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Mayor Anthony A. Williams 
Testimony on ballpark lease to the Committee on Economic Development
December 13, 2005




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Good afternoon Chairperson Ambrose, Members of the Committee on Economic Development, other Members of the Council in attendance today. I am Anthony Williams, Mayor of the District of Columbia, and I am pleased to appear before you today to testify regarding the lease of the new ballpark for the Washington Nationals. 

I have worked for over the last seven years, and a few before that, with the Council and other leaders in the District to create a climate of investment, the result of which has been remarkable. The District has experienced a significant growth in revenue and the prospects for the future are excellent. This new revenue has allowed the District to fund important initiatives and to provide the essential cost of city services as well as the cost of human services. But there has been much debate about some of the very important projects that have been an essential part of this growth. There has not always been consensus on the major projects and initiatives that the District has undertaken including the MCI Center, the new Washington Convention Center and the residential tax abatement program, but they have proven to be successful. Many of the same comments you have heard regarding the ballpark were spoken during the debates on these other projects. I think the record is clear.

I am happy that we have arrived at this day, which has been a long time coming.

We have been working for years to come to this point, this Moment in time. We competed with several cities and were selected as the new home for what is now our Washington Nationals. We negotiated the best deal we could through the Baseball Stadium Agreement. A year ago, the Council approved and I signed into law the legislation that allowed us to issue bonds to build a new stadium the "Ballpark Omnibus Financing and Revenue Act of 2004". On this basis we entered into a relationship with Major League Baseball and started the design and development of the ballpark. We took title to the land where the new ballpark will be built. We entered into and completed negotiations on this lease.

We have in hand a lease that has been agreed to and have submitted it for your consideration. The key accomplishments of the lengthy lease negotiations include:

  • Ensuring that the team will stay and play in Washington for the next 30 years
  • A contribution from MLB of $20 Million
  • MLB agreed to terms that allow for investment grade bonds to be issued, and
  • The District will retain 2/3 of disputed non-game day parking revenues

We recognize that ballpark costs have increased in the past year. But, we are limiting the amount we will borrow for the project to the approved amount of $535 Million. Our Chief Financial Officer, Dr. Natwar Gandhi will address costs and financing the ballpark project.

We embarked on the process of bringing baseball to the District because of all the benefits, beyond the game itself, which it will bring to the city. There can be no doubt that a baseball team adds to civic life, it adds to a city's sense of identity and can even add to a city's self esteem. I am more convinced today of those benefits than I ever have been.

As we have seen this past year, baseball has and will continue to bring fans from across the region to the District to watch the games. These fans, 70% from outside the District, generate revenue that we would have not received otherwise. But if done right, it can bring so much more. In addition to adding to civic life and bringing pride and identity, it can bring much more in the form of economic development and the renewal of our neglected waterfront. And in this revitalization, with the thousands of jobs and the economic opportunity, it can bring hope and opportunity to our citizens and, in particular, our young adults.

Just yesterday, the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation announced the developers that have been selected to develop the public land near the ballpark site. The private market has spoken - nine developers, many of them national developers, submitted proposals. They are saying "we're willing" and "we're hungry" for the opportunity to create and realize a vision that will revitalize this area. They see the vision of the ballpark district and what it can do to give new life to the Anacostia Waterfront. It is now expected that the ballpark will trigger significant mixed-use development totaling well over 6 million square feet of residential units, retail, office and even hotel uses. $2 Billion in private investment triggered by putting the ballpark along the Anacostia Waterfront will create over 20,000 jobs, and between $50 and $75 million in annual tax revenues.

The ballpark will speed the development that is underway to the east of the proposed site and will extend the revitalization to South Capitol Street. We are leveraging the development that is already underway in this area. It will be a lively area that will be active 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year - not just on game days. It has the promise to be a retail destination that will rival what is found in surrounding jurisdictions. It is time that we create a retail destination in our city so that people come to, and stay in, the District to shop and we stop spending our money elsewhere.

The developers selected have teamed with several LSDBE development firms who will have a meaningful and significant role in the development of these sites. Construction of the ballpark and the surrounding area will create thousands of construction jobs. The shops, restaurants and offices that will be built in and around the ballpark will offer more jobs. We are committed to seeing that the jobs and contracting opportunities go to local businesses and DC residents.

All of this ancillary development will support the $450 Million Community Benefit Fund that the Council created when it acted a year ago. Since then, the private market has validated the promise of this Fund which will support projects throughout the District including $125 Million for school construction and modernization and $45 Million for our libraries. This Fund is a real vehicle that will allow the benefits of baseball to extend beyond the immediate neighborhood to all Wards of the city.

And so, we have arrived at this Moment and the question is whether we will seize the Moment? Will we go forward with a ballpark at the Anacostia Waterfront site with all of its promise and hope? Will we walk away from the old, flawed urban redevelopment practices of the 50's and 60's that built stadiums that became isolated dinosaurs? Will we build the ballpark where we can receive the highest return on our investment? Will we embrace the vision that is taking root along the Anacostia Waterfront where we have a unique opportunity to create something truly special and something we, the region and the Nation can be proud of? I ask you to say "yes" to this vision for the new ballpark and the Anacostia Waterfront and approve the lease we have submitted.

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