Williams Seeks Meeting To Heal Rift With Lerners
Mayor Calls Nats Owners Condescending

By David Nakamura and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 27, 2006

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams called yesterday for a meeting to restore goodwill between city officials and the new owners of the Washington Nationals, saying that the family of Bethesda developer Theodore N. Lerner had been "condescending" in dealings with the city.

Relations between the owners and the city have deteriorated in recent weeks over parking facilities at a stadium planned along the Anacostia River.

Nationals President Stan Kasten played down the rift yesterday.

"The new Nationals ownership has nothing but appreciation and respect for the enormous work and political courage of Mayor Williams and the D.C. Council in making big league baseball a reality in the Nation's Capital," Kasten said in a written statement. "We have been consistently supportive of their commitment to Major League Baseball to deliver a first class ballpark on time and on budget."

Williams (D) said in his weekly news conference that although he respects the Lerners "enormously," the owners had tried to minimize the city's role in building the stadium near South Capitol Street and the Navy Yard in Southeast Washington.

"We're both in this," Williams said. "You put up $450 million for the team. Well, we put up $611 million for the stadium, and we're trying to get some benefits for our people. Excuse me, we do not need the condescending attitude. Maybe I have not built a stadium, but we brought $40 billion of investment to this city. Someone must think we know what we're doing."

Williams's remarks came as the District attempts to finalize plans for a $300 million mixed-use development deal adjacent to the stadium.

The mayor, the council and the D.C. Zoning Commission have endorsed a proposal by developer Herbert S. Miller for two 13-story towers, including parking, shops and condos. On Monday, Miller is scheduled to present his financing plan to the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which is building the stadium.

The Lerner group opposes Miller's concept and has lobbied instead for free-standing parking garages that are less expensive and easier to build. The owners fear Miller's structures would delay the scheduled opening of the stadium in April 2008.

If the Lerner group does not endorse the plan, the deal could head to arbitration, under terms of the stadium agreement.

"An ongoing dialogue with the owners is critical," sports commission Chairman Mark H. Tuohey said.

Even before Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig selected the Lerner group to buy the team in May, Williams was complaining about the prospective owners, noting that the Lerner family had not contacted him. Williams supported a rival bidding group led by businessmen Fred Malek and Jeff Zients.

Last Thursday, baseball officials accused the city of failing to turn over critical stadium documents and declared the District in default of the stadium lease agreement. City officials quickly assembled the required paperwork, and the Lerner group formally took control of the franchise Monday after transferring $450 million to baseball officials.

The stadium budget includes $21 million for free-standing parking garages, but the Zoning Commission approved Miller's more ambitious and more costly design. D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi issued a report last week that said that if Miller fails to secure financing, the city would have to find up to $83 million in additional funds.

Williams pledged to ask the council for more money. His options would be finding another way to pay for the overruns or returning to the Zoning Commission to gain approval for the free-standing garages that the Lerners favor. Gandhi has ruled out using general fund dollars.

As for the city's relationship with the Lerner group, Williams's staff plans to invite the family to a private meeting with the mayor in the next few days.

"We need to get back to a goodwill basis," Williams said. "We're all trying to do the same thing."

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