MLB has concerns over D.C. lease

DuPuy: MLB has concerns about stadium lease

Major League Baseball responded to Washington, D.C., officials on Friday, regarding the adjusted 30-year lease for the Nationals passed earlier this week by the City Council to play in a new stadium on the waterfront just a mile south of the Capitol building.

After an initial review of the documents, Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, said that "it clearly contains conditions, restrictions and new provisions, which go well beyond our previous agreements and raises a number of questions."

Early Wednesday morning, the Council reversed a vote from earlier in the previous evening, swinging the votes by adding significant provisions in the lease, which previously had been negotiated in mediation between MLB and Washington officials. The document that passed by a 9-4 vote well after midnight includes a $610.8 million cap on the cost of the project and a drop dead date of March 6 for MLB to accept the terms of the revamped deal.

The Council 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.

Those provisions contradict terms of the deal negotiated between the two parties since Washington was awarded the failing Montreal Expos in December 2004.

In his letter, addressed to Mayor Anthony Williams and Mark Tuohey, the chair of the D.C Sports and Entertainment Commission, DuPuy said that baseball will continue to analyze the lease document before making a formal response.

"We want to make sure that the kind of ballpark we agreed upon will be built, that it can be paid for as we have agreed, that the team be able to exercise adequate control over the ballpark site, that we understand the limits of the legislative power to further rewrite contracts we enter into and that the balance of burdens and benefits agreed to by us in mediation is readdressed, since it has been seriously disrupted by the legislation," DuPuy said.

The city needs the signed lease to immediately sell $535 million worth of bonds to fund construction of a ballpark, which is in serious jeopardy of missing its proposed opening at the start of the 2008 season.

Since signing a term sheet early last year, MLB has made several adjustments in the original deal, agreeing in 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 last month, 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 opening later this month 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.

But the mediated document stipulated that neither MLB nor the Nationals would pay any additional overrun costs than the previously agreed upon $20 million. MLB contends that it should have no more liability in that area because the city controls the design, construction and procurement of the land for the project.

"We are studying the language in an effort to understand its impact on our existing agreements and consulting with experts for advice concerning its ultimate impact on the future of Major League Baseball in Washington," DuPuy wrote. "We are interested in reviewing the analysis of this legislation made by both the (District) Office of the Chief Financial Officer and that made by the Office of the Attorney General prior to reaching our conclusions."

MLB purchased the Expos/Nationals franchise on Feb. 15, 2002, and with pitchers and catchers beginning to report to Spring Training camps this week, 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.

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