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Government and People
I will be voting to approve the baseball stadium lease in the Council legislative session on December 20. This is a complicated issue but the decision comes down to this: whether the good outweighs the bad for the District of Columbia as a whole. I believe that it does, and by more than a narrow margin.
The District negotiated a lousy deal with Major League Baseball more than a year ago. I voted against the stadium agreement for that reason. Yes, MLB should be paying more of the costs to build a stadium than they are, and the owner should share the risk and the potential increases in costs. I wish those options were before the Council, but they are not. The costs are higher than a year ago and are likely to continue to rise with the price of steel and other materials. I am also fearful that rejecting this deal will cost the District millions of dollars in a legal battle with MLB and, more importantly, the credibility the city has worked so hard to establish.
I am also voting to approve the lease because of the positive impact Washington Nationals and the stadium will have on the city. With regard to the team itself: Washington Nationals games this past season drew 2.7 million in attendance. Members of the team and the Nationals organization are committed -- in the agreement and the lease -- to becoming engaged members of the Washington D.C. community, and I look forward to this very particularly. With my role as oversight chairman for education and recreation, I look ahead to welcoming players as mentors and leaders of youth sports opportunities. Such benefits are the intangibles, hard to quantify but no less real.
The stadium on the Anacostia River will spur development, create jobs for residents, and create revenue for the city from business, property and income taxes. The MCI Arena revitalized downtown and is a useful example. Other examples are found in other stadium developments in San Francisco and other cities. The legislation approved a year ago included a "community benefit fund," totaling $400 million, which has now been certified as "real" by the chief financial officer starting in fiscal 2008, based on projected revenue growth. That would include $125 million for schools and $45 million for libraries. Planning for the stadium included signing a creative "project labor agreement" between the city and organized labor which includes protections for union jobs and apprenticeship opportunities for District youth. In response to the growing costs, the city negotiated an additional $20 million from Major League Baseball, and Mayor Williams has secured a commitment from the Bush Administration to assist with public transportation infrastructure costs.
This is one of the most emotionally charged issues to come before the Council in recent memory. I believe it is in the best interest of the city for the Council to support the lease. If the stadium project moves forward, the Council must provide the kind of tough oversight that large public projects demand. I am committed to that oversight, along with working to see that professional baseball benefits everyone in this city, starting with our young people.
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