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Thursday, May 8
Capital's plan includes $275 million for new ballpark

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The District of Columbia proposed a $338 million package Thursday in an effort to persuade baseball owners to move the Montreal Expos to the nation's capital.

The plan includes $275 million for a new ballpark and $15 million to renovate RFK Stadium, where the team would play until a new stadium is ready.

"We believe we'll see far more revenue than necessary to weather any vagaries ... like an economic downturn or a baseball strike," said Steve Green, who's with the District of Columbia Office of Planning and Economic Development.

Washington, Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore., are seeking the Expos, who were bought by the other 29 teams before the 2002 season. Baseball officials have said they would like to make a decision on the team's future by the All-Star break in mid-July.

Northern Virginia -- which would build a ballpark in Arlington, Fairfax or Loudoun counties outside Washington -- plans to issue $285 million in bonds to fund a $400 million ballpark, with the team paying the rest. The annual debt service of $16.2 million to $25.4 million from 2008 to 2033 would be funded through taxes already in place, but officials there estimate $4 million in additional annual government funding is necessary to service the debt.

The Oregon Legislature is considering a $150 million stadium financing package, which was approved 33-25 Wednesday by the Oregon House. It would authorize the use of income tax revenue from players and team officials to help pay for construction bonds that represent the state's part of the estimated $350 million in construction costs.

D.C. officials say they will raise the money three ways: a 10 percent tax at the stadium, an additional tax on baseball players' salaries and a "ballpark fee" to large district businesses. Any company earning more than $3 million a year would have to pay the fee, at rates that would vary according to company size.

The D.C. Council must approve the plan, and Council Chairman Linda Cropp has said she would reinstate the "ballpark fee" only it if the business community wants it. Congress also would have to approve some of the funding mechanisms, including city borrowing.

The Baltimore Orioles have vowed to fight a move of the Expos to the capital area, saying it would violate their franchise rights.

"The worst case scenario is the Orioles' attendance would decline by four percent," Green said, citing past surveys done at Camden Yards and recent surveys done for the district.

The district is moving ahead with a conceptual framework for a ballpark. The budget projections call for a 41,000 seat stadium, where tickets would average $22.