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Street: 'No deal' to cut Eagles' debt

Former Mayor John F. Street said yesterday that he had struck no agreement with the Eagles to substantially reduce the team's $8 million debt to the city during private negotiations years ago that led to the building of Lincoln Financial Field.

Former Mayor John F. Street said yesterday that he had struck no agreement with the Eagles to substantially reduce the team's $8 million debt to the city during private negotiations years ago that led to the building of Lincoln Financial Field.

"I didn't cut a secret deal. There was no deal. We didn't make a deal. . . . And if I had agreed to a deal, I would have put it in writing," Street said last night during a rare City Hall appearance.

"The one thing I did commit to," he continued, "is we would absolutely make a reasonable effort to come to a fair settlement and hopefully without litigation. It didn't happen."

Street's comments contradict the sworn statements of Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and team president Joe Banner. Both said in March 18 affidavits that on the last day of the stadium negotiations, when he was mayor, Street orally agreed to settle a dispute concerning skybox revenue for less than $1 million.

Dean Adler, the city's representative during the December 2000 negotiations, also attested in the March 18 affidavits that a pact had been made.

"We believe everyone present at the final settlement negotiations was in agreement that there was a settlement. Legally, that agreement is binding," Tom Leonard, a lawyer for the Eagles, said yesterday. He added that he would try to prove as much in court.

No hearing date has been set.

The affidavits are the latest filings in a five-year-old lawsuit that has landed in the lap of Mayor Nutter, Street's successor.

"I'm not much on agreements you can't read," Nutter said yesterday, pointing to a lack of documentation about the agreement. "There's no proof of anything that's being contended here."

That said, he pointed to the outstanding $8 million and said: "We want what's owed."

The long-running controversy stems from a 1985 amendment to the Eagles' lease of Veterans Stadium, the city-owned sports arena that Lincoln Financial Field would replace. Under the lease change, the city was to begin collecting revenue from the skyboxes in the 2001 season.

A dispute soon emerged over how much the team owed the city for the 2001 and 2002 seasons. In 2004, while Street was still mayor, the city sued.

Soon after, the Eagles countersued, arguing that the city owed the team money for revenue lost from the cancellation of a 2001 preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens due to turf problems at the Vet. The amount in question: $8 million.

In 2005, a judge ruled in the city's favor on the skybox suit, but the money has not been collected because the court joined both cases together.

In the years since, the city has tried to reach a deal with the Eagles.

City Solicitor Shelley Smith said yesterday that the administration had not been aware the Eagles believed they had struck a prior deal until October, when the Eagles sent a letter to the judge handling the case.

Leonard, however, said yesterday that Banner had had conversations with Nutter months earlier.

Not until the Eagles filed court documents March 20 did the team publicly disclose its contention that Nutter was reneging on a deal.

The Eagles didn't publicly raise the issue until then because of their commitment to Adler and Willard Rouse III (who also worked on the city's behalf before his death in 2003) not to do so "unless absolutely necessary," according to court documents.

Banner said in his affidavit that it had been clear to those in the stadium negotiations that the Eagles would not contribute the $350 million they did toward what became Lincoln Financial Field unless the skybox dispute was resolved.

He and Lurie insisted that they would not pay so much money while leaving "ourselves exposed to an unquantifiable lawsuit, with its attendant public exposure and waste of time, money, and resources."

Banner, who was primarily responsible for negotiations on the Eagles end, said Rouse and Adler had promised the Eagles on Street's behalf that the city would "make this go away" - with no negative publicity, no lawsuit, and no legal expenses, the affidavit said.

Adler and Rouse also told him that Street did not want to put the resolution in writing, but that "we could rely on the mayor's promise, which was being given with the full authority of all city officials necessary to the settlement."

Street yesterday called Lurie and Banner "great Philadelphia boosters," but said, "Obviously, there was a big misunderstanding."

He added that he would not have agreed to a deal without putting it in writing.

In interviews, some former city officials said yesterday that they were familiar with the agreement alluded to by the Eagles but did not consider it valid.

"I did not buy the argument that the city in any respect was foreclosed in its effort to collect fairly in connection with the disputed amounts on the skybox revenue," said Romulo Diaz, who was city solicitor during Street's final years in office, when settlement discussions occurred.

Nelson Diaz, city solicitor from the fall of 2002 until early 2004, worked on the city litigation that was filed. "Tommy [Leonard] kept saying, 'There was a deal, there was a deal, there was a deal,' " Diaz said. "But there was no proof of a deal when I was there because if there was, I would have honored it."

Ken Trujillo, who was city solicitor during the stadium negotiations, declined to comment.

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