Some Council Members Criticize Nats Settlement

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray has questions about the stadium deal.
D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray has questions about the stadium deal. (Elissa Silverman - Twp)
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By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Several D.C. Council members criticized an agreement yesterday to pay the Washington Nationals $4 million to resolve a dispute over the team's refusal to pay stadium rent, saying the District gave up more than it got in return.

Under the terms of the settlement, reached late Friday by Acting D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles and Nationals Vice Chairman Edward Cohen, the team will pay $3.5 million in rent that was due to the city last spring.

The team had withheld the money, saying the ballpark was not "substantially complete" because thousands of items, from carpeting to sound system wiring to the scoreboard, remained unfinished or were not up to standard.

The settlement calls for the District to pay $4.25 million to reimburse the Nationals for expenses the team incurred after the ownership group led by Theodore N. Lerner ordered changes to the ballpark design. Some of the money also will allow the "punch list" of unfinished work to be completed by the end of the year.

Although Nickles portrayed the deal as a compromise aimed at ending months of acrimonious negotiations, council members said the District capitulated.

"On its face, I've got some questions about it," said Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D). "The way I read it, we got the $3.5 million we would have gotten anyway, and we gave up $4 million in additional concessions."

Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said the city should not have given in to the team's demands, even if it meant continuing the fight.

"Their position was faulty from the beginning. The stadium was complete," Cheh said. "They treat us badly and then use their bad behavior to reach a settlement. This is not a benefit to the city, and it's a pattern and practice we're likely to see again."

A spokeswoman for the Lerners did not respond to phone messages seeking comment on the settlement.

The rent dispute was the most recent in a long list of squabbles between city officials and the Nationals' owners. Both sides have made enormous investments in bringing baseball to Washington.

The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission reported last month that the total cost of the ballpark, paid for by the District, has reached $688 million. The Lerner family paid $450 million to buy the team.

City officials have said that the stadium is clearly complete because the Nationals played 80 home games (the season finale was rained out). But the Nationals have complained that parts of the stadium, including the team offices, were not finished by Opening Day and that the District did not live up to the stadium agreement.

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