D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp said yesterday that she is committed to building a baseball stadium along the Anacostia River in near Southeast, a position that could prove crucial as the high-stakes project enters an unexpected phase.
The council is preparing to vote over the next two months on three amendments to the stadium financing package that was narrowly approved last year. It was disclosed Friday that the amendments are needed to satisfy Wall Street bond raters, who have said they will not grant the city investment-bond ratings until technical problems in the legislation are rectified.
Some council members have said they intend to use the upcoming debate to explore ways to reduce the public investment in the project, perhaps by asking Major League Baseball for more money or even by moving the stadium to a site near Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.
During the stadium debate last year, Cropp (D) proposed building the stadium near RFK as a way to reduce the cost of the publicly funded $535 million project. But she eventually cast a deciding vote in favor of the waterfront site, and she said yesterday that she does not want to derail the project.
"Heaven knows, I did want it at RFK. But now the council has voted for the other site, and that is where we are moving forward," Cropp said.
However, she added that the legislation approved last year includes a cost cap and that if costs rise too high at the waterfront, the RFK location remains an option.
Administration officials said derailing the stadium or changing its location now would be devastating because they have begun buying property from residents and business owners at the stadium site and because developers have paid millions for land in anticipation of a waterfront revival.
At least one investor agreed.
"Nobody bought land around RFK. Everybody bought land around [the stadium site] in Southeast," said Jeff Neal, a partner in Monument Realty LLC, which has paid $40 million for land near the Anacostia waterfront. "The stadium site in Southeast stretches the development of the city. RFK has been there for 25 or 30 years, and there's no development happening around there. You don't want baseball to happen in an island."
But Rockville-based developer Ron Cohen, who recently paid $51 million for a city block at Half and K streets SE, a few blocks north of the stadium site, said he didn't think developers would be harmed if the site changed.
"The area has come into its own," he said. "Baseball gives it some identity, but with the Navy Yard down there, the [U.S. Department of Transportation], all the other office buildings along M Street and the waterfront redevelopment, they're not feeding off of the stadium. They're feeding off of commerce."
Baseball officials have objected to any major changes, saying they expect the city to abide by terms of the stadium deal.
Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), one of three council members who object to public financing but joined the council in January after the package had been approved, said he intends to look closely at all provisions if given the chance.
"There are many views in this that are relevant and important, and I do not see people being constrained from expressing them," Gray said. "The projected costs have gone up and up. If there is an opportunity to revisit this and make it less expensive to taxpayers, I'm definitely interested in that."
But aides to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said they believe Cropp has the power to limit such moves if she agrees to bring the changes forward as "technical amendments."
Technical changes are used to fix minor problems in legislation, such as improper wording, but may not alter the substance of the document. With technical amendments, Cropp would have more authority to limit her colleagues' power to make substantial changes, officials said.
The administration is "confident that after the council debates this, we'll end up where we started, which is a good plan for a good stadium on the banks of the Anacostia River," mayoral spokesman Vince Morris said. "The mayor respects the council's right to weigh in on this, but he's also confident they will go ahead and move forward on the plan everyone signed off on."
The changes needed to the legislation center on three tax-related issues, which city financial officials have described as mistakes in wording that do not alter the council's intent to finance the stadium.
Cropp said she has asked D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi and her legal aides to provide her more information by tomorrow, after which she will determine whether the amendments are technical or more substantial.
But the stadium debate is taking place in a politically charged environment in which three council members, including Cropp, are running for mayor and others are bidding to replace Cropp as chairman.
The competition among the members has led them to view their positions through a new lens, administration officials said.
Staff writer Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.