St. Louis expansion boss buys Patriots

March 21, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

PHOENIX -- The leaders of the St. Louis expansion effort gained control of the New England Patriots yesterday, a move that raised questions about what they'll do with the team and whether the purchase will help or hurt the St. Louis expansion effort.

James Busch Orthwein, the main money man behind the St. Louis effort, completed his purchase of majority interest in the team from Victor Kiam. Orthwein paid $23.5 million to Kiam and assumed the team's $45 million debt and the $38 million owed to minority partner Fran Murray.

In a statement, Orthwein said his goal is to sell the team to people interested in keeping it in New England because he still wants to get an expansion team for St. Louis.

"What you really get is the best of both worlds," Murray said.

Murray, wearing a St. Louis partnership hat and a shirt with the Patriots' colors of red, white, and blue, said, "This has no direct bearing on the St. Louis expansion effort, but it does demonstrate that the St. Louis expansion effort is led by a man who not only says he'll do things, but does them."

Murray then made a not-so-subtle reference to Malcolm Glazer, the Florida business who heads one of the three groups vying for an expansion team for Baltimore and who recently declined to buy the Patriots after looking at the books.

"It's been written in other places that people can write checks for franchises. It is clear here that we have a man who in fact is doing it. To the extent that anyone needed reassurances to the level of seriousness and capacity of Mr. Orthwein, let those questions be put to rest," Murray said.

When Murray was asked if the line about writing checks referred to any specific person (Glazer has said he can write a check for a franchise), Murray smiled.

"You know me. Do I ever say anything negative about anybody? I'm just simply saying I think I saw it written once or heard it somewhere that someone said they might be able to write the check. I thought they made a very powerful statement so I thought we could demonstrate it. It wasn't our idea so we have to give people credit for our ideas wherever we find them," Murray said.

Murray conceded his move could be risky if he can't get a stadium built in New England or find another buyer.

"Nothing is without risk," he said.

He added, "I'd say as USA Today did in handicapping the expansion race that I would have to put Mr. Orthwein as an even-money favorite to succeed at what he's doing." The paper picked St. Louis and Charlotte as the favorites for the two expansion teams.

The key to the Orthwein-Murray effort is whether they can get the state of Massachusetts to provide the funding for a new stadium.

Murray said he'd try to sell the concept of "net new public fiscal benefit" that he used to sell a new convention center including a domed stadium in St. Louis.

"It's a Fran Murray idea, by the way," he said. "It was very simple to me. It was the easiest thing in the world. To them, it was a little confusing for a while, but they came to know and appreciate it."

Murray's idea was that the convention center and stadium would produce $45 million in new taxes so if the city, county and state came up with $24 million year to pay off the debt service, they'd make money.

"They saw the logic and passed the bill and we have $300 million in the bank," he said.

If Murray can sell the logic in Massachusetts, he figures he'll have no trouble selling the team because it would increase in value if it had a new stadium in which to play. He could then return to St. Louis.

If all else fails, he could move the team, although he said he and Orthwein have given commissioner Paul Tagliabue ironclad guarantees they won't do that. The team is currently losing money playing in antiquated Foxboro Stadium.

Murray was asked if there was any chance he could decide to remain in New England if a new stadium is built.

He ducked the question by saying, "I'm definitely including myself in the current New England picture."

For now, Orthwein and Murray are definitely in the New England picture. What happens next is anybody's guess.

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