The high-profile and lengthy legal dispute between cash-strapped City Hall and the Philadelphia Eagles came to an anticlimactic end yesterday as the football franchise paid the city $3 million after a pair of court rulings.
The relatively small sum belied the sometimes ugly nature of the eight-year disagreement, which became fodder for heated talk-radio debates and a rallying point for community activists opposed to city budget cuts.
The $3 million would seem to be pocket change for the Eagles, considering their sold-out games and high salaries for players and coaches. The franchise on Friday rewarded its star quarterback, Donovan McNabb, with a $5 million bump in pay to keep him happy, upping the last two years of his contract, according to NFL sources, to $24.2 million.
And though every buck counts at City Hall, $3 million is just 0.075 percent of Philadelphia's $4 billion annual budget.
Little wonder, then, that both sides appeared eager yesterday to put the entire affair to rest.
"The parties can move forward," Mayor Nutter said at a news conference. "We're running this city, and the Eagles hopefully are on their way to the Super Bowl." He said that he was "very satisfied" with the rulings and that the city would not appeal.
Nutter acknowledged that the dispute had dragged on too long but said he did not expect tensions between the city and the Eagles to linger.
Eagles spokeswoman Pamela Browner Crawley said in a statement: "We are glad that this issue is behind us. We have important civic, community, and economic ties to the city of Philadelphia and the region, and we look forward to that being the focus of our ongoing dialogue as we look to the future."
The debate dates from a 2001 Eagles preseason game at Veterans Stadium that was canceled because of poor field conditions.
The city, which was responsible for maintaining the field, did not reimburse the team for the game, and the Eagles responded by withholding $8 million in luxury-box revenue.
The city sued in 2004. The Eagles quickly countersued, seeking compensation for the canceled game.
The legal jostling made headlines early this year during the height of the city's budget crisis. Attendees at city budget workshops sponsored by WHYY and the University of Pennsylvania angrily demanded that the team pay up.
The Eagles, however, resisted the public pressure and in March contended that former Mayor John F. Street had agreed to resolve the dispute for an "insignificant amount" that they interpreted to be less than $1 million. Street denied making any such deal.
Finally, last week, Judge Albert W. Sheppard ordered the Eagles to cough up the luxury-box revenue, but that was before he addressed the city's failure to maintain the field. Yesterday, Sheppard determined that the canceled game had cost the Eagles $5 million, and he ordered the city to reimburse the team for its loss.
The net effect was a $3 million transfer from the Eagles to the city, which was paid yesterday afternoon.
Because the amount is less than the $8 million the city hoped to collect, it will leave a $5 million hole in an already depleted budget. It was not clear how the city will fill that hole.
One thing is clear. The $3 million won't allow the city to spend money on anything new. On paper, the city has already spent the $8 million.