Two weeks ago, MLB was selling Nationals caps out of a trailer in an RFK parking lot. All systems seemed a go for baseball in our nation’s capital. MLB and Washington mayor Tony Williams had reached an agreement that would have DC build a new stadium for the Nats on the banks of the Anacostia, an area in need of a development push. Cost? Williams said $440 million. The city budget office put it closer to $580. Payment method: bonds floated on a tax on DC business. Cut to last night.
After a marathon session, the DC City Council voted to amend Williams’s agreement with MLB. The issue? Ostensibly, a better deal for DC. Instead of the city paying for the entire package, private financing would now be required for 50 percent of the presumed $280 million stadium construction bill (land acquisition and various other development costs push the estimates to the $440/$580 figures). Of course, the Councilwoman pushing the amendment is a Democrat looking to face Williams in a mayoral race. So here we have some motivation beyond the purely economic. And of course Marion Barry, the fanner of all flames, had to get involved. The papers were not kind to the DC politicians this morning.
Tom Boswell: Linda W. Cropp blew to smithereens the deal that MLB thought it had in place with Washington to build a ballpark on the Anacostia waterfront. With that single blow, which leaves baseball no alternatives, the return of major league baseball to the nation’s capital is now dead.
Mark Fisher: Linda Cropp’s late-night bombshell eviscerating the deal with Major League Baseball immediately restores Washington’s status as America’s laughingstock….Mayor Anthony A. Williams must also be seen as having gutted his own deal.
Michael Wilbon: The time for Linda Cropp to ask for amendments and show the city how tough (not to mention ambitious) she is was before Mayor Anthony A. Williams and other city officials agreed to do it baseball’s way.
The Mayor was no more optimistic, calling the deal practically “dead.”
Today’s response from MLB? Not surprisingly, take it or leave it. DC has until Dec. 31 to come up with an acceptable plan to finance the stadium or MLB’s going to start shopping the team around. Tough talk.
So who’s right here? What’s going to happen? The scribes (and politicians) screaming doom for baseball in DC are getting ahead of themselves. Does MLB really want to leave DC? They’ve already picked up from Montreal, and they’re basically settled in the District, which is their best market. As usual, MLB is just trying to wring as much as it can out of the public coffers, and why not?
And those DC politicians? Williams should be embarassed for giving away the store in the first place, and not getting his Council ducks lined up later on. Those who would find a flag-bearer for the anti-public-financing movement in Linda Cropp, who is being portrayed as some kind of right-thinking public defender, are misguided. Cropp’s manipulations of the Council have been self-serving as much as public serving, and her wacky last-minute amendments and ever shifting position may wind up costing Washintonians a ball club and the attendant redevelopment of a crappy neighborhood.
In the end, finding a source for that $140 million DC hopes to pass off to the private sector is likely to be the key. The logical source: whomever MLB finds to buy the team. The rub: that buyer’s going to want to shave that money off MLB’s sticker price. Buddy can you spare a dime?