A week after Major League Baseball invited the District to compete for a relocated baseball team, city officials held a hearing yesterday to discuss where to build the stadium and how to pay for it.
D.C. Council members attempted to create goodwill among residents and respond to concerns that bringing baseball back to the District after 31 years could strain the city's treasury.
During the three-hour hearing, members Harold Brazil (D-At Large), chairman of the council's Committee on Economic Development, and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), head of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, emphasized that taxpayers' dollars would not be used to finance the stadium, which is estimated to cost about $800 million.
"The government is very much for baseball," Brazil said. "But we have to use our resources wisely. . . . We're not going to be fools and spend the taxpayers' money."
Member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), who said she has been a baseball fan since childhood, acknowledged that there are many questions to be addressed before a team can come to the city.
"We know that psychologically, baseball is good for the District, but we have to look at finances," she said. "How much is it going to cost us, and is it worth it for the morale boost?"
Eric W. Price, deputy mayor for economic development, said private contributions and taxes on revenue generated by the baseball franchise would help finance the stadium. He said the city plans to examine a financing model for the project and evaluate potential sites by late January.
"We think it's doable," Price said. "We just have to find the right menu of options . . . in regards to public financing."
Officials from the District, Northern Virginia, Portland, Ore., and Charlotte will be invited early next year to meet with Major League Baseball's relocation committee, which is looking for a new home for the Montreal Expos by 2004. The league plans to decide where to locate the team and who will own it by July.
For D.C. leaders, who are accustomed to community opposition to expansive and expensive construction projects, yesterday's hearing was a step toward building public trust.
Evans and Brazil pointed out that MCI Center and the new Washington Convention Center, which is scheduled to open in the spring, were built without taking money out of city coffers. The same type of financing options can be used if the District gets the baseball franchise, they said.
Two years ago, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) pledged that the city would contribute as much as $200 million but that the money would not come from operating revenue. Instead, city officials said, the funds would be generated from revenue bonds and taxes on concessions, parking, tickets and even the salaries paid to baseball players.
The other major issue is where the stadium would be built. Possibilities include the site of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Northeast Washington, which at an estimated $342 million would be the least expensive option, and Mount Vernon Square in Northwest, where the price is estimated at more than $500 million.
Other possible sites include the Navy Yard in Southeast and locations on Massachusetts Avenue NW and New York Avenue NE, which would cost $400 million to $500 million.
Brazil said he envisions a baseball franchise as "a strong catalyst" in creating jobs and other forms of economic development.
But Evans said he could not support building the stadium at Mount Vernon Square, which is near downtown and has been determined to be the most expensive of the sites. He also said that area is already on the rebound.
Black Entertainment Television founder Robert L. Johnson, who yesterday was awarded an expansion basketball team in Charlotte, also heads a group seeking ownership of a relocated baseball franchise in the District. He said the city must show a strong commitment in order to bring baseball back.
"I hope they're showing a serious interest, because baseball is not going to try to force a team on a city," he said. "They want the city to come with both arms welcoming a team."