St. Louis remains key to Baltimore's chances Ownership changes may have little effect

November 14, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

Despite the potential of a new owner emerging tomorrow, many people view Baltimore's best hope for landing an NFL expansion franchise to be continued trouble in St. Louis.

"Baltimore is a dependent variable, not an independent variable," said one man who passed on making a bid for a Baltimore team, suggesting its only hope is a failure by the Midwestern rival.

St. Louis has been bedeviled with troubles related to who will lead the bid. Until yesterday, three separate ownership groups had emerged in recent weeks claiming the mantle of the city's NFL hopes.

League officials hope that will be settled at noon, tomorrow when applications from prospective owners are due in the league's NFL offices. If gadfly Fran Murray does not have his $20 million line of credit and a financing plan for the $140 million franchise fee filed he ceases being an official applicant, league officials say.

But that may not remove the issue of the lease he claims to control for the city's domed stadium, now under construction.

Murray, a short-lived owner of the New England Patriots, has been scrambling to attract investors for his bid, on behalf of the St. Louis NFL Partnership. He approached Robert McNair, a Houston-based energy executive who briefly considered bidding on a team for Baltimore.

Murray emerged when the head of his partnership, beer distributor Jerry Clinton, decided to suspend the group's efforts after he failed to line up sufficient investors to replace James Busch Orthwein, who pulled out in September.

This led to the emergence of a group organized by E. Stanley Kroenke, a Columbia, Mo.-based developer and relative of the late Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart.

But Clinton, apparently wary of a lawsuit from Murray, did not formally withdraw his application, leaving the door open for Murray to assume its leadership. Last week, it was revealed that Clinton was trying to re-assemble the partnership, apparently without Murray.

On Friday, however, Clinton's attorney, Jim Shoemake, told Murray that Clinton had ended his latest investor search. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called it a "three-ring circus."

Murray's debts

Meanwhile, the Post-Dispatch reported last week that Murray has been ordered by a variety of courts to pay nearly $3 million in unpaid debts since 1990.

Creditors have filed suits to collect debts owed on two homes in Pennsylvania and another in New Jersey, and on three restaurants and several nursing homes in which Murray has been a partner. Murray has paid some of the debts and disputed others in countersuits.

So much for stability

Local organizers have long hoped that Baltimore's relative stability would shine over the turmoil in St. Louis, but that may have changed with the talk of new ownership groups last week.

Alfred Lerner, a former banker and real estate executive from Cleveland with close business ties to Baltimore, is considered likely to file an application for a team in Baltimore.

The weeks of talk about a new owner, and the public complaints from the existing ownership groups, have raised the inevitable comparisons with St. Louis.

"It's a big risk. By doing this you run the risk of looking like St. Louis, which is in disarray. But if he's the right guy, it could put us over the top," said one source familiar with the NFL expansion process.

Boogie feels snubbed

Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass said he thought he was close last week to signing up poultry magnate Frank Perdue as a member of his prospective ownership group -- something he said would have given him an important boost.

Perdue approached Gov. William Donald Schaefer, offering to help with the NFL effort. He initially suggested he might be willing to lead a group, sources said. But he balked at the investment, and talked with Weinglass about a minority share in his group. Perdue hadn't responded by Friday as he said he would, said Weinglass, who feels snubbed by the city's NFL organizers.

"I haven't heard from anyone and it's a bad sign," Weinglass said. "I had my heart set on Frank Perdue. I would have liked to have him."

Weinglass says he believes stadium authority officials dissuaded Perdue from joining his group.

"I grew up with more honesty in my rough Baltimore neighborhood that I've seen in these high circles," Weinglass said.

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