Councilman wants overruns to be paid by new owners

Updated: October 2, 2004, 12:18 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The group that buys the Montreal Expos will get to keep all concession, advertising and parking money generated from baseball games in the 41,000-seat ballpark that Washington plans to build, along with revenue from the sale of naming rights.

Orza, Expos players talk
NEW YORK -- Expos players heard details of the team's move to Washington from Gene Orza, the No. 2 official of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

"Basically, he just gave us an update on all the details that went down," player representative Brian Schneider said. "Really, it wasn't anything that we didn't know ... just to see if we had any questions about the city. He just wanted to make us as comfortable with the move as possible."

Orza would not go into details of his meeting with the players.

"It was just an update about the move, the legal landscape and what the clubs have to do in terms of negotiating with us," he said. "I lived in Washington for 12 years, so I know something about the city."

"You never know," Schneider said. "There's always going to be maybe some snags, but from his standpoint he thinks it's going to move pretty smoothly. Everybody's hoping that Major League Baseball is going to find the best owner for us and get the most for the team and then we can move on with the ownership question."

Orza said the union will help the players with relocation issues and personal details.

Also visiting the Montreal clubhouse was former commissioner Fay Vincent, who opposes the move.

"I'm very sorry about it," Vincent said. "I really don't believe teams should move. It's a quick and easy way out. I'd rather see a team stay and succeed."

Vincent said during his years as commissioner, Seattle, San Francisco and the Chicago White Sox all considered moves but remained where they were and became successful. He recalled Atlanta's troubles when he came into baseball.

"They had 2,000 people in the stands," he said. "It looked like Montreal. Now look at the Braves. If a team is good, I think baseball will succeed. If you put a quality team on the field, you'll be successful."

-- Associated Press

The documents outlining Washington's $435.2 million agreement with the Expos were made public Friday, two days after they were signed. The city agreed to build the ballpark for $300.7 million and spend $65 million to acquire the land along the Anacostia River in the southeast section. In addition, Washington will spend $16.5 million to construct a minimum 1,100 regular parking spaces and $40 million to finance the project.

City Council chairman Linda Cropp introduced legislation Friday to have the District of Columbia issue up to $500 million in bonds to fund the project.

Councilman Adrian Fenty sent a letter Friday to the District of Columbia Auditor, requesting an independent cost and budget analysis of the stadium. It also asks for a review of the financing plan for renovation of RFK Stadium, where the team would play for three seasons starting April 15, the home opener against Arizona.

Fenty plans to introduce an amendment requiring cost overruns be born by the team owners.

"The notion that this is going to cost $440 million when this is all finished is laughable. This will cost at least $600 million by inflation and cost overruns that normally are associated with big projects like this," Fenty predicted.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams said such criticism is just "talk."

"We took a very conservative construction expert to do an analysis. We added to that, and then we put a contingency reserve on top of that," Williams said Friday.

Williams has said rent on the stadium, and taxes on certain businesses and on stadium tickets and merchandise, would cover debt service on the 30-year bonds.

The mayor also contends that development around a new stadium will create jobs and improve facilities in the rundown neighborhood. But Fenty wants the auditor to check out those claims too. He points to Yankee Stadium in New York as an example of neighborhood hopes lost.

"That stadium thrives. People come to the baseball games, then they go right home and they never invest any money in the Bronx," Fenty said. "It sits right in the middle of a very rough neighborhood."

Fenty also wants a comparison of recent stadium deals with other cities. The auditor's office did not return a phone call for comment.

"It is not the role of the D.C. Auditor to look at legislation. It is the job of the City Council," Williams said in a statement.

The agreement calls for the ballpark to have 66 luxury suites containing 1,080 seats, 2,000 club seats, a 500-seat club restaurant and a 15,000-square foot picnic area.

The team will pay $5.3 million per season in rent at RFK. At the new ballpark, the first year's rent will be $3.5 million, rising to $3.75 million the second year, $4 million the third, $4.5 million the fourth, $5 million the fifth and $5.5 million the sixth.

After that, the rent will be $10,000 less than 102 percent of the prior year's rent. The rent won't increase in any year following a season in which the team's attendance was less than the major league median over three years.

In addition, Washington gets $1 for the equivalent of each full-price ticket sold per year above 2.5 million.

The bulk of the costs will be covered by an additional gross receipts tax on businesses that gross more than $3 million annually. In addition, the legislation calls for a 10 percent tax on tickets sold to baseball games at RFK Stadium and all events at the new ballpark, a 10 percent tax on sales at the ballpark, a 12 percent tax on parking at the ballpark and at baseball games at RFK Stadium.

The agreement requires the council to act by Dec. 31. That deadline has a secondary importance because three council members who support baseball are expected to be replaced in January by three who aren't sold on the idea. They include former Mayor Marion Barry.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press