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Monday, March 06, 2006

Washington Nationals Get Stadium Lease Signed By MLB

By Joseph White, The Associated Press

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 forward."

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 stadium opens.


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