February 8, 2006

D.C. council reverses course, passes stadium lease

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Reversing course, the Washington,
D.C., city council early on Wednesday approved a new stadium
lease with Major League Baseball that caps the city's project
costs at $610.8 million, easing a threat that the Washington
Nationals could move elsewhere.

New language inserted into an emergency measure sparked a
ninth-inning rally of support for the project, allowing the
lease to pass by a 9-4 vote, hours after the council rejected
it 8-5. The council chairman called for a second vote to
consider changes.

Among key provisions were limits for construction costs at
$300 million and for "soft costs," such as design and
financing, at $175.2 million. It specifies that any cost
overruns above the caps shall be paid by the team owner, the
federal government or other non-District of Columbia entities.

"It's not the best deal, but it's a better deal," said D.C.
Council Chairman Linda Cropp, who pushed to win passage for the
lease throughout a marathon 15-hour council meeting.

Major League Baseball moved the Nationals, formerly the
Montreal Expos, to Washington last year after the city agreed
to build a new stadium, approving a $535 million borrowing
limit for the project.

After the initial vote failed on Tuesday night, league
president Bob DuPuy had threatened to seek binding arbitration
to hold the city to its December 2004 commitments and to
"explore whatever options are available to us."

A spokeswoman for Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine said on Tuesday
the state could revisit the possibility of a new home for the
Nationals in northern Virginia "should everything fall through
for D.C."