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New location will be needed if overbudget

WASHINGTON -- 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.

"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."

"I bet every major project in history had a close vote.
Sometimes good things come in close races," he said.

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."

Williams told the council he is willing to work on a funding cap
and private financing for the stadium.

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.

Meanwhile, in an effort to meet a deadline of formally announcing the team's move on Monday,
MLB president Bob DuPuy continued negotiations with the Orioles in Baltimore on Tuesday on a deal to financially protect them from the effects of sharing the market with the Washington Nationals.

Owner Peter Angelos had previously objected to having a team move just 40 miles from Camden Yards.

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.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.