Hundreds want to testify as D.C. talks on team open

Citizens question millions for sports over other needs

Baseball

October 29, 2004|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Morning rush hour was winding down when a marathon public hearing opened yesterday on a nearly $500 million proposal to build a stadium for the relocated Montreal Expos and night had fallen long before testimony ended as the D.C. Council moved a step closer to bringing baseball to the nation's capital.

More than 220 people signed up to testify on D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams' controversial plan to levy a tax on the city's largest businesses as part of the way to pay for a 30-year, $395 million ballpark loan.

Yesterday, the chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, testified that it would cost close to $91 million more to refurbish Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, build the new park, and pay for infrastructure.

Major League Baseball last month picked D.C. to get the team, which it owns, and recently set a deadline of Monday to accept bids from prospective owners.

One of the suitors, DSG Baseball Group led by Memphis investment banker Brian Saulsberry, testified that it wants to pick up the cost of the stadium and parking facilities, saving D.C. about $104 million.

Citizens packed the council chambers in the John A. Wilson Municipal Building on Pennsylvania Avenue and an overflow crowd seeped into hallways. Many spoke against the use of a new revenue stream for entertainment as needs such as public schools and libraries languish.

One wheelchair-bound activist, who gave his name as Brother Chris, was escorted outside after interrupting with complaints about the cost of housing as the council discussed ways to pay for the stadium. "It's a sham and you know it," he said angrily.

Councilwoman Carol Schwartz made her unhappiness clear. "I don't think we negotiated a good deal. ... I want baseball but I'm not sure it's fair the owners get all the profits and we take all the risks."

Said finance and revenue committee chairman Jack Evans: "What we're hearing here is, `I don't like the deal, go back and renegotiate.' Well, that's not what we're here to discuss.

"We went after a baseball team because the people living in this city have been after it and after it," he said. "We put the best deal on the table and they came and awarded us the team but they could have - and could still - go elsewhere."

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