Happy tenant, happy fans

September 04, 1992

The Orioles keep on surprising us, off the field as well as on. Just as we were getting accustomed to a trend-setting ballpark filled to capacity every game with a long, secure 15-year lease, the Orioles double its term. Not to mention sign a lease with the Maryland Stadium Authority that is so detailed it fills 158 pages, not counting eight exhibits and a 14-page index. No wonder it took four years.

The news could hardly be better for Orioles fans. The prospect that any future owner, even the reincarnation of Bob Irsay, would have tried to move the team elsewhere while it was getting such overwhelming support, even in 14 years, was extremely unlikely. But the fans have made their pact with the Orioles by flocking to Camden Yards in record numbers, and the club has made its pact with the fans and the community by agreeing to a 30-year lease.

Baseball fans are not the only beneficiaries of the new lease. The community as a whole, and football fans in particular, come out ahead. The lease coincides with the lives of the bonds that financed the ballpark, further reinforcing their repayment. By discarding the novel but troublesome profit-sharing formula devised by Edward Bennett Williams, the state is assured of a fairly predictable schedule of rental payments that are independent of Orioles' decisions on what expenses are deductible. And abandonment of the profit-sharing relieves the Orioles of the obligation to disclose financial information that, the lease makes clear, it still devoutly wants to keep private.

The lease protects the beauty of the ballpark from encroachment in its environs. The Orioles agree to share the ballpark with a National Football League team during construction of a new stadium if necessary. And they made concessions on their parking rights to facilitate the hoped-for neighbor.

All in all, it's been a much more remarkable baseball season than anyone expected last April. The Orioles are in a heated pennant race. New heroes have taken over on the playing field. The ballpark is a smashing success, the model others will now emulate. Cal Ripken Jr. is safely signed for what will doubtless be the rest of his baseball career. The Orioles and the stadium authority are groping for ways to deal with the neck-straining box seats way out in left field and the disgruntled fans who occupy them.

A major design change is unlikely -- though the new lease provides in detail how one would come about. But there are ways to alleviate the complaints of season-ticket holders. Now the Orioles have time to address them.

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