WASHINGTON -- Major League Baseball took a major step Sunday
toward resolving an impasse over a home for the Washington Nationals, signing a lease for a new ballpark.
One day before the Monday deadline imposed by the District of
Columbia Council, baseball signed the lease approved by the Council
last month. The lease calls for a ballpark to be built along the
Anacostia River, south of the Capitol, with a provision capping the
city's spending for the project at $611 million.
Baseball, which will not select a new owner for the team until a
lease is in place, had expressed concern over the cap, which
altered the original 2004 agreement that brought the team from
Montreal last season. In particular, baseball was concerned about a
scenario in which the team's future owners could be forced to pay
cost overruns. The alternatives for baseball would have been to ask
for binding arbitration or search for a new city.
"We have worked very hard to accommodate the requests from the
mayor and the Council that changed the terms of the agreement that
brought the Expos to Washington," baseball chief operating officer
Bob DuPuy said in a statement. "Because we believe in the future
of baseball in the nation's capital, we have signed a lease that
honors the 2004 agreement, while conforming to the emergency
legislation that the Council passed last month."
DuPuy said the lease will go into effect if the Council agrees
to several provisions, including an agreement that the city not
enact any legislation that violates the terms of the lease. Other
provisions deal with the issuing of bonds that pay for construction
and how those bonds will be funded.
The Council will study the provisions over the next 48 hours.
"I don't see anything that could be a deal-breaker,"
Councilman Jack Evans said. "The devil is in the details, but all
of that sounds like something we can move forward on."
Evans said his main concern with the provisions is that they
could delay a final resolution for several week, which would
further delay construction.
Council chair Linda Cropp's main concern was that the city's spending cap remained intact.
"I haven't seen the provisions yet, I've only talked to folks," Cropp said. "What they have said to me is that baseball
has certified the council's legislation with the $611 million cap.
If that is the case, then that's a good thing and we can move
Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment
Commission and a lead negotiator for the city, said he saw nothing
in the provisions that would scuttle the lease.
Vince Morris, a spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams, said
the additional provisions "should be OK," although city leaders
would spend Sunday night and Monday examining them.
"We're delighted, and I'm betting millions of Nationals fans
are too," Morris said. "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."
The Expos/Nationals were bought in 2002 by the other 29 major
league teams and operate on a limited budget. Baseball and the city
have been negotiating the lease for more than a year, and
commissioner Bud Selig has delayed selecting a new owner because of
the lease dispute.
The Nationals will continue to play at RFK Stadium until the new