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Deal will allow Expos to move

WASHINGTON -- District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp reached agreement last night on a stadium financing package that they said will satisfy Major League Baseball by guaranteeing construction of a permanent home for the Washington Nationals along the Anacostia waterfront.

Under the agreement, which the full 13-member council is to vote on today, the District would pursue private financing options for several months. But Cropp said she will drop a requirement that half the ballpark be privately financed.

In return, the city's liability for cost overruns or construction delays would be far less than in the original pact, signed by Williams and Major League Baseball in September.

Cropp plans to offer the proposed deal today as an amendment to the legislation adopted last week requiring that at least 50 percent of stadium construction costs be privately financed. Yesterday, Cropp officially added the baseball issue to the council's agenda for its final regular meeting of the year, scheduled for 10 a.m. today.

Cropp, who has sought for weeks to ensure that the public costs for the stadium are limited, shocked the mayor last week by persuading the 13-member council to adopt the amendment requiring private financing. Baseball officials rejected that language, saying they were open to private financing but needed a guarantee that the stadium would be built with public money if private financing was not found. Baseball has given the city until Dec. 31 to approve an acceptable financing package.

The Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, are scheduled to open their 2005 season at RFK Stadium in Washington, but baseball officials have said the team might not play in the nation's capital at all if the impasse over a new stadium remains unresolved.

The stadium, to be built in Southeast Washington, has been estimated by various city officials to cost from $440 million to $584 million, including infrastructure and land acquisition. The ballpark itself would cost $279 million, meaning the legislation adopted last week would require $140 million in private funding.

Last night's announcement at 11 p.m. by Cropp and Williams followed a long day of negotiations.

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