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MLB files for mediation against District of Columbia

WASHINGTON -- Major League Baseball filed for mediation
against the District of Columbia on Wednesday after the city failed
to approve a lease for the Washington Nationals' new ballpark by
the Dec. 31 deadline.

Washington agreed to the deadline in the 2004 deal between the
city and the commissioner's office that allowed the Montreal Expos
to be moved to Washington for the 2005 season. The D.C. Council
failed to vote on a revised lease last month after Mayor Anthony A.
Williams apparently failed to garner enough votes for approval.

"We believe the best way to move the process forward for the
benefit of the District's baseball fans is through the mediation
process," said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer.

The lease for the ballpark, to be built on the Anacostia
waterfront in Southeast Washington, must be approved before the
city can issue $535 million in bonds to pay for stadium
construction. The commissioner's office, which bought the Expos
four years ago, said it won't sell the team until a lease is
signed.

Baseball filed its claim with the American Arbitration
Association, according to DuPuy. Williams remains hopeful that a
deal can be reached.

"We have an agreement, and we think we're within the four
corners of the agreement," Williams said.

Although the council approved spending $535 million for
construction of the ballpark last year, more recent estimates have
put the cost at about $667 million.

Council opponents have balked at the possibility of taxpayers
covering cost overruns. Members have also expressed frustration
about negotiating with the commissioner's office and not an
ownership group.

"The baseball people better wake up or they're going to lose
this fight here, if they don't sit down and negotiate in good
faith," said Councilman Marion Barry. The former Washington mayor
said the dispute can be resolved if baseball makes "meaningful
concessions."