Council proposes cost cuts by using RFK site
WASHINGTON -- The chair of the District of Columbia Council proposed Friday that a new ballpark be built next to RFK Stadium instead of a site south of the U.S. Capitol, a plan that could cause Major League Baseball to drop the scheduled move of the Montreal Expos to Washington.
Council chairwoman Linda Cropp made the proposal to cut costs for the new ballpark, which she estimates would be $600 million on the original site, far above the estimate in the $435 million deal Mayor Anthony A. Williams signed in September.
"The costs are going up so high that I believe it will have a negative effect on our business community," Cropp said. "By moving to RFK Stadium, we have an automatic 20 percent reduction in cost."
Washington's contract with the Expos calls for funding for a ballpark at the original site to be approved by Dec. 31. Cropp said there would be an $83 million savings in land acquisition under her plan.
"This is going to blow the thing up," said a livid Williams, warning it could undo 30 years worth of efforts to get the city a team to replace the expansion Washington Senators, who became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season.
Cropp said she is willing to risk losing the Expos if baseball owners refuse to accept the RFK location.
"I would hope that baseball would be extremely reasonable," Cropp said.
Washington's contract with the Expos does not allow for a change in the stadium site without the team's approval.
"We have an agreement with the mayor whereby he has until the 31st of December to obtain passage of the legislation effectuating the stadium agreement," said John McHale Jr., an executive vice president in the commissioner's office who has been involved in planning the move. "Until that time comes, we're not going to get excited."
Cropp's ballpark plan is supported by Council members Carol Schwartz, David Catania and Phil Mendelson. There are 13 members of the Council, and seven must approve a financing plan.
"I said I'm not getting involved in the local politics," Expos president Tony Tavares said. "I have no opinion about any of that stuff. I'm ignoring it all. I'm just concentrating on launching the team here."
Cropp has discussed her proposal with officials from the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the D.C. Restaurant Association and the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, and said business leaders have signaled their support for any plan that allows for future business development -- especially if it trims costs.
Williams plans to speak to residents Monday night on the city's cable television station, hoping to win support. Williams will offer the opposition equal time.
The ballpark proposal has drawn intense criticism from many city residents, who prefer to focus on schools rather than a ballpark. Three Council members who supported Williams' plan were ousted in September's Democratic primary by foes -- including former Mayor Marion Barry, who last week criticized the deal at a council hearing.
"Why should we subsidize these millionaires?" Barry said, this week following his general election victory.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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