District officials are considering raising as much as $100 million in private funds for a baseball stadium by granting a company the right to charge for curbside parking near the ballpark in Southeast.
The plan, details of which remain sketchy, was broached this week by a private parking firm in meetings with Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), representatives for Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and Natwar M. Gandhi, the city's chief financial officer.
Under the proposal, the city would allow the company to charge fees for an estimated 4,000 parking spots on the blocks in the neighborhood near the stadium, which is to be built along the Anacostia River near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street, government sources familiar with the plan said.
In return, the company would give the city a percentage of the revenue to service debt payments on $100 million in bonds to be used for stadium construction. The parking firm, the name of which was not disclosed, has similar operating agreements near stadiums in other cities, the sources said.
"I've looked at it, and I heard the mayor's folks said they could probably embrace it," said Cropp, who added that Gandhi was examining the proposal more closely.
Chris Bender, a spokesman for Williams, said the mayor is open to looking at all private financing proposals after his stadium legislation is approved. "This is just one of many ideas," Bender said.
The parking plan is one of a growing number of proposals coming in to the D.C. Council, which intends to vote on a stadium financing plan Nov. 30. Baseball has given the District until Dec. 31 to approve the stadium deal. The council would take a second and final vote on the legislation Dec. 14.
Under a pact with Major League Baseball reached in September, Williams agreed to fund a stadium in Southeast through a combination of a gross receipts tax on large businesses, a tax on concessions and an annual rent payment by the team. In exchange, the Expos would move from Montreal to Washington in the spring.
Cropp has called the mayor's plan too costly for the city's businesses. Mayoral advisers said the stadium would cost $440 million, but Gandhi estimated the cost at $530 million and D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols at $584 million. A Washington Post analysis concluded that the cost could be as much as $614 million.
Cropp has said she would vote to support the mayor's legislation if an amendment is added that would give the council several more months to review private financing options and make changes in the future. Williams is open to such an amendment, which is being drafted for the Nov. 30 council meeting, Bender said.
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said he is familiar with the curbside parking plan. He noted that the city could execute such a plan without using a private company.
Evans declined to discuss the merits of that proposal, saying he believes that the council should pass the mayor's legislation first, along with the amendment that would create a formal process for analyzing the private-financing plans.
"We need a process to evaluate the plans and not grab any one that comes in the door," Evans said. "These things need to be evaluated thoroughly."
The risk of adopting private financing plans is that Major League Baseball would not approve. Yesterday, Gandhi released a four-page letter to council members concluding that he cannot verify a financing package proposed by BW Realty Advisors this week.
Under that plan, BW Realty, co-managed by Richard A. Gross and Michael Sununu, would raise as much as $400 million in private funds from investors to build the stadium. The District would pay $125 million to acquire and clear 21 acres of land for the project. The city would lease the land to BW Realty, which would in turn lease the stadium to the baseball team owners.
Gandhi questioned the revenue projections from BW Realty on several fronts and stressed that team owners would be asked to guarantee up to $30 million in annual payments, up from about $5.5 million under the mayor's plan. Changing the terms of the deal with Major League Baseball in such a fashion would be a "non-starter," Evans has said.