When it comes to the financing of a new stadium for the Washington Nationals, District residents yesterday seemed to agree on only a few things: The city got a raw deal with baseball officials. And everyone involved in baseball is greedy.
In two dozen interviews, residents were conflicted over what can be done in the negotiations with Major League Baseball for a final agreement. The months of wrangling have held up the sale of the team, and city officials are worried that rising stadium costs will lead the District to spend more than the $535 million approved last year by the D.C. Council. The stadium agreement that officials signed off on says the city has to pick up any cost overruns.
"They should reopen the deal; we already put too much into this," said Constance Reddix of Bloomingdale. "If it's a deal breaker, it's a deal breaker."
Reddix spoke outside the Home Depot store in Brentwood, where she and others were shopping for final projects before winter hits. Several of those interviewed said the situation is much different this year than last, when everyone was waiting to see whether the city would get the team. Now the District has shown that it can support a baseball team, to the tune of 2.7 million tickets sold.
With that record comes leverage, those interviewed said. They want city leaders to push for a better deal -- but not to the point that the District loses the Nationals.
Keith Krueger, 48, of Cleveland Park said that having the Nats has been good for the city. He thinks a new stadium will spark economic development. And he worries that "if you reopen the deal too much, the deal could unravel."
City leaders, he argued, should "negotiate on the edges, but it has to go ahead. You can't constantly renegotiate."
A majority of D.C. Council members, not including Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), said last week that they will insist on a vote on a final stadium lease agreement. Several also said that they will not approve any city expenditures above $535 million and that they will expect Major League Baseball or a new Nationals owner to pay additional costs, including improvements to roads and other infrastructure.
Everyone interviewed said the new owner should pick up a significant portion of the stadium costs. But many were skeptical that would happen.
"Baseball is a business -- big business, and Major League Baseball is sort of being greedy about this," said Rod Vonlipsey, 47, of Dupont Circle, who was picking up home supplies with his son and future Nats fan, Kai, 1.
Without prompting, Vonlipsey recalled Cropp's effort last year to increase the amount of private investment in the stadium deal. He said a similar demand should be made now.
"We shouldn't roll over and play dead for Major League Baseball," he said.
LaMar Richardson, 28, of Southeast and his friend Vincent Walker, 38, of Fort Washington said the new owners should reach deep into their pockets to pay for cost overruns, as well as community amenities. As an example, Walker pointed to the Sports and Learning Complex in Landover, which was built as part of the deal for the new Washington Redskins stadium.
Walker complained that all the delays are making the project more expensive. "As you write this with your pen," he said, "the price of materials just shot up a percentage."
Others said that maybe baseball isn't worth the money.
J. Wright, 46, of Brentwood said politicians should listen to what residents really want. "The people are screaming for schools," Wright said. "I like baseball. I like the Nats. But our kids deserve a chance, too."
The council has scheduled a hearing for tomorrow on the baseball negotiations.
"I don't want to lose it," Richardson said, referring to an agreement to keep the Nationals, "but I want the best deal."