In an effort to make the District a more attractive candidate for a major league baseball franchise, the D.C. City Council yesterday approved in principle the issuance of $13.7 million in general obligation bonds to refurbish Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.
City Council member Frank Smith (D-Ward 1), chairman of the D.C. Baseball Commission, sought the funding as an amendment to a measure authorizing a total of $633.7 million in general obligation bonds to finance the city's fiscal 1986 capital improvements program.
The proposed funds for stadium improvements would be spent only if Congress approves the transfer of the title to RFK Stadium from the Department of the Interior to the District government and if the city is granted a baseball franchise. Under those conditions, Mayor Marion Barry has agreed to add the stadium funds to his fiscal 1986 supplemental budget request, which must be approved by the council and Congress.
Smith said it was crucial that the council act on his request to demonstate that the city is willing to make a dollar commitment to improving the stadium. The council's action will increase the city's chances of obtaining a major league baseball franchise, he said.
"We're trying to get ourselves in position," said Smith. "If all goes well, I fully expect that the owners association will support a recommendation by the Baseball Commission in New York City to approve a District-based franchise in December 1985."
Washington, which has not had a baseball team since 1971, is one of at least a dozen cities seeking expansion teams. The other cities include Miami, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Denver, Phoenix, Tampa, Fla., and St. Petersburg, Fla.
Under the D.C. Armory Board's plan to refurbish RFK Stadium, $4 million would be spent to add 13,590 retractable seats; $1.5 million would be used to build office and storage areas; $1.5 million would be spent to improve the playing surface; $1.2 million would go for a club reception and dining room and $1.7 million would go for general improvements to the ticket office, locker rooms and concession stands.
The retractable seats are a crucial part of getting the stadium ready for baseball, said Jim Dalrymple, the stadium's general manager. He said the old portable seats once moved aside to make room for baseball can no longer be moved.
"Years of popcorn boxes, dust and rust are under those seats and 100 percent of the time they are in a football confirguration," he said. "We need to be able to move 14,000 seats within an eight-hour time."
Dalrymple said the new seats would increase the seating capacity for football games from 55,000 to 57,000 and the capacity for baseball games from 47,000 to 49,000.
A bill to transfer the stadium's title to the city has been approved by the House of Representatives and is pending before a Senate subcommittee on public land, reserve water and resource conservation.
Meanwhile, according to Smith, District residents are demonstrating their support for a new team. He said that more than $5 million has been deposited in local banks, representing pledges to purchase 9,600 season tickets. Also, 400 people have paid $100 each to attend an Oct. 1 breakfast on the football field to raise money for the city's baseball commission.