The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission yesterday voted to award a $23 million contract to Clark Construction of Bethesda to build a baseball stadium in Southeast Washington by March 2008.

The contract, which needs approval from the D.C. Council, includes a $9.4 million fee for managing the project and $13.9 million for expenses. Clark also received $700,000 for pre-construction planning, an amount that does not need council approval.

Clark's fees do not include the vast majority of labor and material costs to build the $279 million ballpark, which will be billed to the sports commission through the subcontractors hired by Clark. Clark's winning bid was a joint effort with Hunt Construction Group and Smoot Construction.

"Clark is a very good company. We look forward to working with them," said D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2). Asked if he expected the contract to be approved, Evans said: "You never know. We'll have to see when it comes [this fall]. I'm hoping it all gets done."

Clark executives said they expect to see detailed designs of the stadium by next week and will immediately begin to determine whether they are economically feasible. They acknowledged that the 21/2-year schedule to complete the work will be tight.

"It's a tough timetable, but it's doable," Gregory S. Colevas, a senior vice president for Clark, said after the commission's vote. "It's not impossible. We did the Redskins stadium [FedEx Field in Landover] in 17 months."

Colevas said his firm has already had discussions with Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum Sport, known as HOK Sport, an architectural firm based in Kansas City, Mo., that is designing the ballpark. The Clark-Hunt-Smoot team has significant experience building Major League Baseball stadiums, having done a combined total of 15 since 1990, sports commission officials said. Many of those were done with HOK Sport.

The lobbying for the construction contract was fierce between Clark and Turner Construction of New York, which had teamed with Guilford Construction for its bid.

Allen Y. Lew, the sports commission's chief executive, said that Clark edged Turner in several important categories.

"It turns out that the team assembled by Clark, Hunt and Smoot had an overwhelmingly greater amount of experience with the most recent ballparks," said Lew, who hired Clark to build the Washington Convention Center, where he served as managing director before joining the sports commission last fall.

Lew also cited the Clark team's choice of key employees designated to work on the ballpark and its plan to use some local minority-owned firms as subcontractors.

Although the Turner bid included a slightly lower fee, Lew said, the other factors convinced him that Clark was a better choice.

Colevas said that during the pre-construction phase, which will last until the end of the year, Clark executives will work with HOK architects to determine whether the designs that have been developed can be achieved within the $279 million ballpark budget. (Infrastructure and other costs are expected to put the overall project at $535 million.)

Sometimes architects want to use one type of material that is later deemed too expensive and must be replaced, Colevas said. By early next year, Clark officials will give the sports commission a "guaranteed maximum price" to build the stadium.

Clark will "work hand in hand with the architects to ensure systems and methods that are most cost-effective and efficient," Lew said.

The challenge of the ballpark, as with MCI Center, is magnified because workers will be operating in a cramped, urban setting. FedEx Field, by comparison, was built in mostly open space.

City officials still need to gain control of 14 privately held acres at the ballpark site, near South Capitol Street and the Navy Yard. Purchasing the land in a timely manner is key to keeping the project on schedule.

Officials have said that, beginning Tuesday, they intend to send offers to buy the properties to the 30-plus owners. If the owners do not sell within 45 days, the city has the option to take the land under eminent domain.