D.C. mayor seeks delay

Failure to OK lease deal straining relationship with MLB

Baseball

December 20, 2005|By JEFF BARKER | JEFF BARKER,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- Mayor Anthony A. Williams asked the D.C. Council to postpone today's vote on a new baseball stadium lease agreement, a delay that signals new difficulties in the city's relationship with Major League Baseball.

Williams said he wanted to make "technical changes" to the lease, and that the legislation "will be resubmitted for consideration and a vote as soon as possible."

But council foes said the mayor asked Chairman Linda Cropp to pull the bill because it lacked support on the 13-member body. "He didn't have the votes," said the top aide to one council member, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Failure to approve the lease by Dec. 31 could trigger another standoff with Major League Baseball, which says the city is contractually committed to finalize a stadium deal by the end of the year.

In a letter to the council, Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, wrote that baseball's relationship with the city was at a "crossroads" and that the next step could be to prepare for arbitration proceedings that would wipe out some concessions baseball has made to the city.

"We used our best efforts to reach closure with the council to ensure the future of the Washington Nationals in the District of Columbia," DuPuy said in the letter, according to mlb.com. "If the council fails to approve the lease, we would be at a crossroads."

A year ago, Major League Baseball ordered the city's new team, the Nationals, to temporarily shut down its business and promotional activities because of a council-passed amendment that baseball said violated the city's commitment to fund a new stadium on the Anacostia River waterfront.

The council later narrowly approved legislation that satisfied baseball, agreeing to use public funds for most of the stadium costs while simultaneously pursuing private dollars.

But the lease issue has offered another opportunity for stadium opponents to derail the deal. Those opponents say estimated stadium costs have been rising, leaving the city to fill a blank check.

In negotiations with the city in recent weeks, baseball agreed to pay about $20 million toward construction.

The stadium's estimated price tag, including surrounding infrastructure, has increased to as much as $667 million. The council last year approved $535 million for the stadium. The Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, are playing at RFK Stadium until a new facility can be built.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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