D.C. Council member Jack Evans has drafted legislation that would direct the city to acquire land, hire a developer and make other preparations to build a $383 million ballpark near the Mall, a move intended to show that the District is serious about luring a team.
The proposed legislation would elevate the site, near L'Enfant Plaza and known as the Banneker Overlook, above three other locations the city has proposed to Major League Baseball. It also would link the stadium to Mayor Anthony A. Williams's $8 billion campaign to revitalize the long-neglected Anacostia waterfront with parks, cultural attractions, retail centers and residential neighborhoods.
Evans (D-Ward 2) said he plans to offer his draft legislation as a last-minute amendment to a proposal by Williams (D) that would establish a development corporation to oversee the massive waterfront project. That measure is scheduled for a vote Tuesday in the council's economic development committee and could be considered by the full council within weeks.
"We're doing it to make sure the Banneker site can get done," said Evans, one of the mayor's strongest allies in the quest for a major league team. "Since baseball really likes the Banneker site, this could be viewed as an effort to convince baseball that we could build a stadium at Banneker if we wanted to."
The proposal is already drawing fire. Williams administration officials worry that giving the waterfront development corporation responsibility for a stadium could detract from its original mission.
"We've been talking about having a single-purpose waterfront corporation. It begs the question of: Do you want to add yet another notion to this Anacostia waterfront which would take it away from its core purpose?" said Williams's deputy chief of staff, Gregory M. McCarthy.
And council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), who represents the area, vowed to campaign against the amendment, saying her constituents do not want a stadium at the Banneker site.
"I'm not going to just, as a legislator, shove something down people's throats," said Ambrose. "I think a lot of people on the council, Jack being one of them, know that people in Southwest don't want a baseball stadium there."
Baseball officials are nearing a self-imposed deadline for finding a new home for the financially floundering Montreal Expos. Six places are vying for the franchise, including the District, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads near Norfolk. A relocation committee plans to deliver a report on the cities to Commissioner Bud Selig within a month.
In recent days, all three regional contenders have offered new enticements to baseball. Northern Virginia unveiled plans this month for a stadium near Dulles International Airport that would be set amid a large town center-type development on a man-made lake. Norfolk last week launched an advertising blitz aimed at lining up season ticket holders for a potential team. Now Evans is offering his amendment, the approval of which would put the mayor and council on record in support of a plan to finance a stadium.
Financing has been a sticky issue for the District. Baseball officials, who did not return phone calls last week, have said they want a package in place before they pick the Expos' new home. But Evans, who chairs the council's finance committee, and council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) have vowed not to authorize new taxes for a stadium until baseball makes a commitment to the District.
If approved, Evans's amendment could help finesse the issue. According to a draft obtained by The Washington Post, the amendment directs the mayor to begin negotiations with federal authorities to acquire Banneker Overlook, a neglected patch of parkland just south of L'Enfant Plaza, and to build a "deck" around the overlook that straddles Interstate 395.
The amendment directs the city to select a developer to design "Banneker Village Center," a collection of retail and residential development and tourist attractions that would stretch along 10th Street SW between the Smithsonian Institution Castle and the waterfront near the Maine Avenue Fish Market. A stadium would be built atop the deck in the middle, near the site of the proposed National Children's Museum. The proposal is based on a plan circulated in recent months by developer Herb Miller, an Evans political supporter who built much of the Georgetown waterfront and is a member of the board of the children's museum.
The amendment directs the city to choose a developer based in part on the ability to "finance a major league baseball stadium" with revenue generated from the new development.
"If baseball doesn't come to Washington, all this is meaningless," Evans said. "But if baseball does decide to come here, this is a vehicle we could use to begin financing the Banneker site."
Ambrose, however, said she opposes funding the stadium with profits and tax revenue from waterfront development -- money earmarked for roads and bridges along the riverfront, as well as development in poorer riverside communities.
"It just makes a commitment of resources that is just entirely different than what has been discussed," she said.
In interviews, four of five council members on the economic development committee said they were open to the plan. The fifth, Chairman Harold Brazil (D-At Large), did not return a call to his office.
But several committee members questioned the wisdom of picking a stadium site before Washington has any guarantee of getting a team.
"The problem is we're getting the cart before the horse," said council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1). "I'd like to get a better picture on whether we're going to have baseball and where the $400 million is going to come from before we wade into the controversy of where the stadium is located."
Miller, whose attorneys drafted the amendment, said a public airing of his plan could quell any controversy over the site.
"I think there needs to be a real discussion about how this can be done without impinging upon the residents," he said. "Once they see the concept, I think they'll see that it improves the neighborhood."
Staff writer Thomas Heath contributed to this report.