MLB signs D.C. stadium lease

MLB signs D.C. lease with some stipulations

Clearing what could be the final hurdle to building a new ballpark in Washington, D.C., Major League Baseball ostensibly accepted the City Council's terms on Sunday and signed a 30-year lease agreement for the Nationals to play in a new stadium on the waterfront just a mile south of the Capitol building.

After weeks of reviewing emergency legislation narrowly approved by the Council, MLB sent correspondence to the District on Sunday that included three signed copies of the much-contested lease, including several provisions that must be accepted for the document to go into effect. The response came a day before a City Council stipulated deadline.

"We have worked very hard to accommodate the requests from the Mayor and the Council that changed the terms of the agreement that brought the Montreal Expos to Washington," Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, said. "Because we believe in the future of Baseball in the nation's capital, we have signed a lease that honors the 2004 agreement, while conforming to the emergency legislation that the Council passed last month.

"Everyone has to compromise so the Nationals can enjoy a strong future. We are offering a compromise that I call on District leaders to support."

MLB is requesting the City Council agree not to adopt any additional "conflicting legislation" that will violate the terms of the signed lease; that the city will immediately move forward and issue bonds for the funding of the stadium; that the Ballpark Act passed on December 21, 2004, remain available as the legal vehicle to finance the project, and that the District's Attorney General issue a legal opinion to the public affirming the legality of the signed agreement.

"I urge the City to accept this compromise," DuPuy said. "We all have worked long and hard and it's time to give the Nationals a new stadium and a strong future by bringing this matter to a successful close."

The Council will study MLB's provisions during the next two days, but the initial reaction was positive.

"I don't see anything that could be a deal-breaker," Councilman Jack Evans told The Associated Press. "The devil is in the details, but all of that sounds like something we can move forward on."

Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission and a lead negotiator for the city agreed with Evans and Vince Morris, a spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams, told The Associated Press that the additional provisions "should be OK," although city leaders would spend Sunday night and Monday examining them.

"We're delighted, and I'm betting millions of Nationals fans are too," Morris said. "This clears one of the last hurdles in the process and gets us ready to finally break ground on a ballpark that gives the Nationals a new home and sparks an exciting economic revival in southeast."

The agreement includes a $610.8 million cap on the cost of the project, a provision the Council enacted on Feb. 7.

The Council also has stipulated that any overrun costs on the project would have to be picked up by the team, eliminated through savings on construction or paid by private sources. The cap, though, doesn't include about $80 million in land acquisition costs that will be paid by the city.

The city needs the signed lease to sell $535 million worth of bonds to fund construction of a ballpark on the banks of the Anacostia River, which was originally supposed to be ready for the opening of the 2008 season.

Since signing a term sheet early last year, MLB already has made several adjustments in the original deal, agreeing during negotiations this past summer to pay $20 million of cost overruns and paying upfront $24 million of $92 million in rent payments due over 30 years.

In mediation conducted during January, MLB also agreed to the concept of a cap on the construction costs of the new ballpark; to fund a local baseball academy like the one opened this past week in Compton, Calif., at a cost of $3.5 million; to increase its allotment of free game tickets to local underprivileged youth from 8,000 to 10,000 per season; that Nationals players would make a minimum of 50 youth, educational or charitable appearances a year in the District, and that the owners would hold one of their quarterly meetings in Washington before the summer of 2008.

MLB purchased the Expos/Nationals franchise on Feb. 15, 2002, for $120 million and is about to embark on its fifth season of ownership. Eight groups have been vying for the past year to buy the team, but MLB has stipulated that it won't sell until the stadium lease is signed sealed and delivered.

MLB officials have said that the sale for a reported $450 million could be consummated within 30 days of when the lease dispute is resolved.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.