District officials disclosed plans yesterday to build a publicly financed stadium costing more than $400 million on the Anacostia waterfront near South Capitol Street, amid growing signs that Major League Baseball will attempt to move the Montreal Expos to Washington.
Two high-level baseball sources said the owners' relocation committee is leaning toward recommending at an executive council meeting tomorrow in Milwaukee that the Expos be moved to Washington. That would trigger what figure to be delicate negotiations with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos.
"Everyone recognizes that we are running out of time, and we hope a decision can be made by October 1," said baseball President Robert DuPuy.
Angelos reiterated yesterday his willingness to fight an Expos move to the District, saying it would drain away fans, financially damage his franchise and hinder its ability to compete.
"My position remains unchanged for the reasons I have repeatedly articulated," Angelos said. "The facts don't alter that position." He declined to comment further.
Although yesterday's developments signaled that the District's 33-year wait for the return of baseball could be nearing an end, baseball officials cautioned that no deal has been reached and that several obstacles remain.
A high-ranking baseball source said that besides Angelos, possible impediments are a lawsuit filed in Miami by former Expos owners, the need to get approval for the District's financing plan from the D.C. Council and any unforeseen problems with the renovation of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, which would be the team's temporary home.
Northern Virginia also is trying to land the Expos. Baseball officials said its bid is still under consideration, although problems have developed with its stadium financing plan.
The proposed new District stadium near the Anacostia River would be part of a $440 million package that would include $13 million for renovations of RFK. The plan would require the approval of the D.C. Council, whose members offered mixed reactions after a 45-minute briefing by officials from the mayor's office and the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.
The city would finance the proposed stadium with 30-year bonds, according to the plan outlined to council members yesterday. The annual debt service would be composed of $21 million to $24 million from a gross receipts tax on District businesses, $5.5 million in rent from the team's owners and $11 million to $14 million from in-stadium taxes on tickets, concessions and merchandise. City officials said the new tax would be imposed on businesses with gross receipts of $3 million or more annually -- or about 11 percent of businesses in the District.
The team's owners would keep revenue from the sale of the stadium's naming rights, according to people who attended the briefing.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), who did not attend the briefing, reacted cautiously when asked whether he expected an announcement soon that the Expos were coming to Washington.
"It's still a major challenge for Major League Baseball to make a decision our way. . . . I don't take anything for granted," Williams said. "Are we in better shape than we have been in the past? Yes."
The stadium site, bounded by M, South Capitol, P and First streets SE, had been one of four locations under consideration in the city. City officials said it was selected because of its potential to spur economic development without causing a negative impact on a residential community. The 20-acre site, including streets, is 40 percent vacant. City Administrator Robert C. Bobb said that the site is owned by multiple private parties and that the District would not begin negotiations with them to buy the land until it has been awarded a team.
Council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), in whose district the stadium would be built, said she preferred the site over the others because of its potential for economic development.
"The M Street site has been my favorite for some time because it offers a great opportunity for spinoff economic development," Ambrose said. "It will help leverage development that is already going on there. And it will, I hope, jump-start development along South Capitol Street. In terms of disrupting a residential neighborhood, there really is none to disrupt. The businesses are largely industrial, and it is the kind of use that we would like to move farther away from the waterfront."
The other options were a new facility at the RFK site; a ballpark at New York Avenue at North Capitol Street; and a stadium across from L'Enfant Plaza in Banneker Park in Southwest Washington. The Banneker site, which would have straddled Interstate 395, had attracted the most interest from baseball officials because of its proximity to downtown and the Mall. But city officials said the cost of the Banneker site was prohibitive.
Of the 13 council members, four supported the project in interviews yesterday, four said they were undecided and three said they were opposed to any public financing of a stadium. The other two did not return phone calls.
"I am opposed to raising taxes, especially a gross receipts tax, to pay for a baseball stadium," said Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4).
Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) said he would back the stadium plan and the taxes to pay for it if it had the support of businesses.
"If the business community is for it, I'm for it," Orange said. Baseball "is something the business community wants. They know they can't get a stadium without paying for it."
Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said he was not convinced that the ballpark would provide economic spinoffs and was therefore undecided.
"If there is not a clear economic case for a stadium, and given the public resources that must be invested to make it work, what about all the other priorities and pressing needs that we have as a city?" Graham said.
The Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority has proposed building a publicly financed stadium in Loudoun County, although in recent weeks that proposal has run into problems with land acquisition for broader development surrounding the stadium as well as the apparent reluctance of state officials to back the stadium's bonds.
"According to representations by Major League Baseball, Loudoun County is alive and well," Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac), vice chairman of Loudoun County's Board of Supervisors, said yesterday.
Angelos is one of eight owners who sit on the executive council along with Commissioner Bud Selig, whose family owns an interest in the Milwaukee Brewers. The council is Selig's instrument for making all major decisions affecting the game.
The league is committed to moving the Expos to a new location by April. The District has told baseball officials that it needs the go-ahead in the next two weeks in order to pass a ballpark financing package by the end of the year. A new D.C. Council will take office in January.
Baseball's 29 owners purchased the Expos from Jeffrey Loria in February 2002 for $120 million and have lost tens of millions of dollars since. The owners have been weighing moving the team to another location and selling it to new owners, thereby recovering some if not all of their costs. In addition to the Washington area locations, the league had been considering moving the Expos to Las Vegas, Norfolk, Portland, Ore., and Monterrey, Mexico. Those sites gradually faded as the Washington area, propelled largely by the region's upscale demographics, received most of the attention from a relocation committee that baseball had created to decide the fate of the Expos.
If a decision is not forthcoming in the next two weeks, it almost certainly will be delayed until November because of baseball's reluctance to making announcements during the playoffs and World Series.
Staff writers Thomas Boswell, Michael Laris, Michael D. Shear and Yolanda Woodlee and staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.