent B. Orange Sr., left, Kwame R. Brown and Marion Barry react during discussion of baseball bills the council approved. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Lori Montgomery and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 8, 2006

After 18 months of frustration, mistrust and divisive debate, the D.C. Council sealed a deal to build a baseball stadium along the Anacostia River in Southeast last night, guaranteeing the Washington Nationals a permanent home in the nation's capital.

By a vote of 9 to 4, the council approved a construction contract for a state-of-the-art stadium with a contemporary glass-and-stone facade, seats for 41,000 fans and a view of the U.S. Capitol. The council also voted 9 to 4 to reaffirm its demand that public spending on the project be limited to $611 million.

Major League Baseball accepted that condition Sunday, clearing the way for the council's action. Under the contract, the team of Clark-Hunt-Smoot will take responsibility for keeping much of the project within budget.

The votes were the final actions needed to satisfy the terms of a deal struck in September 2004 to bring the former Montreal Expos to Washington and return the national pastime to the federal city after an absence of 33 years.

"This is a great day in Washington history because it means baseball is going to stay in Washington, D.C., for generations to come," said Bill Hall, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission's baseball committee. "After this, it's full steam ahead."

After watching the council repeatedly take last-minute action that threatened to derail the deal, baseball's highest officials monitored yesterday's session with queasy anticipation.

"We are gratified that we can move forward in making Washington the permanent and successful home of the Nationals," said MLB President Robert A. DuPuy from Orlando, where he was attending the World Baseball Classic. DuPuy thanked Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) and other baseball boosters on the council for "bringing this to fruition."

DuPuy declined to set a date for selling the team to one of eight groups of private investors, each of which has agreed to pay $450 million for the franchise. But DuPuy said the council's actions "will make it possible for [Commissioner Bud Selig] to move promptly."

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said he expects MLB, which owns the team, to name a new owner by April 15.

On both votes, Evans was among the nine-member majority that voted reluctantly for the baseball bills, approving one of the most generous public stadium deals ever. The others were Cropp, Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8).

"This is nothing we should put our chest in the air [about] and say we created the best deal for the residents of the District of Columbia," Brown said. "But we probably couldn't have done any better. It was this or zero."

Council members Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), David A. Catania (I-At Large), Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) voted no.

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