Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Stadium Deal Imploding Before Our Very Eyes

Nothing can escape

The deal for the Nats' stadium is as far as I can tell, done as it was negotiated. Previous stadium coverage on Curly W:

Love Triangle, What's Missing from the Parking Plan, Get Your Hiking Boots, A Shovel Full of Dirt, Bass Ackwards

Recapping the past eleven days:

The Washington Post reported on September 16 that the garage plan was at risk, and the city had offered to buy out developer Herb Miller for $990,000 if the deal fell through. In a twist I was unaware of prior to reading this piece by Heath and Nakamura, the Lerner ownership can reject development plans on city-owned stadium land if it has 'reasonable concerns.'

Considering the Lerners have strenuously objected to the Lame Duck Tony - Herb Miller parking plan from the outset, it seems 'reasonable' to me that the Lerner's would have invested a few dollars in an attorney that could help them make clear their objections in a way that could be interpreted as 'reasonable.'

So just from reading this article, I'm smelling something rotten. Owner wants simple aboveground parking to expedite construction (and revenue generation). District gives deal to developer who has grandiose plan which the District CFO and team owner don't believe are realistic, District offers developer $1 million buyout if the plan falls through, owner has authority to kill deal. Seems like we're back at Lerner's square one, where he wanted simple parking structures, except that a friend of Lame Duck Tony just made a cool million.

Five days later on September 21, Heath and Nakamura reported the DC Sports and Graft Commission abandoned Miller's plan, but not because the Lerner ownership rejected the development, but rather because Miller was unable to come up with financing. You will recall from previous coverage that Miller's piece of this was going to be over $300 million, and that that largest investor was to be CalPERS. The article goes on to state that Miller rejected the buyout clause written about on the 16th, instead plugging away in hopes of getting financing.

Again, something is not right. Lerner could have rejected the deal, and Miller could have taken the money. Instead, the deal died because of Miller, and his inability to get financing, and the ownership remained silent.

So the condo-retail-parking towers are dead, with nothing to show for it and three months wasted.

It gets better. Three days later, on September 24, Your Reporters Heath and Nakamura wrote that the District was turning attention away from redevelopment projects in Southeast and toward a plan to ensure adequate parking at the stadium. Lerner said "I don't give a rat's ass about economic development in Southeast," (I'm paraphrasing), and insisted the District focus on parking issues. I tend to agree the parking needs to be worked out, but I also think Lerner is shortsighted if he thinks a tough parking situation for a couple of seasons is more damaging to a franchise's 'health' than a ball park in a sketchy part of town. No one can fault him for wanting to get the revenue flowing, though.

This is a crushing blow for Lame Duck Tony, who wanted the spark of urban renewal in Southeast to be his parting gift to the District. Instead, he has gifted Mayor-select Adrian Fenty with an issue where he gets to be super-dad: he voted against the public financing of the stadium in the first place, but gets to be the bigger man and work with the District, the team and the developers to get the stadium done on time, and set the stage for redevelopment of Southeast that will occur on his watch.

The icing on the cake, though, is the Post editorial yesterday, September 26, in which the Post gets to slam Lame Duck Tony for having advocated a plan that was 'headed for trouble' from the outset, while conveniently forgetting that on July 8, the same editorial board was mushy on the deal, wanting to support both CFO Ghandi and developer Miller. To the best of my recollection, Miller never met Ghandi's concerns with other than with a wink, a nod and a promise that he had financing all lined up.

Which we now know never happened, and might never have been true.

Black hole: