Baseball signs lease for D.C. park

$611 million cap

council to consider MLB's new terms


WASHINGTON -- Major League Baseball said yesterday that it has signed a lease for a new stadium in Washington, an action that may finally provide the District of Columbia a measure of assurance that its new team, the Nationals, will remain in the city.

However, baseball added qualifications that keep the deal from being final.

Under the lease, the city would rent a new, publicly financed stadium to the Nationals for 30 years. The stadium project has long been a priority of Mayor Anthony A. Williams but has received a mixed response from the D.C. Council because of its cost.

Baseball had been studying the lease agreement to decide whether it would accept the document along with conditions the council attached last month. The council's main stipulation was that stadium costs be capped at $611 million to ensure that the city not be stuck with huge cost overruns.

Though it signed the lease, baseball added conditions of its own that the city must agree to before the deal can become legally binding.

The new conditions include a provision that the city agree that no "conflicting legislation" will be adopted that violates the terms of the lease. Baseball added language to ensure that bonds are issued soon to pay for stadium construction.

Last night, the council's vice chairman, Jack Evans, said he was "cautiously optimistic" that the deal would go through, but he had not thoroughly reviewed the paperwork filed by baseball. The council is scheduled to meet tomorrow.

"I can't speak for my colleagues, but it's something we can live with, I think," Evans said. "You have the Orioles. We have the Nationals. How important are the Orioles to Baltimore? Pretty important. That's the role the Nationals will play here."

Before the Nationals came to Washington, the Orioles had expressed concern that the Baltimore-Washington area could not support a second team without hurting the Orioles financially.

Said Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka: "We've been operating for over a year on the premise that the Nationals are in Washington and would continue to be in D.C., so nothing changes for us."

Washington plans to fund the stadium with a business tax, a utility tax, a levy on stadium concessions and by charging the team rent.

For a year and a half, baseball officials and the council have traded proposals over financing.

"Everyone has to compromise so the Nationals can enjoy a strong future," Bob DuPuy, president of Major League Baseball, said in a statement. "We are offering a compromise that I call on district leaders to support. I urge the city to accept this compromise. We all have worked long and hard, and it's time to give the Nationals a new stadium and a strong future by bringing this matter to a successful close."

Williams has been seeking to secure the team's future. He says the stadium would help revitalize the Anacostia River waterfront.

"We're delighted, and I'm betting millions of Nats fans are, too," said Vincent S. Morris, a Williams spokesman. "This clears one of the last hurdles in the process and gets us ready to finally break ground on a ballpark that gives the Nationals a new home and sparks an exciting economic revival in Southeast that will benefit our whole city for generations to come."

The 30-year lease was signed one day before the deadline set by the council in emergency legislation passed last month.

The council initially rejected the lease and then reconsidered.

Baseball had hinted for months that it could move the team if the council continued to withhold support. The team had been playing as the Montreal Expos before arriving in the capital last year.

Baseball owns the club but plans to sell it to investors as soon as stadium financing arrangements are in place.

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