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DC Council approves ballpark

November 30, 2004

WASHINGTON (AP) - The District of Columbia Council approved financing a ballpark for the Washington-bound Expos after voting Tuesday to cap funding at $630 million.

The council approved the plan 6-4 with three members, including Chair Linda W. Cropp, voting present. The measure must be approved a second time to become law.

"We're happy that the vote was to approve," said John McHale, an executive vice president in the commissioner's office and a member of baseball's relocation committee.

The deal signed in September by the Expos and Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams did not contain a cap. McHale said baseball had not yet received the text of Cropp's amendment and would wait until seeing the exact wording before responding.

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"I'm sure that will be a subject of discussion among our relocation committee tomorrow," McHale said.

Williams, who sat through much of the debate, later addressed the council, saying the group was "making progress to bring baseball here and do it in a way that best serves the citizens of our city."

Cropp's amendment, offered during more than seven hours of debate, calls for Washington's chief financial officer to produce another estimate of the project's cost in six months. If it is more than $100 million above the current $530 million estimate, the location of the ballpark would have to be moved to a less costly site than the one south of the Capitol agreed to by Washington and the Expos, who would be renamed the Nationals.

"My intent here is not to stop baseball," Cropp said, adding she wanted "to enable baseball to come with some parameters."

Cropp, who pulled the ballpark plan from the Council's agenda on Nov. 9, also proposed an amendment that would require Washington to invite and consider private financing proposals. That, too, was approved.

"I cannot say I saw any evidence of us looking at private financing," Cropp said. "This will establish a process by which we can receive them." She said officials were already talking to potential buyers of the team who may be willing to provide stadium funds.

Another amendment approved Tuesday requires any company or person submitting private financing plans to pay a fee that would offset the costs of analyzing each proposal.

Councilman Adrian Fenty offered an amendment, which was defeated, that would have required team owners to cover any cost overruns for a new stadium.

"It's not enforceable, and secondly, it violates the baseball agreement," argued Councilman Jack Evans, a ballpark supporter.

The agreement signed by Williams and the Expos estimates it will cost $435 million to acquire land for a 41,000-seat ballpark along the Anacostia River, construct a stadium and refurbish RFK Stadium, where the team would play for at least three seasons.

Fenty questioned whether any amendments were of use.

"It appears the only ones that will not violate the terms of the deal are ones that don't do anything," Fenty said. "We have already passed a bill which said we're capping this at $631 million and if we did so something would happen. Well, obviously, the key there is it wouldn't happen because Major League Baseball has to agree to it.

"This is not a good deal," Fenty said.

Under terms of the deal, team owners get to keep all concession, advertising and parking money generated from baseball games at the ballpark.

Williams contends bulk of the costs will be covered by an additional gross receipts tax on businesses that gross more than $4 million annually. In addition, the legislation calls for a 10 percent tax on tickets sold to baseball games at the new ballpark as well as at RFK Stadium, where the team is to play starting in April. There would also be a 10 percent tax on sales at the ballpark, and a 12 percent tax on parking there and at RFK games.

The agreement between the district and MLB requires the council to act by Dec. 31. Baseball owners must vote by Monday.

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On the Net:

D.C. Government: http://www.dc.gov

Washington Nationals: http://washington.nationals.mlb.com

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