With a few strokes of the pen, the city's cable television operator dissipated the fears of city officials this week and gave new hope to District residents longing to have such services as Home Box Office, Showtime and Home Team Sports in their living rooms.

On the first attempt to sign the contract with the city, the pen slipped from the hand of Robert L. Johnson, president of District Cablevision. Nerves or an omen?

City and cable officials hope that their difficulties are over and contemplate the day they can boast of being one of the few major metropolitan areas to acquire cable in a relatively trouble-free atmosphere.

Such optimism may get a major test over the next few months as District Cablevision tries to secure about $80 million that is needed to begin building the $130 million, 78-channel residential cable system.

In addition to securing $50 million in bank financing, the firm plans to raise $30 million through limited partnerships, a method of financing that allows investors to buy shares in a company, receive tax benefits and sell their interests back to the general partner after a designated period of time.

When District Cablevision submitted its proposal a year ago, the proposal included a letter of intent from American Security Bank, which said that "it would be willing to syndicate a loan of up to $50 million," provided that certain conditions were met, and Johnston, Lemon & Co. Inc., a Washington-based investment banking company, wrote that it would be prepared to provide investment banking services in support of the proposed limited partnership offering.

From the beginning of the franchising process, plans to raise substantial amounts of money through limited partnerships have raised doubts about all three companies that submitted bids to operate the city's cable TV system.

Carl Pilnick, the city's chief cable consultant, who evaluated the bids, characterized them as "marginally qualified," saying that there was "a degree of uncertainty and vulnerability in all of the financial plans."

John Reidy, an investment analyst for the New York firm of Drexel Burnham Lambert, said that the market for limited partnerships has been unfavorable for about a year.

"In view of the recent sluggishness, virtually dormant market, they may have some fairly aggressive goals," Reidy said of District Cablevision's plans. "Limited partnerships are still a fairly new form of investing for cable television and it is not clear what kind of return people are going to get."

Recently, investors have become even more wary of limited partnerships because of proposed changes in federal tax laws that could substantially limit the tax benefits received from a cable investment, Reidy said.

At least one District Cablevision board member, Herbert P. Wilkins, who is in business to help minority businessmen raise money, is concerned about those factors. He said during a recent news conference that it will be "extremely difficult" for the company to raise the needed financing.

In addition, Wilkins said the company will face difficulties raising money because it is a minority owned and controlled company. Wilkins is president of Syndicated Communications Inc., a communications company that helps minority-owned businesses obtain venture capital.

"The market will look at DCI differently than it looks at a white-owned company," Wilkins said. "No black company that I know of has ever raised $35 million in equity."

Johnson, after telling the media that Wilkins was attending the news conference to answer questions about financing, quickly insisted that Wilkins' comments did not reflect the company's view and that the company did not believe that race would be a factor in obtaining financing.

Wilkins, after his own pessimistic observations, made it clear that he believes that District Cablevision will reach its financial goal. During the next two months, he said, the company plans to develop an offering that may include a plan to give District residents the first opportunity to invest.

Ironically, the firm's proposal most often targeted for criticism -- the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co.'s plan to construct and own the cable transport lines -- may now be a major selling factor in District Cablevision's efforts to raise money.

Building an underground cable system is more expensive than stringing the cable on poles and has resulted in cost overruns for cable companies in other cities.

But District Cablevision plans to save money through a contract that calls for paying C&P a fixed $55.6 million over the four-year construction period.

That plan, Reidy said, may make the cable proposal more attractive to investors. "It shows that there is an innovative and cooperative effort to make it happen," he said.

District Cablevision has collected about $1 million from its 74 shareholders, and it is scheduled to collect $1.9 million in stockholder pledges within 45 days after signing the agreement.Notebook Cable Firm's Goal Set at $80 Million By Marcia Slacum Greene Washington Post Staff Writer

With a few strokes of the pen, the city's cable television operator dissipated the fears of city officials this week and gave new hope to District residents longing to have such services as Home Box Office, Showtime and Home Team Sports in their living rooms.

On the first attempt to sign the contract with the city, the pen slipped from the hand of Robert L. Johnson, president of District Cablevision. Nerves or an omen?

City and cable officials hope that their difficulties are over and contemplate the day they can boast of being one of the few major metropolitan areas to acquire cable in a relatively trouble-free atmosphere.

Such optimism may get a major test over the next few months as District Cablevision tries to secure about $80 million that is needed to begin building the $130 million, 78-channel residential cable system.

In addition to securing $50 million in bank financing, the firm plans to raise $30 million through limited partnerships, a method of financing that allows investors to buy shares in a company, receive tax benefits and sell their interests back to the general partner after a designated period of time.

When District Cablevision submitted its proposal a year ago, the proposal included a letter of intent from American Security Bank, which said that "it would be willing to syndicate a loan of up to $50 million," provided that certain conditions were met, and Johnston, Lemon & Co. Inc., a Washington-based investment banking company, wrote that it would be prepared to provide investment banking services in support of the proposed limited partnership offering.

From the beginning of the franchising process, plans to raise substantial amounts of money through limited partnerships have raised doubts about all three companies that submitted bids to operate the city's cable TV system.

Carl Pilnick, the city's chief cable consultant, who evaluated the bids, characterized them as "marginally qualified," saying that there was "a degree of uncertainty and vulnerability in all of the financial plans."

John Reidy, an investment analyst for the New York firm of Drexel Burnham Lambert, said that the market for limited partnerships has been unfavorable for about a year.

"In view of the recent sluggishness, virtually dormant market, they may have some fairly aggressive goals," Reidy said of District Cablevision's plans. "Limited partnerships are still a fairly new form of investing for cable television and it is not clear what kind of return people are going to get."

Recently, investors have become even more wary of limited partnerships because of proposed changes in federal tax laws that could substantially limit the tax benefits received from a cable investment, Reidy said.

At least one District Cablevision board member, Herbert P. Wilkins, who is in business to help minority businessmen raise money, is concerned about those factors. He said during a recent news conference that it will be "extremely difficult" for the company to raise the needed financing.

In addition, Wilkins said the company will face difficulties raising money because it is a minority owned and controlled company. Wilkins is president of Syndicated Communications Inc., a communications company that helps minority-owned businesses obtain venture capital.

"The market will look at DCI differently than it looks at a white-owned company," Wilkins said. "No black company that I know of has ever raised $35 million in equity."

Johnson, after telling the media that Wilkins was attending the news conference to answer questions about financing, quickly insisted that Wilkins' comments did not reflect the company's view and that the company did not believe that race would be a factor in obtaining financing.

Wilkins, after his own pessimistic observations, made it clear that he believes that District Cablevision will reach its financial goal. During the next two months, he said, the company plans to develop an offering that may include a plan to give District residents the first opportunity to invest.

Ironically, the firm's proposal most often targeted for criticism -- the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co.'s plan to construct and own the cable transport lines -- may now be a major selling factor in District Cablevision's efforts to raise money.

Building an underground cable system is more expensive than stringing the cable on poles and has resulted in cost overruns for cable companies in other cities.

But District Cablevision plans to save money through a contract that calls for paying C&P a fixed $55.6 million over the four-year construction period.

That plan, Reidy said, may make the cable proposal more attractive to investors. "It shows that there is an innovative and cooperative effort to make it happen," he said.

District Cablevision has collected about $1 million from its 74 shareholders, and it is scheduled to collect $1.9 million in stockholder pledges within 45 days after signing the agreement.