D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp said yesterday that she appears short on votes to win approval of her alternative proposal to build a major league ballpark adjacent to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium when the council takes up the matter tomorrow.
But Cropp (D) said she believes that Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) does not have enough votes for his plan to construct a baseball stadium along the Anacostia River in an industrial area of Southeast Washington.
Both sides were angling yesterday to win broader council backing, and the mayor hopes to rally the public with a four- to six-minute televised address at 8 tonight on District cable, Channel 16.
Even if neither plan wins council approval tomorrow, Cropp said, it would not necessarily doom the District's deal to bring the Montreal Expos to the city. She suggested that a compromise bill could be crafted before the Dec. 31 deadline agreed to by the Williams administration and Major League Baseball to have a stadium package ratified by the 13-member council. She did not say how a compromise might resolve the disagreement.
In an interview, Cropp said she intends to talk with council members today about her competing plan, which she has said would cost the District 20 percent less than the mayor's location of choice near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street.
"I don't think right now I have the votes. I have five or six, including myself," she said.
Of her stunning decision Friday to pursue a publicly funded stadium next to RFK Stadium, Cropp said: "I have struggled with this myself. But I passionately believe I am right about this and that it is the best for the District."
She added: "It is my hope that reason will prevail and support will come to this plan as we are debating the issue. But this may take longer than Tuesday."
Mayoral aides said they were confident that the administration has six council votes lined up in favor of its site. They added that a critical seventh vote was being sought.
"When it comes to the vote, I feel we are going to have the votes that we need to get this through," mayoral spokesman Chris Bender said. "This is not just about a stadium plan. It is also about revitalizing the Anacostia River, creating jobs for people and economic development for the city."
The team is scheduled to begin play next spring at RFK Stadium, with plans calling for a move to the new stadium along the Anacostia in 2008.
Cropp, some business leaders and others grew particularly concerned about the rising costs of the project after the District's chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, released a report two weeks ago saying the stadium price tag could hit $530 million, which is $90 million more than the mayor's estimate.
Business leaders have expressed concern that a gross-receipts tax on the city's largest businesses, which would help pay for the stadium, would be increased again in the future if the cost runs over projection. They have pressured Cropp and other council members to ensure that costs are contained. The financing structure includes a tax on concessions and an annual rent payment by the team.
Williams and other administration officials spent much of yesterday at the John A. Wilson Building, lobbying several council members in person or by phone, including Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8), who are considered pivotal.
Graham said late yesterday that he was still talking with the administration about conditions he wants set in exchange for his support of the mayor's package. For example, he is seeking a guarantee that the projected excess from the gross-receipts tax would "immediately" be committed to improving the city's libraries. Graham said he also wants legislation to firmly establish a maximum investment limit in the stadium project of an estimated $500 million for the District -- with the understanding that baseball would be responsible for anything exceeding that.
"I am very concerned about the open-ended nature of the costs of the mayor's proposal," he said. "There is a blank-check quality to it that makes me very uncomfortable."
Referring to Cropp's plan, Graham echoed a criticism voiced by the administration. "While there are substantial cost savings, the downside to Linda's proposal is that it does not connect the stadium to any meaningful economic development, nor will it help other city priorities," he said.
Allen, who has been generally supportive of the mayor's plan, said over the weekend that she was weighing both proposals.
Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), an outspoken critic of the mayor's plan and of using public funds for a stadium, said he opposes Cropp's idea.
"Quite honestly, they are basically the same proposals, just different sites. What it comes down to is choosing between a $450 million publicly financed stadium and a $350 million publicly financed stadium," Fenty said. "Major League Baseball is a collection of wealthy owners who can pay for this themselves. I'm hearing the same constituent feedback on Cropp's proposal as on the mayor's: that there are better priorities for taxes."
Council member Sharon Ambrose (D), who represents Ward 6, where both proposed stadium sites are, said she was talking with residents who live near RFK Stadium, as well as with some of her colleagues. Her support of the mayor's plan was intact, at least for the time being, she said.
"I think that he will try to frame the debate within the context of how baseball fits into his overall vision of the city," Bender said. "He wants to pull back from the details for about five minutes and set this thing in the larger context, and look at the city from a hot-air balloon."
Cropp said that she planned to provide a televised rebuttal after Williams's remarks tonight.
She also said the mayor has unfairly suggested that she changed her position on his stadium package. Cropp said it was Williams who altered his proposal.
Under the mayor's revised plan, businesses with the highest gross receipts would pay $48,000 -- up from $28,000 -- and the amount collected from businesses would rise by $2 million annually, to $26 million. In addition, that $2 million would go to a community fund instead of paying off stadium bonds, as businesses were told in the original proposal. Mayoral aides have said that some changes were made at the request of business leaders.
"This is like negotiating $28,000 for a car to be paid out over a certain number of years. But when it comes time for me to sign the document, the price of the car has escalated to $48,000 a year and they have added another six years or so during which I have to pay that," Cropp said.
"I would not handle my business like that, and I would not handle the citizens' business like that," she added.